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

April 1

The Loss of the Emigrants

By John Boyle O’Reilly (1844–1890)

  • The White Star steamer “Atlantic” went down off the coast of Nova Scotia on April 1, 1873, and over five hundred people were drowned.

  • FOR months and years, with penury and want

    And heart-sore envy did they dare to cope;

    And mite by mite was saved from earnings scant,

    To buy, some future day, the God-sent hope.

    They trod the crowded streets of hoary towns,

    Or tilled from year to year the wearied fields,

    And in the shadow of the golden crowns

    They gasped for sunshine and the health it yields.

    They turned from homes all cheerless, child and man,

    With kindly feelings only for the soil,

    And for the kindred faces, pinched and wan,

    That prayed, and stayed, unwilling, at their toil.

    They lifted up their faces to the Lord,

    And read His answer in the westering sun

    That called them ever as a shining word,

    And beckoned seaward as the rivers run.

    They looked their last, wet-eyed, on Swedish hills,

    On German villages and English dales;

    Like brooks that grow from many mountain rills

    The peasant stream flowed out from Irish vales.

    Their grief at parting was not all a grief,

    But blended sweetly with the joy to come,

    When from full store they spared the rich relief

    To gladden all the dear ones left at home.

    “We thank thee, God!” they cried; “The cruel gate

    That barred our lives has swung beneath Thy hand;

    Behind our ship now frowns the cruel fate,

    Before her smiles the teeming Promised Land!”

    Alas! when shown in mercy or in wrath,

    How weak we are to read God’s awful lore!

    His breath protected on the stormy path,

    And dashed them lifeless on the promised shore!

    His hand sustained them in the parting woe,

    And gave bright vision to the heart of each

    His waters bore them where they wished to go,

    Then swept them seaward from the very beach!

    Their home is reached, their fetters now are riven,

    Their humble toil is o’er,—their rest has come;

    A land was promised and a land was given,—

    But, oh! God help the waiting ones at home!