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Father Ryan's Poems (105)

2006-09-08 16:38

    Fifty Years at the Altar

    "To Rev. Father E. Sourin, S.J., from A. J. Ryan; first, in memory of some happy hours passed in his company at Loyola College, Baltimore; next, in appreciation of a character of strange beautifulness, known of God, but hidden from men; and last, but by no means least, to test and tempt his humility in the (to him) proud hour of the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination."

    To-day —— fifty years at the altar —— Thou art, as of old, at thy post! Tell us, O chasubled soldier! Art weary of watching the Host? Fifty years —— Christ's sacred sentry, To-day thy feet faithful are found When the cross on the altar is blessing Thy heart in its sentinel-round.

    The beautiful story of Thabor Fifty years agone thrilled thy young heart, When wearing white vestments of glory, And up the "high mountain apart". In the fresh, glowing grace of thy priesthood, Thou didst climb to the summit alone, While the Feast of Christ's Transfiguration Was a sweet outward sign of thy own.

    Old priest! on the slope of the summit Did float down and fall on thine ear The strong words of weak-hearted Peter. "O Lord, it is good to be here!" Thy heart was stronger than Peter's, And sweeter the tone of thy prayer; 'Twas Calvary thy young feet were climbing, And old —— thou art still standing there.

    For you, as for him, on bright Thabor, Forever to stay were not hard; But when Calvary girdles the altar, And garments the Eucharist's guard With sacrifice and with its shadows —— To keep there forever a feast Is the glory and grace of the human —— The altar, the cross, and the priest.

    The crucifix's wardens and watchers, Like Him, must be heart sacrificed ——The Christ on the crucifix lifeless For guard needs a brave human Christ. To guard Him three hours —— what a glory! With sacrifice splendors aflame! Three hours —— and He died on His Calvary ——How long hast thou lived for His name?

    "Half a century," cries out thy crucifix, Binding together thy beads; His look, like thy life, lingers in it, A light for men's souls in their needs. Old priest! is thy life not a rosary? Five decades and more have been said, In thy heart the warm splendors of Thabor Beneath the white snows of thy head!

    Fifty years lifting the chalice —— Ah, 'tis Life in this death-darkened land! Thy clasp may be weak, but the chrism, Old priest! that anointed thy hand Is as fresh and as strong in its virtue As in the five decades agone Thy young hands were touched with its unction, And thy vestments of white were put on.

    Fifty years! Every day passes A part of one great, endless feast, That moves round its orbit of Masses, And hath nor a West nor an East; But everywhere hath its pure altars, At each of its altars a priest To lift up a Host with a chalice Till the story of grace shall have ceased.

    Fifty years in the feast's orbit, Nearly two thousand of days; Fifty years priest in the priesthood, Fifty years lit with its rays —— Lit them but to reflect them When the adorers' throngs pass Out of thy life and its glory Shining each day from thy Mass.

    Half of a century's service! Wearing thy cassock of black O'er thy camps, and thy battles, and triumphs! Old soldier of Jesus! look back To the day when thou kissed thy first altar In love with youth's fervor athrill. From the day when we meet and we greet thee, So true to the old altar still.

    Fifty long years! what if trials Did oftentimes darken thy way -They marked, like the shadows on dials, Thy soul's brightest hour every day. The sun in the height of his splendor, By the mystical law of his light, O'er his glories flings vestments of shadows, And, sinking, leaves stars to the night.

    Old priest! with the heart of a poet Thou hast written sweet stanzas for men; Thy life, many versed, is a poem That puzzles the art of the pen; The crucifix wrote it and writes it —— A scripture too deep for my ken; A record of deeds more than sayings —— Only God reads it rightly; and then

    My stanzas are just like the shadows That follow the sun and his sheen, To tell to the eye that will read them Where the purest of sunshine has been. Thy life moves in mystical eclipse, All hidden from men and their sight; We look, but we see but its surface, But God sees the depth of its light.

    Twenty-five years! highest honors Were thine —— high deserved in the world Dawned a day with a grace in its flashing O'er thy heart from a standard unfurled, Whose folds bore the mystical motto "To the greater glory of God!" And somehow there opened before thee A way thou hadst never yet trod.

    Twenty-five years —— still a private In files where the humblest and last Stands higher in rank than the highest Of those who are passing or passed; Twenty-five years in the vanguard, Whose name is a spell of their strength, The light of the folds of whose standard Lengthens along all the length

    Of the march of the Crucified Jesus. Loyola was wiser than most In claiming for him and his soldiers The name of the Chief of the host; His name, and his motto, and colors That never shall know a defeat, Whose banner, when others are folded, Shall never float over retreat.

    To-day when the wind wafts the wavelets To the gray altar steps of yon shore, Each wearing an alb foam-embroidered, And kneeling, like priests, to adore The God of the land —— I will mingle My prayers, aged priest! with the sea, While God, for thy fifty years' priesthood, Will hear thy prayers whispered for me. Song of the Deathless Voice'Twas the dusky Hallowe'en —— Hour of fairy and of wraith, When in many a dim-lit green, 'Neath the stars' prophetic sheen, As the olden legend saith, All the future may be seen, And when —— an older story hath ——Whate'er in life hath ever been Loveful, hopeful, or of wrath, Cometh back upon our path. I was dreaming in my room, 'Mid the shadows, still as they; Night, in veil of woven gloom, Wept and trailed her tresses gray O'er her fair, dead sister —— Day. To me from some far-away Crept a voice —— or seemed to creep ——As a wave-child of the deep, Frightened by the wild storm's roar Creeps low-sighing to the shore Very low and very lone Came the voice with song of moan, This, weak-sung in weaker word, Is the song that night I heard

    How long! Alas, how long! How long shall the Celt chant the sad song of hope, That a sunrise may break on the long starless night of our past? How long shall we wander and wait on the desolate slope Of Thabors that promise our Transfiguration at last? How long, O Lord! How long!

    How long, O Fate! How long! How long shall our sunburst reflect but the sunset of Right, When gloaming still lights the dim immemorial years? How long shall our harp's strings, like winds that are wearied of night, Sound sadder than moanings in tones all a-trembling with tears? How long, O Lord! How long!

    How long, O Right! How long! How long shall our banner, the brightest that ever did flame In battle with wrong, droop furled like a flag o'er a grave? How long shall we be but a nation with only a name, Whose history clanks with the sounds of the chains that enslave? How long, O Lord! How long!

    How long! Alas, how long! How long shall our isle be a Golgotha, out in the sea, With a cross in the dark? Oh, when shall our Good Friday close? How long shall thy sea that beats round thee bring only to thee The wailings, O Erin! that float down the waves of thy woes? How long, O Lord! How long!

    How long! Alas, how long! How long shall the cry of the wronged, O Freedom! for thee Ascend all in vain from the valleys of sorrow below? How long ere the dawn of the day in the ages to be, When the Celt will forgive, or else tread on the heart of his foe? How long, O Lord! How long!

    Whence came the voice? Around me gray silence fall; And without in the gloom not a sound is astir 'neath the sky; And who is the singer? Or hear I a singer at all? Or, hush! Is't my heart athrill with some deathless old cry?

    Ah! blood forgets not in its flowing its forefathers' wrongs ——They are the heart's trust, from which we may ne'er be released; Blood keeps in its throbs the echoes of all the old songs And sings them the best when it flows thro' the heart of a priest.

    Am I not in my blood as old as the race whence I sprung? In the cells of my heart feel I not all its ebb and its flow? And old as our race is, is it not still forever as young, As the youngest of Celts in whose breast Erin's love is aglow?

    The blood of a race that is wronged beats the longest of all, For long as the wrong lasts, each drop of it quivers with wrath; And sure as the race lives, no matter what fates may befall, There's a Voice with a Song that forever is haunting its path.

    Aye, this very hand that trembles thro' this very line, Lay hid, ages gone, in the hand of some forefather Celt, With a sword in its grasp, if stronger, not truer than mine, And I feel, with my pen, what the old hero's sworded hand felt -

    The heat of the hate that flashed into flames against wrong, The thrill of the hope that rushed like a storm on the foe; And the sheen of that sword is hid in the sheath of the song As sure as I feel thro' my veins the pure Celtic blood flow.

    The ties of our blood have been strained o'er thousands of years, And still are not severed, how mighty soever the strain; The chalice of time o'erflows with the streams of our tears, Yet just as the shamrocks, to bloom, need the clouds and their rain,

    The Faith of our fathers, our hopes, and the love of our isle Need the rain of our hearts that falls from our grief-clouded eyes, To keep them in bloom, while for ages we wait for the smile Of Freedom, that some day

    - ah! some day! shall light Erin's skies. Our dead are not dead who have gone, long ago, to their rest; They are living in us whose glorious race will not die ——Their brave buried hearts are still beating on in each breast Of the child of each Celt in each clime 'neath the infinite sky.

    Many days yet to come may be dark as the days that are past, Many voices may hush while the great years sweep patiently by; But the voice of our race shall live sounding down to the last, And our blood is the bard of the song that never shall die.

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