by Herbert Trench
I: THE CHANTERS[edit | edit source]
I stood on the Hill of Time when the sun was fled,
And my vision sought where to rest, till it knew the plains
Of my country, the Night's harp, and the moonless bed
Of rivers and bristling forests and sea-board chains.
And from many a chanter's mound-none is nameless there-
Could I hear, amid rumour eternal, the voice ascend.
With the bones of man endureth his floating hair,
And the song of his spirit on earth is slow to end.
Speak to me, speak to me, Fintan, dark in the south,
From the west Urmael, and Cir, lying under the pole,
Some chant that ye made, who never spake mouth to mouth,
But over the ridge of ages from soul to soul!
And a strain came out of Dun Tulcha, the yew's shores,
From Fintan, the elder than yews, the too old for tears,
'Let us tell him of Deirdre wed, that his heart's doors
Resound, as when kings arrive, with the trees of spears.'
2: VOICE OF FINTAN[edit | edit source]
Out of the First Century
O sightless and rare-singing brotherhood!
It was the night when Connachar, high king
Of the four kingdoms, took to wife at last
Deirdre, the wise one, the thrice-beautiful;
It was the night of marriage. Word had sped,
Tokens gone out to every rath and ring
And every pasture on the woody knolls
Green about Eman, of the slaughter blithe
Of sheep and boar, of badger and of stag,
Reddening the ways up to the kingly house-
Of sheep and goats and of the stintless food
That should be poured out to his beggary
By Connachar, that all time should remember
The night he wed the girl from the elf-mound.
Yonside of Assaroe his swineherd found her
Bred in a peaty hillock of the west
By one old crone. Though tribeless she and wild-
Barefoot, and in the red wool chasing cattle
Connachar saw and took, biding his time,
And let queens give her skill the winter long
In webs and brews and dyes and broideries
Up to this night of marriage.
O friends, and dark, and mighty, was his house,
The beam-work in its dome of forest trunks-
They that had been the chantries of the dawn
To blacken songless through a thousand years:-
But never since they sway'd buds in the glens
Or spun the silken-floating violet gleam
Had those spars groan'd above so fierce a breath
Rich with the vapour of the boar! For now
Hundreds with ruddy-glistening faces ran
Jostling round the nine shadows of the blaze
And spread with skins the lengthy beds of men
And soused warm spice of herbs in ale. Here-thither-
Was rousing of age-slumber'd horns, arranging
Smooth banks throughout the house, strawing of rushes,
And cauldrons humm'd before the empty throne
Set high in the shadow of the wall, and bubbled
Inaudible, impatient for the king.
But while outside the black roof on the mount
Wide-wafted sank the sun's divinity
On swooning wings, the Lake of Pearls far down
Curdled beneath the unseen seed of rain.
Ramparts run there that by-gone prisoners
Bore once in bags of slime up from the lake
For barriers of the house they most abhorr'd.
And on the hill-side, where that rampart old
Dips lowest to the lakeward, Deirdre stood,
Hearing from distant ridges the faint bleat
Of lambs perturb the dusk-bleats shivering out
Like wool from thorns-there the young Deirdre stood,
Like the moon whose climbing beauty pales the world,
Looking far off on hills whence she was come.
Mountains that lift the holiness of Fire!
Fortitudes, ye that take the brunt of fate!
Send her across the bog a little cloud
Full of the ancient savours, full of peace,
And for its drops she will hold up her heart,
O ye that stand in heaven, far removed!
She ask'd aloud, Wherefore were greens so bare
That but an hour ago shook with the thud
Of racers and of hurlers? Was it late?
The wrinkled nurse replied, Had the child eyes?
Back from a hosting and a desperate prey
For corn and mares and rustless brass and beeves
Naois, with the rest of Usnach's sons,
Had come. She had seen him weary go but now
Heavily up the steep through the king's hedge.
Now on the hill-top, while the woman spoke,
So chanced it. Hanging on the young man's lips
The hosts sway'd round him, and above the press
Connachar, glittering all in torques of gold
And writhen armlets, listen'd from the mound
Of judgment, by the doom-oak at his door.
His beak'd helm took the sunset, but he held
His flint-red eyes in shadow and averse.
And when before him, dark as a young pine,
Unmoved the son of Usnach had told all;
How half his folk had perish'd in the task
By plague or battle, and how poor a spoil
Was driven home, the king cried: 'Paragon!
We must go griddle cakes in honey for him!
Bring lavers of pale gold to wash off blood
So precious to us!' Since for many moons
This champion had forsworn the face of softness
And stretched his hungers to the sleety rock,
Call in the smile of women to unlatch
From his grim ribs the iron:-Faugh! Away!
Let Usnach's sons take out again that night
Their broken clans, their piteous cattle thence;
Defeated men should see his gates no more.
The son of Usnach turn'd and went. He ran
Down hill and to the loch to wash his wounds
Chanting-his dark curls waver'd in the wind-
Chanting he strode, tossing a brace of spears,
Lest we should think him humbled. Halfway down
The shapes of women loiter'd in the dusk
And one held backward out her arms to take
The latchets of her cloak. But as Naois
Pass'd by them, closely as is heard a sigh-
His vehement flood of soul fierce for the mere-
Glancing not right nor left, O then I saw
The foot of Deirdre stricken motionless-
I saw the stiff cloak many-colour'd sink
Slow to the grass, wrinkling its blazon'd skins
Gloom suck'd in the banqueters;
And from the warmth of drinking at his feast
Connachar sent forth to the women's house;
And heralds bade bring also the grey seer,
Cathva, though Cathva had not will'd to come.
But hardly had those erranders gone out
When rose the door-hide: the grey seer came in
Noiseless. He was of fog the night hath spun,
Earth in his hair and on his meagre cheek,
Consumed and shaking, ragged as seaweed,
And to the throne he cried: 'Why hast thou called
Me to carousal? Is this bed my work?
Nay-too great clearness underneath the thunder
Shew'd insupportably the things to be.
Too long have I, with glamours, drops and runes
Shook round her cabin low my skirts of storm,
Far hence, round her peaty hillock in the west,
To shield thee from that devastating face.
My fault is only that I slew her not.
Know! it was I that, seeing those cradled limbs
Bright with disaster for the realm and thee,
When she no more was than a litling babe
Flung her away among sea-warding Mountains.
But Muilréa to Ben Gorm said:
What is this?
What glee is this disturbs our desolation?
I hear another than the wild duck sheering
Sidelong the wind. Tall as a rush is she,
Sweet as the glitter of the netted lakes!
And Ben Gorm answer'd:We are sick alone:
Let us distil the heavens into a child!
Yea, let our bones appear, the black goat starve
Upon our heads, yet shall this wafted seed
Superabound with ripeness we forgo.
Dark space shall come to heart-silvers of mists-And thou, blue depth of gorges! Connachar,
I heard the plotters, but I let her live!'
And the king ask'd, 'Hath any seen her there?'
And Cathva answer'd, 'Till thy herdsman found her
She knew not that men were.' Then Connachar
Commanded yet again, 'Bring us in Deirdre!'
Straightway a woman like the claw of birds,
Decrepit, bright of eye, and innocent,
Stood up beyond the fire. Her fingers play'd-
Play'd with a red stone at her breast. He ask'd,
'Who gave thee, hag, the jewel on thy bosom?'
Now every drinker from the darkest stalls
Perceived the brooch was Deirdre's, and a gift
To her from Connachar. Aghast, the woman
Fumbled at her sere breast, and wept and said,
'It was a gift to me, O Connachar,
This night.' And he, consummate lord of fear,
Our never-counsell'd lord, the Forest-odour'd,
That kept about his heart a zone of chill,
Smiled, though within the gateway of his fort
A surmise crept, as 'neath a load of rushes
Creeps in the stabber. 'Fix the pin, Levarcham,
For she that loses such a brooch will grieve.
Why comes not Deirdre?' 'Sir, she is not yet
Duly array'd, and so is loth to come.'
O, then, believe me, all the floor was hush,
But a mad discordancy like fifes, drums, brasses,-
Bondmen of old was on the winds released-
Shook every beam and pillar of the house;
And the king said-'Thou hear'st out of the marsh
Scream of my stallions mounting on the gale?'
And she said, 'Yea.' 'Thou knowest round these walls
How many chariots now are tilted up?'
And she said, 'Yea.' 'Then, woman, bring with haste
Deirdre, thy charge, into this presence now,
Or limb from limb upon the pleasant grass
Those wheels shall parcel thee at dawn!' And she,
Levarcham that was nurse to Deirdre's childhood,
Lifted her hands and closed her eyes and sang:
'She will come back, but I, I shall not bring her!
O rainbow breathed into the dreadful pine,
Why art thou gone from me? Dearer to me
Than the sobbing of the cuckoo to the shore,
Why art thou gone from me?' She bow'd and wept.
And Connachar came from the throne, and grasping,
As if he felt no heat, the cauldron's brims,
Lean'd through its steams, watching the nurse and said,
'Will these afflicting tears bring Deirdre in?'
But she look'd up and said: 'How shall I bring her?
Look now outside thy door, O Connachar!
The black oak with the vision-dripping boughs
Whose foot is in thy father's blood of pride
Stagger'd as I came up in the night-blast.
In vain it stretches angers to the sky:
It cannot keep the white moon from escape
To sail the tempest; nor, O king, canst thou!'
The cheek of him that listened grew thrice-pale
And his thick nostrils swell'd, his half-shut eyes
Fang'd sheen, and slow dilated; stubbornly
He clutch'd to steady his convulsive frame
The sea-full cauldron; quick, with efforts vast,
Upheaved and swung and pillar'd it on high-
And hoarsely bade, 'Take torches!' Every man
Kindled in silence at the hearth divine.
Then Connachar pour'd out upon the blaze
The flood within the vat. The roofs were fill'd
With darkness foul, with hissings and with smoke. . . .
3: VOICE OF CIR[edit | edit source]
Out of a Century more remote, but unknown
As a horseman breaks on a sea-gulf enwombed in the amber woods
Where tide is at ebb, and out on the airy brim
Glass'd upon cloud and azure stand multitudes
Of the flame-white people of gulls-to the sky-line dim
All breast to the sun,-and his hoofs expand the desolate strait
Into fevers of snows and ocean-wandering cries:
Even so, chanters divine, in some woman's fate
At coming of him to be loved do her dreams arise.
And Deirdre, the exquisite virgin, pale as the coat of swans,
Took the flame of love in her heart at the time of dew,
And clad her in ragged wool from a coffer of bronze,
And walked in the chill of night, for her soul was new.
'Why thick with the berries of sweetness, ye barren thorns of the spring?
I could drink up this tempest cold as a burning wine.
Why laugh, my grief, for art thou not bride of a king,
And the drinkers drink to a couch array'd to be thine?'
Where the wounded toss without sleep in the warrior's hive of stones-
The house Bron Bhearg-she laid her cheek to the wall
And bless'd them by stealth, with no pang at the sound of groans,
Having that in her rich heart which could heal them all.
To the fortress-gate on the steep that looketh toward Creeve Roe
She fled, and spied, not a sling-cast off, the flare
Of a torch, and the skull fixed over the gate. And lo,
To the right hand watchmen paced by the water there.
And the shag-hair'd guard, with a mock, laid spears in their passage house
Athwart; for who was this phantom over the grass
Like a filcher of food? And Deirdre uncover'd her brows
And cried, 'I am Deirdre!' And sullen they gave her the pass.
And towards Creeve Roe the dip of the cuckoo's vale was dark
To blindness. She pluck'd her steps on that miry road
Through copses alive with storm, till at length a spark
Shew'd the forge where the smith on the heroes' way abode.
Now Culann, the smith, was wise; and leaping her spirit stirr'd
With the soft roar of his hide-wing'd fire as it soar'd:
'Has the son of Usnach pass'd?' 'Yea, gone back!' With the word
He smote on a ribbon of iron to make him a sword.
And the argentine din of anvils behind her steadily dwindling
The woman fled to the wastes, till she came to a Thorn
Black, by the well of a God, with stars therein kindling
And over it rags fluttering from boughs forlorn.
And she knelt and shore with a knife a lock of her deathless hair,
And leash'd the black-shuddering branch with that tress, and pray'd:
'Sloe-tree, thou snow of the darkness, O hear my prayer,
And thou, black Depth, bubble-breather, vouchsafe thine aid;
'From Connachar's eyes of love let me hide as a grey mole,
Sons of the Earth's profound, that no weeper spurn!
I have look'd on a face, and its kindness ravish't my soul,
But deliverance pass'd; unto you for escape I turn.'
And loud as the sloven starlings in winter whistle and swarm
Came the banish'd of Usnach nigh, thrice fifty strong,
As they drove from Eman away on that night of storm;
And Naois spoke with his brothers behind the throng:
'O Aillean, O Ardan, hark! What cry was that? For some cry
Rang on my soul's shield; hark! hear ye it now?'
But they rein'd not their weary chariots, shouting reply:
'It was fate, 'twas the curs't hag that is crouch'd on a bough!'
Tossing they drove out of sight, Naois the last, and his hood
Rain-dripping mantled the wind. One ran like a roe,
And call'd on that great name from the night-bound wood:
'Stay, long-awaited, stay! for with thee I go!'
And his brothers cried, 'Halt not! the host of the air makes moan,
Or a gang of the wild geese, going back to the lake!'
But Naois rear'd up the deep-ribb'd Sron: 'Good Sron,
Thou and I needs must turn for our fame's sake.'
And he heard a voice: 'Son of Usnach, take me to be thy wife!'
He bent from the withers, the blaze of her, trembling, drew
The breath from his lips and the beat from his heart's life;
And he said, 'Who art thou, Queen?' But himself knew.
And he mutter'd, 'Return, return, unto him that I hate! For know,
Him least of all I rob, least of all that live!'
But she cried: 'Am I then a colt, that ye snare from a foe
With a bridle's shaking? I am mine own to give!'
'Thy beauty would crumble away in the spate of my wild nights,
And famine rake out thine embers, the lean paw
Of jeopardy find thee. He is not rich in delights
Whose harp is the grey fell in the winter's flaw!'
And she laid her arm round the neck of Sron: 'Hast heard,
Horse swollen-vein'd from battle, insulter of death-
Whose back is only a perch for the desert bird-
Whose fore-hooves fight-whose passage is torn with teeth:
'And dost thou not shudder off the knees of a master deaf
To the grief of the weak?' And the lad, deeply-moved, rejoins,
'Mount, then, O woman, behind me!'-and light as a leaf
Drawing her up from his foot to the smoking loins
Shook loose the ox-hide bridle. Even as the great gull dives
From Muilréa's moon-glittering peak when the sky is bare,
Scraped naked by nine days' wind, and sweepingly drives
Over night-blurred gulfs and the long glens of the air,
And feels up-tossing his breast an exhaustless breath bear on
Spouted from isleless ocean to aid his flight-
So fiercely, so steadily gallop'd the sinewy Sron,
Braced by that double burden to more delight.
Though his mane wrapp'd a wounded bridlehand, fast, fast
As giddy foam-weltering waters dash'd by the hoof
Flee away from the weirs of Callan, even so pass'd
Dark plains away to the world's edge, behind and aloof.
And the rider stoop'd and whisper'd, amidst the thunder of weirs,
Such sweetness of praise to his horse in the swirl of the flood,
That Sron twitch'd back for an instant his moonèd ears
Strain'd forth like a hare's, as his haunches up to the wood
Wrested them. Beaks of magic, the wreckage of time, came out,
And talon'd things of the forest would waft and sway;
But Naois raised unforgotten that battle-shout
That scatters the thrilling wreath of all fears away.
So they measured the Plain of the Dreamers, the Brake of the Black Ram,
Till the Crag of the Dances before them did shape and loom,
And the Meads of the Faery Hurlers in silver swam;
Then up to the Gap of the Winds, and the far-seen tomb
White on Slieve Fuad's side. By many a marchland old
And cairn of princes-yea, to mine own bedside-
They adventured! Think ye, sweet bards, that I could lie cold
When my chamber of rock fore-knew that impassion'd stride?
Had I, too, not pluck'd the webs of rain-sweet drops from the harp,
And torn from its wave of chords an imperishable love
To sleep on this breast? For here through the mountain sharp
My grave-chamber tunnell'd is, and one door from above
Westward surveys green territories, gentle with flowers and charm;
But forth from the eastern face of the ridge is unquell'd
Wilderness, besown with boulders and grass of harm.
Even in my trance could I feel those riders approach, and beheld
Naois assault the ridge, to the wilderness setting his face
Expectant, unconscious, as one whom his foes arouse;
His heart was a forge, his onset enkindled space,
He shook off the gusty leagues like locks from his brows.
What should he reck of Earth save that under his wounds he felt
Stolen round him, as dreamy water steals round a shore,
A girdle, the arms of Deirdre, clasp'd for a belt
That terror of main kings should unlock no more?
I was caught from the grave's high gate as that spume-flaked ecstasy drew
Upward, and wing'd like the kiss of Aengus, strove
For utterance to greet them-encircling their heads that flew-
But who lops the whirlwind's foot or outdreameth love?
He wheel'd round Sron on the crest. Abrupt he flung back a hand
And spoke: 'Dost thou know the truth? Look where night is low!
Soon the ants of that mound shall shake the ledge where we stand;
Now the tribes are summon'd, the Night prepares his blow;
'Now wrath spurts hot from the trumpet-the main beacon flares-
Now tackle the arrogant chariots-dogs in their glee
Hang on the leash-slaves, numb in the cockcrow airs.
Why, out of all that host, hast thou singled me?'
I heard her behind him breathe, 'Because out of all that host
Aptest art thou in feats, held in honour more
Than any save bright Cuchullain!' He turn'd as one lost:
'Is this time a time to mock? Are there not four-score
'Better at feats than I; my masters, the noble teams,
The attemper'd knights of the Red Branch every one?
Nay, though I knead up the whole earth in my dreams,
Nought to such men am I, who have nothing done!'
I heard the blowings of Sron, and then lasting words: 'I choose
Thee-wherefore? Ah, how interpret? Today on the slope
Where first by the wall I saw thee at gloam of dews
I knew it was fated. It was not some leaf of hope
'Eddying. Thou wast the token-half of the potter's shard-
That a chief beleaguer'd cons in his desperate camp
Pass'd in by some hand unseen to the outmost guard,
And fits to the other half by his wasted lamp.
'Seeing thee, I knew myself to be shaped of the self-same clay-
Half of the symbol-but broken, mayhap to serve
As language to them of the night from powers of the day!'
By the path of the throbbing curlew no step may swerve
Where they rode through the Gap; and at last she murmur'd, 'Dost grieve at me still?'
And he said: 'Glorious is it to me that behind us pursuit
Shall be wide as the red of the morning; for thou art my will!
To the beach of the world of the dead, and beyond it to boot,
'Let me take and defend thee!' In silence the hearts of the twain were screen'd;
But crossing the mires and the torrents I saw strange ease
Afloat, like a spark, on the woman's eyes as she lean'd
Forth, and a shadow betwixt her lips like peace!
4: VOICE OF URMAEL[edit | edit source]
Out of the Sixth Century
The slender Hazels ask'd the Yew like night
Beside the river-green of Lisnacaun:
'Who is this woman beautiful as light
Sitting in dolour on thy branchèd lawn,
With sun-red hair, entangled as with flight,
Sheening the knees up to her bosom drawn?
What horses mud-besprent so thirstily
Bellying the hush pools with their nostrils wide?'
And the Yew, old as the long mountain-side,
Answer'd, 'I saw her hither with Clan Usnach ride!'
'Come, love, and climb with me Findruim's woods
Alone!' Naois pray'd. Through broom and bent
Strewn with swift-travelling shadows like their moods,
Leaving below the camp's thin cries, they went;
And never a tress, escaping from her snoods,
Made the brown river with a kiss content,
So safe he raised up Deirdre through the ford.
Thanks, piteous Gods, that no foreboding gave
He should so bear her after to the grave,
Breasting the druid ice, breasting the phantom wave!
'O, bear me on,' she breathed, 'for ever so!'
And light as notes the Achill shepherd plays
On his twin pipes, they wanton'd light and slow
Up the broad valley. Birds sail'd from the haze
Far up, where darkling copses over-grow
Scarps of the grey cliff from his river'd base.
Diaphaneity, the spirit's beauty,
Along the dimmèd combes did float and reign,
And many a mountain's scarry flank was plain
Through nets of youngling gold betrimm'd with rain.
But when an upward space of grass-so free-
So endless-beckon'd to the realms of wind
Deirdre broke from his side, and airily
Fled up the slopes, flinging disdains behind,
And paused, and round a little vivid tree
The wolf-skins from her neck began to bind.
Naois watch'd below this incantation;
Then upward on his javelin's length he swung
To catch some old crone's ditty freshly sung,
Bidding that shoot be wise, for yet 'twas young.
With gaze in gaze, thus ever up and on
Roved they, unwitting of the world outroll'd,
Their ears dinn'd by the breeze's clarion
That quicks the blood while yet the cheek is cold;
Great whitenesses rose past them, brooks ran down,
And step by step Findruim bare and bold
Uplifted. So a swimmer is uplifted,
Horsed on a streaming shoulder of the Sea,
Our hasty master, who to such as we
Tosses some glittering hour of mastery.
They heard out of the zenith swoop and sting
Feathery voices, keen and soft and light:
'Mate ye as eagles mate, that on the wing
Grapple-heaven-high-hell-deep-for yours is flight!
Souls like the granite candles of a king,
Flaming unshook amid the noise of night.
What of pursuit, that you to-day should fear it?'
Pursuit they reck'd not, save of wind that pours
Surging and urging on to other shores
Over the restless forest of a thousand doors.
'Deirdre,' he cried, 'the blowings of thy hair
Uncoil the clouds that everlasting stream
Forth from the castles of those islands rare,
Black in the ragged-misted ocean's gleam,
And glimpsed by Iceland galleys as they fare
Northward!' But in her bosom's open seam
She set the powder'd yew-spring silently;
'Speak not of me nor give my beauty praise,
Whose beauty is to follow in thy ways,
So that my days be number'd with thy days!'
In the high pastures of that boundless place
Their feet wist not if they should soar or run;
They turned, at earth astonish'd, face to face,
Deeming unearthly blessedness begun.
And slow, 'mid nests of running larks, they pace
Drinking from the recesses of the sun
Tremble of those wings that beat light into music.
There the world's ends lay open; open wide
The body's windows. What shall them divide
Who have walk'd once that country side by side?
She mused: 'O why doth happiness too much
Fountains of blood and spirit seem to fill?
The woods, over-flowing, cannot bear that such
An hour should be so sweet and yet be still.
Even the low-tangled bushes at a touch
Break into wars of gleemen, thrill on thrill.
O, son of Usnach, bring me not thy glories!
Bring me defeats and shames and secret woe;
That where no brother goeth I may go,
And kneel to wash thy wounds in caverns bleak and low!'
'Here, up in sight of the far shine of sea,'
(He sang) 'once after hunting, by the fire
I knelt, and kindling brushwood raised up thee,
Deirdre, nor wist the star of my desire
Should ever walk Findruim's head with me,
Far from a king's loud house and soft attire.
Fain would I thatch us here a booth of hazels,
Thatch it with drift and snow of sea-gulls' wings;
And thy horn'd harp should wonder to its strings,
What spoil is it to-night Naois brings?'
'Listen,' quoth he, when scarce those words were gone
(A neck of the bare down it was, a ledge
Of wind-sleek turf, the lovers roam'd upon,
And sent young rabbits scuttling to the edge
Of underwoods beneath), 'I think that you
Some beast-haply a stag-takes harbourage.'
And Deirdre at a word come back from regions
Of bliss too nigh to pain, snatch'd with no fear
Out of his hand the battle-haunted spear
And, questing swiftly down the pasture sheer,
Enter'd the yew's black vault. Therein profound
Green-litten air, and there, as seeking fresh
Enemies, one haunch crush'd against the ground
The grey boar slew'd, tusking the tender flesh
Of shoots, his ravage-whetted bulk around:
But, when his ear across the straggling mesh
Of feather'd sticks report of Deirdre found,
He quiver'd, snorted; from his jaws like wine
Foam dripped; the brawny horror of his spine
Bristled with keen spikes like a ridge of pine.
Mortals, the maiden deem'd that guise a mask-
Believed that in the beast sate to ensnare
He of the red eye-little need to ask
The druid-wrinkled hide, the sluttish hair:
This was to escape-how vain poor passion's task!-
Connachar of the illimitable lair!
He crash'd at her! she heaved the point embrown'd
In blood of dragons. Heavily the boar
Grazed by the iron, reel'd, leapt, charged once more
And thrice in passage her frail vesture tore.
As when a herd-boy lying on the scar
(Who pipes to flocks below him on the steep
Melodies like their neckbells, scattering far,
Cool as the running water, soft as sleep)
Hurls out a flint from peril to debar
And from the boulder'd chasm recall his sheep-
So with a knife Naois leapt and struck.
Strange! in the very fury of a stride
The grey beast like a phantom from his side
Plunged without scathe to thickets undescried.
Naois sheathed his iron with no stain,
And laugh'd, 'This shall be praised in revels mad
Around Lug's peak, when women scatter grain
Upon the warriors! Why shouldst thou be sad
Pale victory?' But she, 'Ah, thus again
Ere night do I imperil thee, and add
Burden to burden!' And he strove to lead her
From grief, and said, 'What, bride! thy raiment torn?'
'Content thee, O content thee, man of scorn,
I'll brooch it with no jewel but a thorn!'
They seek down through the Wood of Awe that hems
Findruim, like the throng about his grave,
Dusk with the swarth locks of ten thousand stems
In naked poise. These make no rustle save
Some pine-cone dropt, or murmur that condemns
Murmur; bedumb'd with moss that giant nave.
But let Findruim shake out overhead
His old sea-sigh, and when it doth arrive
At once their tawny boles become alive
With gleams that come and go, and they revive
The north's Fomorian roar.-'I am enthrall'd,'
He said, 'as by the blueness of a ray
That, dropping through this presence sombre-wall'd,
Burns low about the image of a spray
Of some poor beech-spray witch'd to emerald.
Wilt thou not dance, daughter of heaven, to-day
Free, at last free? For here no moody raindrop
Can reach thee, nor betrayer overpeer;
And none the self-delightful measure hear
That thy soul moves to, quit of mortal ear!'
Full loth she pleads, yet cannot him resist
And on the enmossèd lights begins to dance.
Away, away, far floating like a mist
To fade into some leafy brilliance;
Then, smiling to the inward melodist,
Over the printless turf with slow advance
Of showery footsteps, makes she infinite
That crowded glen. But quick, possess'd by strange
Rapture, wider than dreams her motions range,
Till to a span the forests shrink and change.
And in her eyes and glimmering arms she brings
Hither all promise, all the unlook'd-for boon
Of rainbow'd life, all rare and speechless things
That shine and swell under the brimming Moon.
Who shall pluck tympans? For what need of strings
To waft her blood who is herself the tune-
Herself the warm and breathing melody?
Art come from the Land of the Ever-Young? O stay!
For his heart, after thee rising away,
Falls dark and spirit-faint back to the clay.
Griefs, like the yellow leaves by winter curl'd,
Rise after her-long-buried pangs arouse-
About that bosom the grey forests whirl'd,
And tempests with her beauty might espouse;
She rose with the green waters of the world
And the winds heaved with her their depth of boughs.
Then vague again as blows the beanfield's odour
On the dark lap of air she chose to sink,
As, winnowing with plumes, to the river-brink
The pigeons from the cliff come down to drink.
Sudden distraught, shading her eyes, she ceased,
Listening, like bride whom cunning faery strain
Forth from the trumpet-bruited spousal feast
Steals. But she beckon'd soon, and quick with pain
He ran, he craved at those white feet the least
Pardon; nor, till he felt her hand again
Descend flake-soft, durst spy that she was weeping,
Or kneel with burning murmurs to atone.
For sleep she wept. Long fasting had they gone
And ridden from the breaking of the dawn.
It chanced that waters, nigh to that selve grove,
From Sleep's own lake as from a cauldron pass;
He led towards their sound his weary love
And lay before her in the fresh of grass
Resting-the white cirque of the cliffs above-
Against a sun-abandon'd stem there was.
Spray from the strings of water spilling over
The weir of rock, their fever'd cheeks bewet;
And to its sound a voiceless bread they ate,
And drank the troth that is unbroken yet.
Out in the mere, brown, unbesilver'd now
By finest skimming of the elfin breeze,
An isle was moor'd, with rushes at its prow
And fraught with haze of deeply-mirror'd trees;
And knowing Deirdre still was mindful how
The boar yet lived, that she might sleep at ease
Naois swore to harbour on that islet.
Nine strides he waded in, on footings nine
Deep, deeper yet, until his basnet's shine
Sank to the cold lips of the lake divine.
Divine; for once the sunk stones of that way
Approach'd the pool-god; and the outermost
Had been the black slab whereon druids slay
With stoop and mutter to the water's ghost,
Though since, to glut some whim malign, the fay
Had swell'd over the flags. Of all the host
Few save Naois, and at sore adventure,
Had ta'en this pass. But who would not have press'd
Through straits by the chill-finger'd fiend possess'd
To bear unto that isle Deirdre to rest?
'Seal up thy sight! My shield of iron rims
Unhook; cast in this shatter'd helm for spoil!'
'Twas done, and then with rush of cleaving limbs
He swam and bore her out with happy toil,
Secret and fierce as the flat otter swims
Out of the whistling reeds, as if through oil.
And Deirdre, whiter than the wave-swan floating,
Smiled that he suffer'd her no stroke to urge.
At length they reach the gnarl'd and ivied verge
And from the shallows to the sun emerge.
She spreads her wolf-skins on the rock that glows
And sun-tears wrings out of the heavy strands
Of corded hair. He, watching to the close,
Sees not the white silk tissue as she stands
Clinging bedull'd to the clear limbs of rose.
She turn'd and to him stretched misdoubting hands:
'Tell me, ere thou dissolve, O wordless watcher,
Am I that Deirdre that would sit and spin
Beside Keshcorran? Dost thou love me? Then
I touch thee. For I, too, have love within.'
O sacred cry! Again, again the first
Love-cry! How the steep woods thirst for thy voice,
O never-dying one! That voice, like the outburst
And gush of a young spring's delicious noise
Driven from the ancient heights whereon 'twas nursed!
Yet, as death's heart is silent, so is joy's.
His mouth spake not; for, as in dusk Glen Treithim
Smelters of bubbling gold brook not to breathe
Reek of the coloured fumes whose hissings wreathe
The brim, he choked at his own spirit's seethe.
Sternly he looked on her and strangely said:
'What touch is thine? It hath unearthly powers.
I think thou art the woman Cairbre made
Out of the dazzle and the wind of flowers.
Behold, the flame-like children of the shade,
The buds, about thee rise like servitors!
It seems I had not lipp'd the cup of living
Till thou didst stretch it out. Vaguely I felt
Irreparable waste. Why hast thou dwell'd
Near me on earth so long, yet unbeheld?'
Chanters! The Night brings nigh the deeps far off,
But Twilight shows the distance of the near;
And with a million dawns that pierce above
Mixes the soul of suns that disappear;
To make man's eyes approach the eyes of love
In simpleness, in mystery and fear.
All blooms both bright and pale are in her gardens,
All chords both shrill and deep under her hand
Who, sounding forth the richness of the land,
Estrangeth all, that we may understand.
So still it was, they heard in the evening skies
Creak as of eagles' wing-feathers afar
Coasting the grey cliffs. On him slowly rise,
As to Cuchullain came his signal star,
Out of the sheeted rivers, Deirdre's eyes.
And who look'd in them well was girt for war,
Seeing in that gaze all who for love had perish'd:
The queens calamitous unbow'd at last-
The supreme fighters that alone stood fast-
Fealties obscure, unwitness'd, and long past;
Cloud over cloud-the host that had attain'd
By love,-in very essence, force, heat, breath,
Now, now arose in Deirdre's eyes and deign'd
Summons to him-'Canst follow us?' it saith-
Till from that great contagion he hath gain'd
An outlook like to conquest over death.
Then he discerns the solemn-rafter'd world
By this frail brazier's glowings, wherein blend
Coals that no man hath kindled, without end
Born and re-born, from ashes to ascend.
And face to face to him unbared she cleaves
Woman no more-scarce breathing-infinite,
Grave as the fair-brow'd priestess Earth receives
In all her lochs and plains and invers bright
And shores wide-trembling, where one image heaves,
Him that is lord of silence and of light.
Slow the God sigh'd himself from rocks and waters,
But in his soft withdrawals from the air
No creature in the weightless world was there
Uttered its being's secret round the pair.
Ah! them had Passion's self-enshrouding arm
Taken, as a green fury of ocean takes,
Through the dense thickets smitten with alarm
To the islet's trancèd core. And Deirdre wakes,
Lifting hot lids that shut against the storm,
Lying on a hillock, amid slender brakes
Of grey trees, to the babble of enchantments
From mouths of chill-born flowers. The place was new
To rapture. Branchèd sunbursts plashing through
After, had laid the mound with fire and dew.
Naois cuts down osiers. Now he seeks
A narrow grass-plot shorn as if with scythe
And over two great boulders' wrinkled cheeks
Draws down and knots a hull of saplings lithe,
Well-staunch'd with earthy-odour'd moss and sticks
Known to the feet of birds. This darkness blithe
He frames against the stars for forest sleepers.
The living tide of stars aloft that crept
Compassion'd far below. No wavelet leapt;
And deep rest fell upon them there. They slept.
Long, long, the melancholy mountains lay
Aware; mute-rippling shades that isle enwound.
Naois fell through dreams, like the snapt spray
That drops from branch to branch-that stillest sound!-
And while from headlands scarce a league away
The din of the sea-breakers come aground
Roll'd up the valley, he in vision govern'd
His ribbèd skiff under Dun Aengus sweeping,
Triumphing with his love, and leaping, leaping,
Drew past the ocean-shelves of seals a-sleeping.
But over starr'd peat-water, where the flag
Rustles, and listens for the scud of teal;
Over coast, forest, and bethunder'd crag
Night-mother of despairs, who proves the steel
In men, to see if they be dross and slag
Or fit with trusts and enemies to deal
Uneyed, alone-diffusing her wide veils
Bow'd from the heavens to his exultant ear:
A questioner awaits thee: rouse! The mere
Slept on, save for the twilight-footed deer.
'Those antler'd shadows of the forest-roof
Nigh to the shore must be assembled thick,'
He thought, 'and bringing necks round to the hoof;
Or being aslaked and crouching, seek to lick
The fawns. Some heady bucks engage aloof,
So sharp across the water comes the click
Of sparring horns!' But was it a vain terror,
Son of the sword, or one for courage staunch,
That the herd, dismay'd, at a bound, with a quivering haunch
Murmur'd away into night at the crack of a branch?
And Deirdre woke. Reverberate from on high
Amongst the sullen hills, distinct there fell
A mournful keen, like to the broken cry
From the House of Hostage in some citadel
Of hostages lifting up their agony
After the land they must remember well,
'Deirdre is gone! Gone is my young one, Deirdre!'
And she knowing not the voice as voice of man
Stood up. 'Lie still, lest thee the spirit ban;
O vein of life, lie still!' But Deirdre ran
Like the moon through brakes, and saw, where nought had been,
On the vague shore a weather'd stone that stood;
Faceless, rough-hewn, it forward seem'd to lean
Like the worn pillar of Cenn Cruaich, the God.
She cried across, 'If thou with things terrene
Be number'd, tell me why thy sorrowful blood
Mourneth, O Cathva, father!' But the stone
Shiver'd, and broke the staff it lean'd upon,
Shouting, 'What! livst thou yet? Begone, begone!'
5: VOICE OF FINTAN[edit | edit source]
Again, out of the First Century
Let my lips finish what my lips began.-
Then to the two amidst the island's boughs
The third, across the water, cried: 'Confess!
Though the earth shake beneath you like a sieve
With wheels of Connachar, answer me this:
Naois, could she understand his hate
Whose servant and whose iron flail I am-
Whose arm requiteth-far as runs the wind-
By me, that blow away the gaze and smile
From women's faces; O could Deirdre have guess'd-
Mourning all night the losing of her kingdoms
Fled like a song-what means, a banished man:
That he and I must hound thee to the death;
That thou shalt never see the deep-set eaves,
The lofty thatch familiar with the doves,
On thy sad mother Usnach's house again,
But drift out like some sea-bird, far, far, hence,
Far from the red isle of the roes and berries,
Far from sun-galleries and pleasant dúns
And swards of lovers,-branded, nationless;
That none of all thy famous friends, with thee
Wrestlers on Eman in the summer evenings,
Shall think thee noble now; and that at last
I must upheave thy heart's tough plank to crack it-
Knowing all this, would this fool follow thee?'
Then spoke Naois, keeping back his wrath:
'Strange is it one so old should threat with Death!
Are not both thou and I, are not we all,
By Death drawn from the wickets of the womb-
Seal'd with the thumb of Death when we are born?
As for friends lost (though I believe it not),
A man is nourish'd by his enemies
No less than by his friends. But as for her,
Because no man shall deem me noble still,-
Because I like a sea-gull of the isles
May be driven forth-branded and nationless,-
Because I shall no more, perhaps, behold
The deep-set eaves on that all-sacred house,-
Because the gather'd battle of the powers
Controlling fortune, breaks upon my head,-
Yea! for that very cause, lack'd other cause,
In love the closer, quenchless, absolute,
Would Deirdre choose to follow me. Such pains,
Seër, the kingdoms are of souls like hers!'
He spoke; he felt her life-blood at his side
Sprung of the West, the last of human shores
Throbbing, 'Look forth on everlastingness!
Through the coil'd waters and the ebb of light
I'll be thy sail!'
Over the mist like wool
No sound; the echo-trembling tarn grew mute.
But when through matted forest with uproar
The levy of pursuers, brazen, vast,
The thick pursuing host of Connachar,
Gush'd like a river, and torch'd chariots drew
With thunder-footed horses on, and lash'd
Up to the sedge, and at the Druid's shape
Their steamy bellies rose over the brink
Pawing the mist, and when a terrible voice
Ask'd of that shape if druid ken saw now
The twain,-advanced out of the shade of leaves
Nor Deirdre nor Naois heard reply;
For Cathva waved his lean arm toward the north
And mounted with the host, and signed them, 'On!'
Pity had seized him for that hidden pair;
And like a burning dream the host, dissolving,
Pass'd. On the pale bank not a torch remain'd.
They look'd on one another, left alone.