John Banim Poems >>
The Celt's Paradise. First Duan

OSSIAN. Man of prayers, lead me forth
From our silent cell of care,
The morning--breeze to me is worth
All thy hymns and all thy prayer--
For dark and loncly have we prayed--
Our psalms are sung, our penance said--
Thou hast told me, I am forgiven,
And I long to live in the smile of heaven.

I cannot see the holy light,
But I feel it on my brow of white--
I cannot see the young bird soaring,
But I hear the song his pride is pouring--
I cannot see the laughing water,
Nor the fresh beauty the sun has brought her;
I only hear the moan she is making,
Over her bed of pebbles breaking.

Man of prayers, lead me on--
Lead the son of Comhal's son,
To the hill where his early deeds were done--
Lead me to Slieve Gullian's breast,
And give me there my mournful rest.
Ossian longs to lie alone,
And think of days and dangers gone--
The darkened soul of Ossian longs
To float on the stream of other songs
Than those thy altar bells are ringing,
And thy white--robed Culdees singing.

This is the place--I know it now,
I feel its freshness on my brow!
Lead me where the sun is brightest,
Where the storm--washed stone is whitest,
And there in solitude let me sit
As silent and as lorn as it!

Yield me now my sad request,
Leave me--leave me to my rest.

Dark and dread King! Ruler alone!
Deep stream that we think not is passing on,
And yet it goes forward and is gone,--
Where, O Time! is thy hidden source,
When wilt thou rest thee from thy course?--

A pilgrim art thou on thy path,
And thou hast the solitude he hath;
Thy step is alone by the dark deep river,
And forward thou walkest ever and ever!
But art thou of thyself--Alone
From thine own power?--Or has one
More awful still the staff supplied,
That props thee in thy walk of pride,
And bade thy stream for ever flow,
And pointed thee the way to go?--
Stern and relentless is thy sway!--
And withering as the worms of the clay
Thy kisses are!--At thy dark coming
The waters of the heart grow chill--
Thy breath her wildest wish benumbing,
And bidding her proudest throb be still!--
Thou walkest forth into the wild
And at thy touch the forest--king
Bows his wreathed head!--She who hath smiled
In beauty's blush, the loveliest thing
Of all--thy finger passeth over
Her cheek, and what remains behind!
Thou shroudest in thy mantle's cover
The highest hero of his kind--
In his last house thou hid'st him then,
And why should we say he lived? Thou changest
To wilds the fair abodes of men,
And in the wilderness once again
A pile of palaces thou rangest--
Where chiefs among their thousands trod,
And thousands worshipped at their nod,
There hast thou spread the stagnant waters--
There hast thou sent the creeping thing
To hiss, and the heron to flap his wing--
And once where Beauty's laughing daughters
Had their bright bower, there hast thou made
For the lone fox a hiding--shade,
A solitude no prayer may bless--
A place of fear and loneliness!

The solid earth and roaring ocean,
Obey the biddings of thy voice!--
Where valleys smiled the river is in motion,
And his dimpling waters all rejoice!
And where the proud sea often broke,
His swelling waves in ceaseless shock,
There hast thou bade the green grass shoot,
And the tall tree settle and get root!--

And more than this thou hast to do!--
The rugged rocks and the mountains blue
Must crumble and fall!--
The stars must fade as words from a page,
And the light of the world wander in age!--
He must end his proud career on high,
And fail--and gathered in thy pall,
He must shut for ever his radiant eye!--

Link after link thy chain creeps fast,
Around the world; it will close at last--
And all things then will be fettered by thee,
And lonely and stern will thy triumph be!--

THE SAINT. Ossian, then too, our triumphs come
Over death, and time, and the tomb--
Then shall we win with effort free,
Over the victors, victory.

OSSIAN. Man of prayers, why return
To quench the thought that fain would burn?
I am old and most forlorn,
And my only rapture is to mourn.
I know the grave is dark and deep,
Yet I wish I had its pleasant sleep.

THE SAINT. Ossian, the grave is only dark,
For him whose spirit feels no spark
Of Christian sorrow for the sin
He long has lived and wantoned in:
But he who prays, and hopes and fears,
And for his life sheds bitter tears,
In other worlds shall win more bliss
Than he may think or dream in this.

OSSIAN. I know as well as thou, the brave
Have endless pleasures past the grave.
Good chiefs and warriors dwell for ever
On the banks of a pleasant river,
Or walk with ever blushing maids,
Thro' flowery fields and scented shades,
Or hunt the hart o'er dale and hill,
Or in their bowers sit calm and still.

THE SAINT. The joys of heaven thou hast not told;
Nor is it for the brave and bold
Its golden gates of love unfold:
The good alone, or weak, or strong,
May sing in heaven their holy song,
And good can only come to thee
From christian creed and charity.

OSSIAN. And for this, must prayers be read,
And beads be told, and matins said?
And he that doth not this, and more,
Must he never touch that shining shore
Of joy thou preachest?--And where then
Are all those stern and mighty men,
Whose steps were on their own green hills
In their own strength?--And where are they,
The sources of the blood that fills,
Or once has filled in manhood's day,
My swelling veins?--Say, Psalmist, say,
Where are Finn and Comhal now?
And thou, the darling of my lay--
The child of all my love!--Whose brow
Was bright and beautiful as day,--
Osgur--my son!--Where--where art thou?--
Man of prayers, would'st teach me this?
And think'st thou I could share a bliss,
Unshared with them?--To be alone
In a strange heaven, unloved, unknown,
As I am now--and have no breast
To slumber on and give me rest--
This may be joy old man to thee--
But oh! It were dreary and dark for me!--

THE SAINT. God hath his mercies. They who went
Down to the grave before he sent
His word to warn them of the way,--
For them he doth not bid me say
Exclusion from eternal day.

Man of prayers, I wish not
The raptures of thy cloudless lot.
Enjoy thy heaven. I know where lies
Old Ossian's only paradise!--
'Tis with the beautiful and brave,
Beyond the wild and wailing wave
Of this cold world.--The summer there
Is cloudless, calm, and ever fair.--
I saw it once!--My 'wakened blood
At that one thought rolls back the flood
Of age and sorrow, and swells up
Like old wine sparkling o'er its cup--
I'll tell thee of the time I spent
Beneath that cloudless firmament,
And thou shalt judge if aught could be
So pure a paradise to me,
If by my own frail spirit led
Its smile I had not forfeited.--
Give me the old Clarseech I hung
On my loved tree--so long unstrung,
Even to its master's measure free
It may refuse its minstrelsy:
But give it--and the song, tho' cold,
May kindle at a thought of old,
Of younger days--and now and then
It may be strong and bright again.--
Hear a song of age's daring--
The sighings of the harp of Erin!
Waken thou warbler of the west,
Waken from thy long, long rest!

All day we chased the dark--brown deer
Thro' woods and wilds and waters clear:
We broke the dew on Allen's breast,
And we met the evening on his crest.
Like that weak beam I was alone
With the whispering breeze and the whitened stone;
It was an hour of doubtful light,
Half was sunshine, half was night;
And the moon, like maiden young and coy,
Half struggling with a bashful boy,
Was flickering over the calm clear stream,
That yet blushed red in the evening beam.
I heard upon the echoes borne,
A faint and far--off hunting horn--
At the shrill sound my steed, though spent,
Pricked up his ears and forward went;
Hoping with me once more to gain
A party of our hunting train.

Forward we went. The horn grew shrill,
And shriller--see!--from yonder hill
What floating form of virgin fair,
So delicate, it looks like air,
Comes sweeping on at utmost speed
Low bending to her snowy steed?--
The dogs are straining on before her--
Her train is descending the mountain o'er her--
In her wild flight no echo wakes,
To tell the bound her courser takes--
The winter's wind when it is high--
The fire flash glancing thro' the sky,
Or the torrent in his rudest race,
Are not so rapid as that chace!--

Aghast I stood!--The dogs dashed by--
The lady--huntress next swept nigh--
A moment in her magic speed,
She slightly curbed her milky steed,
And looked upon me--O that look
Into my heart of hearts I took!--
Nay, scoff not psalmist--for by the light,
That now for Ossian no more is bright,
I tell thee that one look of her's
Would make thy saints idolaters!--
When April's evening sky is fair,
If its golden folds uncurtained were,
All but a misty veil unriven
Between thee and thy own bright heaven--
And if thro' it young angel eyes
Beamed o'er thee in thy ecstacies,
To tell of pardon for thy sin,
And give thee peace and smile thee in--
It would be like the glance she sent,
On me in my astonishment!--

And 'twas enough!--I gave the rein--
My steed forgot his toil and pain,
And on we swept o'er hill and plain!--
On, on--thro' heath, and stream, and wood--
We climbed the bank--we broke the flood--
But all was mockery to the flight
Of the lady on her steed of white!--
I see her on the steep hill's brow--
I gain it--she sweeps thro' the valley now--
Over the valley's breast I strain,
But she has ascended the hill again!--
Like winding rivers quick and bright,
She glanced and faded on my sight--
At last within a brown wood's shade
A headlong plunge her courser made,
And I far off was left to gaze
In mute distraction and amaze.

Even then her train--a fearful crowd--
Came rushing on--looks strange and proud
Flashed for a moment on my face--
Then turned to track that noiseless chace--
For as I looked no echoing sound
Gave answer to their coursers' bound--
And the rushing of the winds alone,
Told that a hunter had passed on.

I feared them not, tho' well I knew
They were not things of earth!--I drew,
And firmly clutched my own good blade--
One last wild race my courser made,
Tho' spent and reeling--on, still on,
Thro' tangled shades and wilds unknown
He bore me well--nor sigh, nor groan,
When down he softly sunk at last,
From the proud beast lamenting past.
I made him a couch of the branches green,
And he had for his shelter the forest screen--
I brought him fresh grass gathered near,
And in my helmet water clear--
I smoothed and bathed his drooping crest,
And left him to his soothing rest.

I sat in the tall tree's trembling shade,
And the moss of its trunk my pillow made.
My eyes could not their watching keep,
My soul was sinking in its sleep,
And wild and wavering thoughts came on,
Of deeds imagined, actions done,
And vain hopes mingling with the true,
And real things a man may do.
A sigh came o'er me soft and warm!
I started--but nor shade nor form,
Appeared thro' the half--seen gloom around,
To utter such a silver sound.
It might be the sob of the summer--air,
Which glowed so rich and sultry there--
Again I slumbered--again the sigh
Of woman's fondness fluttered nigh--
And while I slistened, gentle lips,
Gently met mine,--and touched, and trembled,--
As if beneath the moon's eclipse
Alone, love's feeling long dissembled,
Might dare to own in bashful kisses,
Its maiden flame and modest blisses.

Fondly I rais'd my arms and prest,--
They closed upon my lonely breast.
Back from their kiss the young lips started--
Sighed one rich sigh--and touched--and parted--
I thought of the huntress young and fair,
Whose gifted glance had led me there,
And I said in the strength of my young heart's sigh,
While the tear of passion brimmed mine eye--
--``Lady of kisses!--Lip of love!--
From the air around, or sky above,
Come and bless my desolate arms
With the richness of thy charms.''

``Son of Earth,'' a small voice said,
So soft it might be the west wind
Murmuring thro' a garden bed,
And fraught with feeling, heart and mind,
And lip, and language, to declare,
Its love for any floweret fair--
``Son of Earth! thy sigh is vain,
'Till thou can'st join our hunting train,
Free from earthly touch and stain.
And if thou hast wish to hunt with me,
Three days shalt thou silent be--
Three days and nights thou shalt not sleep--
Nor sigh, nor smile--nor laugh, nor weep--
Nor warm thy wish with earthly food--
Nor slake thy thirst with earthly flood.
When thou dost this for love of me,
Again sleep under the wild--wood tree
And pleasant shall thy waking be.--''

``Child of the breeze!--where--who art thou?
Let me see thy lovely brow!''

``Viewless I am, and must be, till
Thy three days task thou dost fulfil.
I am of the people of the hill--
A Sidh