Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Mother's Prayer

A Mothers Prayer [1]


Father, in the battle fray,
Shelter his dear head, I pray!
Nerve his young arm with the might
Of Justice, Liberty, and Right.
Where the red hail deadliest falls,
Where stern duty loudly calls,
Where the strife is fierce and wild--
Father! Guard, oh guard my child!

Where the foe rush swift and strong,
Madly striking for the wrong;
Where the clash of angry steel
Rings above the battle-field;
Where the stifling air is hot,
With bursting shell and whistling shot;
Father, to my boy's brave breast
Let no treacherous blade be pressed!

Father! If my woman's heart--
Frail and weak in every part--
Wanders from Thy mercy seat,
After those dear roving feet,
Let Thy tender pitying grace
Every selfish thought erase!
If this mother love be wrong,
Pardon, bless, and make me strong.

For when silent shades of night
Shut the bright world from my sight,
When, around the cheerful fire,
Gather brothers, sisters, sire:                                     

Father Ryan during the war.
Then I miss my boy's bright face                                         
From the old familiar place,
And my sad heart wanders back
To tented field and bivouac.

Often in my troubled sleep
Waking- wearily to weep--
Often dreaming he is near,
Calming every anxious fear--
Often startled by the flash
Of hostile swords that meet and clash,
Till the cannons smoke and roar
Hide him from my sight no more.

Thus I dream, and hope, and pray,
All the weary hours away;
But I know his cause is just,
And I center all my trust
In Thy promise-- “As Thy day, so
shall thy strength be”--alway!
Yet I need Thy guidance still;
Father, let me do Thy will.

If new sorrow should befall,
If my noble boy should fall,
If the bright head I have blessed
On the cold earth find its rest;
Still, with all the mother heart,
Torn and quivering with the smart,
I yield him 'neath Thy chastening rod,
To his country and his God!

This beautiful piece of poetry was written by Father Abram Joseph Ryan sometime during the American Civil War. Ryan has been proclaimed as “The Poet Priest of the South” or “The Poet Priest of the Confederacy” dating back to the war itself. He was born on February 5, 1838 and died April 22, 1886. Beyond that I can not at this time give much more information. Manuscripts that I have found, ranging from the late 19th century through to more recent works including Catholic journals and encyclopedias contain so much conflicting information about him that it is difficult establish accurate facts. As an example, some manuscripts give his birth date as August 15, 1839. Some list his place of birth as Norfolk, Virginia while others say Hagerstown Maryland. You can see what I am up against here. I am going to keep digging since I am working on posts pertaining to Civil War chaplains and he after all was a priest, but again conflicting sources say he never actually joined the Confederate army and others say he did. The only agreement is that he served the Southern soldier as best he could.
Be that as it may, Father Ryan's poetry stands alone in its power, patriotism, and depth of feeling that is unparalleled by any poet of the day, North or South. In fact, many of them could find a place in a Yankee home as easily as one found in Dixie. Mothers all across the land may have found solace in this piece.
Although Ryan may be best noted for post war laments for the Lost Cause, not all of his work exudes the despondency of “The Conquered Banner” or “The Sword of Robert Lee”, and I will show one of his post war poems that bears no resemblance to those two poems in an up coming post.

1-War Lyrics and Songs of the South, Ryan, Abram Joseph, 1866, page 42
Image from Belmont Abbey College Collection, Belmont, North Carolina
The Picket

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