The Empty Niche

A KING once made a gallery of art,
With portraits of dead friends and living graced;
And at the end, 'neath curtains drawn apart,
An empty marble pedestal was placed.

Here, every day, the king would come, and pace
With eyes well-pleased along the statued hall;
But, ere he left, he turned with saddened face,
And mused before the curtained pedestal.

And once a courtier asked him why he kept
The shadowed niche to fill his heart with dole;
'For absent friends,' the monarch said, and wept;
'There still must be one absent to the soul.'

And this is true of all the hearts that beat;
Though days be soft and summer pathways fair,
Be sure, while joyous glances round us meet,
The curtained crypt and vacant plinth are there.

To-day we stand before our draped recess:
There is none absent—all we love are here;
To-morrow's hands the opening curtains press,
And lo, the pallid pediment is bare!

The cold affection that plain duty breeds
May see its union severed, and approve;
But when our bond is touched, it throbs and bleeds—
We pay no meed of duty, but of love.

As creeping tendrils shudder from the stone,
The vines of love avoid the frigid heart;
The work men do is not their test alone,
The love they win is far the better chart.

They say the citron-tree will never thrive
Transplanted from the soil where it matured;
Ah, would 'twere so that men could only live
Through working on where they had love secured!

'The People of the Book,' men called the Jews—
Our priests are truly ' People of the Word; '
And he who serves the Master must not choose—
He renders feudal service to the Lord.

But we who love and lose will, like the king,
Still keep the alcove empty in the hall,
And hope, firm-hearted, that some day will bring
Our absent one to fill his pedestal.

by John Boyle O'Reilly

Other poems of O'REILLY (150)

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