1849 – A Year of Sorrow

A poem of the Famine Years


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.”


Spring 1849

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.


autumn 1849

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