The White Rose
By John Boyle O’Reilly – 1844-1890
The red rose whispers of passion,
And the white rose breathes of love;
O, the red rose is a falcon,
And the white rose is a dove.
But I send you a cream-white rosebud
With a flush on its petal tips;
For the love that is purest and sweetest
Has a kiss of desire on the lips.
I was not going to post another poem today, since I posted several yesterday for Valentine’s Day, but, I came across the picture above and wanted to use it so I quickly searched poems about roses. (I didn’t want to use “Roses are red, Violets are blue, Sugar is sweet, And so are you.” It’s just too cliché.) as I was looking at poems, I came across the one above and liked it. Then, I read about the poet’s life, which I found fascinating. Hopefully, you will too.
I hope all of you had a wonderful Valentine’s Day, whether you were with a loved one, or like me, all by yourself. The only thing I think I really missed is I wish I had a box of chocolate caramels. I need to run to the grocery store this evening, maybe I can find a box half off in a post-Valentine’s Day sale.
About the Poet
John Boyle O’Reilly was born near Drogheda, Ireland, on June 24, 1844. His father, William David O’Reilly, directed the local school, and his mother, Eliza Boyle, managed an orphanage. After several years at his father’s school, he turned to journalism, taking apprenticeships first at the local paper Drogheda Argus and then at The Guardian in Preston, England, where he lived with his aunt and uncle.
In 1863, after four years in Preston, O’Reilly enlisted in the Tenth Hussars, a cavalry regiment stationed in Ireland. However, beginning in 1865 he was also an active member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, or the Fenians, a revolutionary group planning an armed uprising against British rule. He was dedicated to recruiting other Irish soldiers to the cause, but in 1866 some of his recruits within the Hussars exposed his dual allegiance. Within the year he was court-martialed, convicted of treason, and sentenced to twenty years of penal servitude. After spending time in several English prisons, he was placed on the last ship transporting convicts to Australia.
O’Reilly escaped from the Penal Colony of Western Australia in 1869, slipping away from his convict camp and securing passage on an American whaling ship. He then spent eight months at sea, on a series of different vessels, before disembarking in Philadelphia. Once in America, he moved to Boston and began working at the country’s foremost Catholic newspaper, The Pilot, where he became editor in 1874. He remained editor for over twenty years.
Between 1873 and 1886, O’Reilly also published four poetry collections: In Bohemia (The Pilot Publishing Co., 1886), The Statues in the Block and other poems (Roberts Brothers, 1881), Songs, Legends, and Ballads (The Pilot Publishing Co., 1878), and Songs from the Southern Seas and other poems (Roberts Brothers, 1873). Despite his involvement in Boston’s literary scene, only a few of his poems were reprinted in anthologies. Of those few, the most popular was “A White Rose” from In Bohemia. He also penned a novel, Moondyne: a story from the under-world (The Pilot Publishing Co., 1879).
O’Reilly married another journalist, Mary Murphy, in 1872, and together they had four children. He died on August 9, 1890, after an overdose of sleeping medicine. He has been honored with a bronze sculpture on the Fenway in Boston and with several buildings and associations bearing his name.