James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

July 20

The Dead Singer

By John Boyle O’Reilly (1844–1890)

  • Fanny Parnell, a sister of Charles S. Parnell, died on July 20, 1882. She was a poetess of considerable merit.

  • “SHE is dead!” they say; “she is robed for the grave; there are lilies upon her breast;

    Her mother has kissed her clay-cold lips, and folded her hands to rest;

    Her blue eyes show through the waxen lids: they have hidden her hair’s gold crown;

    Her grave is dug, and its heap of earth is waiting to press her down.”

    “She is dead!” they say to the people, her people, for whom she sung;

    Whose hearts she touched with sorrow and love, like a harp with life-chords strung.

    And the people hear—but behind their tear they smile as though they heard

    Another voice, like a mystery, proclaim another word.

    “She is not dead,” it says to their hearts; “true Singers can never die;

    Their life is a voice of higher things, unseen to the common eye;

    The truths and the beauties are clear to them, God’s right and the human wrong,

    The heroes who die unknown, and the weak who are chained and scourged by the strong.”

    And the people smile at the death-word, for the mystic voice is clear:

    “The Singer who lived is always alive: we hearken and always hear!”

    And they raise her body with tender hands, and bear her down to the main,

    They lay her in state on the mourning ship, like the lily-maid Elaine;

    And they sail to her isle across the sea, where the people wait on the shore

    To lift her in silence with heads all bare to her home forevermore,

    Her home in the heart of her country; oh a grave among our own

    Is warmer and dearer than living on in the stranger lands alone.

    No need of a tomb for the Singer! Her fair hair’s pillow now

    Is the sacred clay of her country, and the sky above her brow

    Is the same that smiled and wept on her youth, and the grass around is deep

    With the clinging leaves of the shamrock that cover her peaceful sleep.

    Undreaming there she will rest and wait, in the tomb her people make,

    Till she hears men’s hearts, like the seeds in Spring, all stirring to be awake,

    Till she feels the moving of souls that strain till the bands around them break;

    And then I think, her dead lips will smile and her eyes be oped to see,

    When the cry goes out to the Nations that the Singer’s land is free!