Heart Hunger

Poem By John Boyle O'Reilly

THERE is no truth in faces, save in children:
They laugh and frown and weep from nature's keys;
But we who meet the world give out false notes,
The true note dying muffled in the heart.

O, there be woeful prayers and piteous wailing,
That spirits hear, from lives that starve for love!
The body's food is bread; and wretches' cries
Are heard and answered: but the spirit's food
Is love; and hearts that starve may die in agony
And no physician mark the cause of death.

You cannot read the faces; they are masks—
Like yonder woman, smiling at the lips,
Silk-clad, bejeweled, lapped with luxury,
And beautiful and young—ay, smiling at the lips,
But never in the eyes from inner light:
A gracious temple, hung with flowers without—
Within, a naked corpse upon the stones!

O, years and years ago the hunger came—
The desert-thirst for love—she prayed for love—
She cried out in the night-time of her soul for Jove!
The cup they gave was poison whipped to froth.
For years she drank it, knowing it for death;
She shrieked in soul against it, but must drink:
The skies were dumb—she dared not swoon or scream.
As Indian mothers see babes die for food,
She watched dry-eyed beside her starving heart,
And only sobbed in secret for its gasps,
And only raved one wild hour when it died!

O Pain, have pity! Numb her quivering sense;
O Fame, bring guerdon! Thrice a thousand years
Thy boy-thief with the fox beneath his cloak
Has let it gnaw his side unmoved, and held the world;
And she, a slight woman, smiling at the lips,
With repartee and jest—a corpse-heart in her breast!

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