Chicago October 9th, 1871

John Boyle O'Reilly

Gaunt in the midst of the prairie,
She who was once so fair;
Charred and rent are her garments,
Heavy and dark like cerements;
Silent, but round her the air
Plaintively wails, "Miserere!"

Proud like a beautiful maiden,
Art-like from forehead to feet,
Was she till pressed like a leman
Close to the breast of the demon,
Lusting for one so sweet,
So were her shoulders laden.

Friends she had, rich in her treasures
Shall the old taunt be true, —
Fallen, they turn their cold faces,
Seeking new wealth-gilded places,
Saying we never knew
Aught of her smiles or her pleasures?

Silent she stands on the prairie,
Wrapped in her fire-scathed sheet:
Around her, thank God! is the Nation,
Weeping for her desolation,
Pouring its gold at her feet,
Answering her "Miserere!"

The great fire of 1871 burned for three days, destroyed four square miles of the city and killed hundreds.