(28 June 1844 - 10 August 1890 / Dowth Castle, County Meath)

The Well's Secret

I KNEW it all my boyhood: in a lonesome valley meadow,
Like a dryad's mirror hidden by the wood's dim arches near;
Its eye flashed back the sunshine, and grew dark and sad with shadow;
And I loved its truthful depths where every pebble lay so clear.

I scooped my hand and drank it, and watched the sensate quiver
Of the rippling rings of silver as the beads of crystal fell;
I pressed the richer grasses from its little trickling river,
Till at last I knew, as friends know, every secret of the well.

But one day I stood beside it on a sudden, unexpected,
When the sun had crossed the valley and a shadow hid the place;
And I looked in the dark water—saw my pallid cheek reflected—
And beside it, looking upward, met an evil reptile face:

Looking upward, furtive, startled at the silent, swift intrusion;
Then it darted toward the grasses, and I saw not where it fled;
But I knew its eyes were on me, and the old-time sweet illusion
Of the pure and perfect symbol I had cherished there was dead.

O, the pain to know the perjury of seeming truth that blesses!
My soul was seared like sin to see the falsehood of the place;
And the innocence that mocked me, while in dim unseen recesses
There were lurking fouler secrets than the furtive reptile face.

And since then,—O, why the burden?—when the joyous faces greet me,
With their eyes of limpid innocence, and words devoid of art,
I cannot trust their seeming, but must ask what eyes would meet me
Could I look in sudden silence at the secrets of the heart!

by John Boyle O'Reilly

Other poems of O'REILLY (150)

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