The Prayer of the South

A poem by Abram Joseph Ryan

My brow is bent beneath a heavy rod!
My face is wan and white with many woes!
But I will lift my poor chained hands to God,
And for my children pray, and for my foes.
Beside the graves where thousands lowly lie
I kneel, and weeping for each slaughtered son,
I turn my gaze to my own sunny sky,
And pray, O Father, let Thy will be done!

My heart is filled with anguish, deep and vast!
My hopes are buried with my children's dust!
My joys have fled, my tears are flowing fast!
In whom, save Thee, our Father, shall I trust?
Ah! I forgot Thee, Father, long and oft,
When I was happy, rich, and proud, and free;
But conquered now, and crushed, I look aloft,
And sorrow leads me, Father, back to Thee.

Amid the wrecks that mark the foeman's path
I kneel, and wailing o'er my glories gone,
I still each thought of hate, each throb of wrath,
And whisper, Father, let Thy will be done!
Pity me, Father of the desolate!
Alas! my burdens are so hard to bear;
Look down in mercy on my wretched fate,
And keep me, guard me, with Thy loving care.

Pity me, Father, for His holy sake,
Whose broken heart bled at the feet of grief,
That hearts of earth, whenever they shall break,
Might go to His and find a sure relief.
Ah, me, how dark! Is this a brief eclipse?
Or is it night with no to-morrow's sun?
O Father! Father! with my pale, sad lips,
And sadder heart, I pray Thy will be done.

My homes are joyless, and a million mourn
Where many met in joys forever flown;
Whose hearts were light, are burdened now and torn,
Where many smiled, but one is left to moan.
And ah! the widow's wails, the orphan's cries,
Are morning hymn and vesper chant to me;
And groans of men and sounds of women's sighs
Commingle, Father, with my prayer to Thee.

Beneath my feet ten thousand children dead --
Oh! how I loved each known and nameless one!
Above their dust I bow my crownless head
And murmur: Father, still Thy will be done.
Ah! Father, Thou didst deck my own loved land
With all bright charms, and beautiful and fair;
But foeman came, and with a ruthless hand,
Spread ruin, wreck, and desolation there.

Girdled with gloom, of all my brightness shorn,
And garmented with grief, I kiss Thy rod,
And turn my face, with tears all wet and worn,
To catch one smile of pity from my God.
Around me blight, where all before was bloom,
And so much lost, alas! and nothing won
Save this -- that I can lean on wreck and tomb
And weep, and weeping, pray Thy will be done.

And oh! 'tis hard to say, but said, 'tis sweet;
The words are bitter, but they hold a balm --
A balm that heals the wounds of my defeat,
And lulls my sorrow into holy calm.
It is the prayer of prayers, and how it brings,
When heard in heaven, peace and hope to me!
When Jesus prayed it did not angels' wings
Gleam 'mid the darkness of Gethsemane?

My children, Father, Thy forgiveness need;
Alas! their hearts have only place for tears!
Forgive them, Father, ev'ry wrongful deed,
And every sin of those four bloody years;
And give them strength to bear their boundless loss,
And from their hearts take every thought of hate;
And while they climb their Calvary with their cross,
Oh! help them, Father, to endure its weight.

And for my dead, my Father, may I pray?
Ah! sighs may soothe, but prayer shall soothe me more!
I keep eternal watch above their clay;
Oh! rest their souls, my Father, I implore;
Forgive my foes -- they know not what they do --
Forgive them all the tears they made me shed;
Forgive them, though my noblest sons they slew,
And bless them, though they curse my poor, dear dead.

Oh! may my woes be each a carrier dove,
With swift, white wings, that, bathing in my tears,
Will bear Thee, Father, all my prayers of love,
And bring me peace in all my doubts and fears.
Father, I kneel, 'mid ruin, wreck, and grave --
A desert waste, where all was erst so fair --
And for my children and my foes I crave
Pity and pardon. Father, hear my prayer!

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