The Famine In Ireland

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THEY shall not perish! Not if help can save
Our hunger-stricken brethren from the grave!
They shall not perish! With no impious breath
We vow that Love shall stronger prove than Death!
Say not, 'Tis vain to strive against the Hand
That writeth Judgment o'er a mourning land! —
Say not, 'Tis Heav'n that worketh good or ill;
And if our brother die — it is God's will; —
Say not, if He is pleased to hide His face,
'Tis ours and theirs to wait returning grace;
Nor, listless, into prayerful chambers creep,
And be content to weep with those who weep; —
Say not that Nature but fulfils her plan,
Through righteous retribution teaching man;
Nor round your easy acquiescence draw
The curtain of inexorable Law.
Say rather, We are now the hands of God
To pour our fruits upon their fruitless sod!
Say rather, We are God's incarnate Will
To feed His lambs, His children's mouths to fill,
And in our very plenty read the sign
That we are chos'n as instruments Divine!
Say rather, if His face be darkened there,
'Tis ours to light the darkness of despair,
And through the tears that dim their sorrowing eyes
Show God reflected from our happier skies!
And what though Nature in her changelessness
Works out her ends through cycles of distress, —
We too are Nature! and, enthroned above
All other law, we own the Law of Love!
Therefore they shall not perish! — Oh sad Isle,
Endure thy burden yet a little while —
Yea, but a little while, for bounteous Heaven
The lightning for our messenger hath given,
To flash from cape to cape, o'er ocean's bed,
The word that for thy need becometh bread!
Oh grief-worn father, gazing on the soil
That mocks thy husbandry; whose fruitless toil
Provides no answer to the children's cry;
Who turn'st aside lest thou should'st see them die;
Lo, God hath not forsaken ev'n thy least.
Turn yet again: Help cometh from the East!
Oh drooping mother, bowed with hopeless cares
That labour lightens not, nor tears, nor prayers, —
Who spread'st ev'n now before thy famished brood
The scanty remnant of unwholesome food, —
Once more let hope awake within thy breast.
Be of good cheer: Help cometh from the West!
Ye little ones, whose raiment, rent and old,
Scarce hides the forms that tremble in the cold;
Whose play is silenced; all whose frolic wiles
Are turned to weariness; whose sunny smiles
Have vanished from the hunger-wasted mouth, —
Be warmed and fed: Help cometh from the South!
Say we too much? Nay, less than this would shame
Alike our hearts, our honour, and our name.
Nothing too much while Famine stalks abroad,
And Winter grips the shivering lambs of God!
Nothing too much while weeping kindred cry
To happier kindred, "Save us, or we die!"
Nothing too much while we whose bread is sure
Have hearts to pity, hands to help, the poor, —
And eyes in Ireland's hour of need to see
Queensland's, Australia's, opportunity!

© James Brunton Stephens