A poem of the Famine Years
THE SPRING SONG.
Once more, through God’s high will and grace,
Of Hours that each its task fulfils,
Heart-healing Spring resumes its place;
The valley throngs and scales the hills,
In vain. From earth’s deep heart overcharged,
The exulting life runs o’er in flowers;
The slave unfed is unenlarged:
In darkness sleep a nation’s powers.
Who knows not Spring? Who doubts, when blows
Her breath, that Spring is come indeed?
The swallow doubts not; nor the rose
That stirs, but wakes not, nor the weed.
I feel her near, but see her not,
For those with pain-uplifted eyes
Fall back repulsed; and vapours blot
The vision of the earth and skies.
I see her not; I feel her near,
As, charioted in mildest airs,
She sails through yon empyreal sphere,
And in her arms and bosom bears
That urn of flowers and lustral dews,
Whose sacred balm, o’er all things shed,
Revives the weak, the old renews,
And crowns with votive wreaths the dead.
Once more the cuckoo’s call I hear;
I know, in many a glen profound,
The earliest violets of the year
Rise up like water from the ground.
The thorn I know once more is white;
And, far down many a forest dale,
The anemones in dubious light
Are trembling like a bridal veil.
By streams released that singing flow
From craggy shelf through sylvan glades,
The pale narcissus, well I know,
Smiles hour by hour on greener shades.
The honeyed cowslip tufts once more
The golden slopes; with gradual ray
The primrose stars the rock, and o’er
The wood-path strews its milky way.
—From ruined huts and holes come forth
Old men and look upon the sky!
The Power Divine is on the earth :
Give thanks to God before ye die!
And ye, O children worn and weak,
Who care no more with flowers to play,
Lean on the grass your cold, thin cheek,
And those slight hands, and whispering, say,
“Stern Mother of a race unblessed,
In promise kindly, cold in deed;
Take back, O Earth, into thy breast,
The children whom thou wilt not feed.”
THE AUTUMNAL DIRGE.
Then die, thou Year — thy work is done:
The work ill done is done at last.
Far off, beyond that sinking sun,
Which sets in blood, I hear the blast
That sings thy dirge, and says — “Ascend,
And answer make amid thy peers,
(Since all things here must have an end,)
Thou latest of the famine years!”
I join that voice. No joy have I
In all thy purple and thy gold,
Nor in the nine-fold harmony
From forest on to forest rolled:
Nor in that stormy western fire,
Which burns on ocean’s gloomy bed,
And hurls, as from a funeral pyre,
A glare that strikes the mountain’s head;
And writes on low-hung clouds its lines
Of cyphered flame, with hurrying hand;
And flings amid the topmost pines
That crown the steep, a burning brand.
Make answer, Year, for all they dead,
Who found not rest in hallowed earth,
The widowed wife, the father fled,
The babe age-stricken from his birth.
Make answer, Year, for virtue lost;
For Faith, that vanquished fraud and force,
Now waning like a noontide ghost;
Affections poisoned at their source:
The labourer spurned his lying spade;
The yeoman spurned his useless plough;
The pauper spurned the unwholesome aid,
Obtruded once, exhausted now.
The weaver wove till all was dark,
And, long ere morning, bent and bowed
Above his work with fingers stark;
And made, nor knew he made, a shroud.
The roof-trees fall of hut and hall,
I hear them fall, and falling cry—
“One fate for each, one fate for all;
So, wills the Law that willed a lie.”
Dread power of Man! what spread the waste
In circles, hour by hour, more wide
And would not let the past be past?
The Law that promised much and lied.
Dread power of God! whom mortal years
Nor touch, nor tempt; who sits sublime
In night of night, O bid thy spheres
Resound at last a funeral chime.
Call up, at last, the afflicted Race
Whom Man not God abolished. Sore,
For centuries, their strife: the place
That knew them once shall know no more.
Fall, Snow, and cease not! Flake by flake
The decent winding-sheet compose
Thy task is just and pious; make
An end of blasphemies and woes.
Fall flake by flake: by thee alone,
Last friend, the sleeping draught is given:
Kind nurse, by thee the couch is strewn,
The couch whose covering is from heaven.
Descend and clasp the mountain’s crest;
Possess wide plain and valley deep:
This night, in thy maternal breast
Forsaken myriads die in sleep.
Lo! from the starry Temple gates
Death rides, and bears the flag of peace:
The combatants he separates;
He bids the wrath of ages cease.
Descend, benignant Power! But O,
Ye torrents, shake no more the vale;
Dark streams, in silence seaward flow;
Thou rising storm, remit thy wail.
Shake not, to-night, the cliffs of Moher,
Or Brandon’s base, rough sea! Thou Isle,
The Rite proceeds: from shore to shore
Hold in thy gathered breath the while.
Fall, snow! in stillness fall, like dew
On temple roof, and cedar’s fan;
And mould thyself on pine and yew,
And on the awful face of man.
Without a sound, without a stir,
In streets and wolds, on rock and mound,
O omnipresent comforter,
By thee, this night, the lost are found.
On quaking moor, and mountain moss,
With eyes upstaring at the sky,
And arms extended like a cross,
The long-expectant sufferers lie.
Bend o’er them, white-robed Acolyte!
Put forth thine hand from cloud and mist,
And minister the last sad rite,
Where altar there is none, nor priest.
Touch thou the gates of soul and sense:
Touch darkening eyes and dying ears;
Touch stiffening hand and feet, and thence
Remove the trace of sin and tears.
And ere thou seal those filmed eyes,
Into God’s urn thy fingers dip,
And lay, ‘mid eucharistic sighs,
The sacred wafer on the lip.
This night the Absolver issues forth:
This night the Eternal Victim bleeds—
O winds and woods—O heaven and earth!
Be still this night. The Rite proceeds