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

THE SAINT. Ossian, enough of this dotard theme,
Lit up at the meteor--blaze of a dream,
Wanton and vain as ever was fann'd
By the deadly zeal of the evil one's hand.

OSSIAN. Man of prayers, and dost thou dare
To say to Ossian he was not there?--

THE SAINT. I tell thee, Ossian, it was a vain
And wicked vision of thy brain,
Coming in sleep from thoughts of sin,
That wantoned thy waking soul within,
And dark and aged as thou art,
And withered as is thy wayward heart,
Fitter were it, old man, for thee
To pray on bare and bended knee,
And tell thy blessed rosary,
Than here upon this blasted hill,
To sing thy song of weakness still.
Arise and walk!--The sloping sun
Hath half his daily business done,
And we are warned of penance unsped,
And psalms unsung, and prayers unread.

OSSIAN. Away, and leave me to my wrath,
No other vengeance Ossian hath,
For all the slanders of thy tongue,
And the tears of shame thy words have rung
From his old heart--away--away!--
And were it but an earlier day
That word, false Saint, thou durst not say!--
Oh, Osgur! my heart's darling son,
Thy father's deeds are all undone!--
He is in darkness, and must hear
The word of shame come on his ear,
And he may not raise a sword or spear!
The last of all the Fenian race
Sits on his own hill in disgrace!--
But were he here--or were there one
Of all my heros that are gone--
Thou lying slanderer of the brave,
The sod thou standest on were thy grave!
And did'st thou--darest thou talk to me
Of speaking--thinking falsity?
And speak I of Osgur?--man of prayers--
I care not for these old white hairs--
Roll off the cloud that closes o'er me--
Let me but see thee stand before me--
Break this staff, and in my hand
Let me feel my father's brand--
Then might'st thou wish thy prayers read,
Thy shriving o'er and thy penance sped!--

THE SAINT. A wayward penitent to me,
I fear me, Ossian, thou wilt be.
I said not, I wished not to say
A word to steal thy fame away;
I must believe that for thy race
There is but one pure dwelling place--
I must believe that soul or spirit
No sense of mortal touch inherit--
And this I must if I have faith
In him who died to conquer death,
And hope with him in light to be,
A measureless eternity.
Thou hast thy creed, and I have mine,
And if I will not bow to thine,
How do I err to them or thee,
But as thyself hath erred to me?
Ossian, the Fenii's fame is high,
Their deeds are sung and can never die--
Strong were they on their hills of power,
And happy was their peaceful hour--
They have failed on earth as the sun goes down
Over Slieve Gullian's craggy crown,
When he leaves the world he smiled upon,
Warm with the light of his glories gone.

OSSIAN.
Free be thy faith--and I rejoice
To hear in peace thy harmless voice.
Well hast thou spoken. Man of age!
Our whole race was one spreading page
Of truth and whiteness, free from stains
As the bounding blood within their veins.
Nay rest we here--'tis very long
Since Ossian gave his soul to song;
I know the sun hath soared his fling
Now pointing to earth his golden wing--
Yet if thou wilt but list my lay,
A double penance will I say
For this upon my shriving day.

A dream it was not. Well I know
How short a way our visions go,
To give us half the living bliss,
I quaffed upon her virgin kiss!

And now we are in her land of love,
With a light below and a sky above,
And such a breathing life around,
And such a mingling of soft sound,
I have no words to tell the thought,
With which my fainting soul is fraught!--
And if I had what pulse could beat,
What bright'ning brow could flush with heat,
And give the smile to the bard so dear,
And only age and coldness here?--
Ask me if the flowers were fair--
Ask me if the sighing air
Was soft and pleasant--I will say
Thou think'st but of an earthly day,
And earthly flowers, and air, and skies,
And mak'st with them my Paradise!--
But seek not on cold and earthly things
To fetter thy imaginings,
If thou would'st wish one glimpse to win
Of that pure heaven I have been in--
Lie on the green hill's sunny side,
And listen to the dashing tide--
Let the flowers be blushing nigh thee,
And lay thy harp in slumbers by thee,
Save that now and then thy finger
On some small chord will love to linger,
Which, chance and fancy half inspiring,
Thy softened soul is gently firing--
Then while the evening--beam blushes red,
And the high grass is waving o'er thy head,
And thine eyes are half closed in the rosy light,
And thy thoughts within are sparkling bright,
Then may'st thou image some floating scene,
Like that lovely land where I have been!

Yet it wanted not its own wild hill,
The spreading tree and the silver rill--
The silent lake--the stretching shore,
And the hoarseness of the torrent's roar--
Scenes which the true bard loves to see,
Whether on earth or in heaven he be.
And ever its gentle rivers glided
Thro' fields of flowers, which they divided,
As the minstrel--measure parts in song
The flowers his fancy strays among.--
And its small flowers were always fair,
And soft to the touch as summer air--
Their only business was to live,
And to the breeze their perfumes give,
And in return the breezes crept
Into their bosoms while they slept,
And left them all the sweets they found
In their flight the world around.

I know not whence the day--beam came,
But it was ever and ever the same--
A living light that streamed for ever
On hill and mountain, lake and river:
Without a burst, without a shade,
One mild and virgin day it made--
In which no sultry breeze could blast,
Nor cloud, nor tempest overcast,
Nor sullen mist its damp distil,
Nor wild wind rave, nor winter chill.

I say not that the young eyes there
Made that modest light less fair.
It might be that one roving ray
First called a love--look into day,
And from two starry eyes drew forth,
A freshened glow and added worth--
And these eyes looked on other eyes,
And kindled up new brilliances--
And other eyes still woke each other,
And every soft beam had a brother,
'Till mingling quick and flashing wide,
The gathered radiance gave its tide--
And blushing cheeks, and blushing flowers
Richly mellowed its dazzling powers,
And lake and river, air and sky,
For ever made it multiply.

I think such might be the mingled ray
That there gave out its pleasant day,
For it seemed to glitter a little less,
When my loved one slept in gentleness;
And the only faint fading of that light,
Which gave but the calmness of earthly night,
Was when a thousand eyes were sleeping
Unearthly sleep, that had been keeping
The day so fresh and fair about them,
It could not be day or light without them.

There was a voice throughout the air
That spoke of soul and spirit there--
And ever as you breathed its sigh,
I may not name the thinkings high
That o'er your mind in freshness stole,
And wildly woke the startled soul.
And it made minstrelsy--and spoke
Language, that bards all vainly invoke,
When they would tell of words half broken,
With the river--spirit spoken,
Or catch from the careering breeze,
Its darkly--whispered mysteries.

And all was music--air and sky
And water--and the harmony
Of what was spoken--and the song
Of shining birds, that in a throng
Their distant warblings would prolong.

Then it was most pleasant to see
The innocent creatures there that be,
Sitting or walking joyously
In their bower or thro' their shade,
Bard and warrior, youth and maid,
Each happy as he wished to be
In all the range of liberty.
Young eyes were ever glancing round,
Eyes that never wept or frowned--
And the laugh of those happy hearts was like
Strains that enraptured minstrels strike,
In one full and bursting measure,
When they give their souls to sound and pleasure.

All were happy--but some felt
A holier joy, and others dwelt
In higher glory. I saw one
Who for the good deeds he had done,
On earth was here a worshipped king
Triumphant o'er all suffering.--
On the utmost edge of his own shore.
One foot amid the breaker's roar,
Another on the rocky strand
He met the invading foe--his hand
Grasped its good sword;--he was alone,
And they were thousands--and when flown
His strength at last, he could but throw
Between his country and the foe
His heart--and thro' it bid them smite
At her's.--

He fell--but in the light
Of Paradise the hero's deed
Found fittest eulogy and meed;
The gaping death--gash on his side
Was turned to glory--far and wide
As a bright star it beamed--and he
Walked on in immortality
Worshipped and wondered at--the brave
Unenvious to his virtue gave,
Honour and fame, and praise,--the old
Blessed him as he passed by, and told
His name in reverence--beauty's tongue
Her laugh of love and her soft song,
Ever at his approach were hushed
Unconsciously,--and thousands rushed
Forgetful of themselves to gaze,
And give in looking their heart's praise
To him, of heroes the highest and best,
Whose death--wound was turned to a star on his breast!

With him walked one in converse high,
Of lesser shape--but whose quick eye
Sent inspiration round--the rush
Of bright thoughts in a dazzling blush
Spread o'er his face.--Music and song
At his birth informed his tongue
And fired his soul--and with them came
The throb for freedom; but the name
Of his own land had passed away,
And fettered amid her waves she lay
Like a strong man on his hill--the bard
In all her breezes only heard
The sigh of her past fame--no strain
Rose o'er her desolated plain
To mourn her glories gone, or call
The blush of shame for her early fall
Up to her cold destroyer's cheek,
Or on his heart in thunders break.

But the bard caught up his harp and woke
His Country's Song!--And as it broke
Forth in its pride, unmoved he met
From despot tongues their chide or threat--
The lordly frown or luring smile
That strove to silence, or beguile
To silence, a song so high and bold,
So true and fearless--for it told
Her tale in every strain!--The wrong
And outrage she had suffered long
Went forth among the nations--'till
The eyes of men began to fill
With sorrow for her sorrows--and
Even in that cold and careless land
That wrought her woe, one manly sigh
Was heard at last in sympathy
With all her suffering; and for this
Thro' our world of light and bliss
He walked immortal, side by side,
With him the hero who had died
The highest death a hero can die,
For his native land and her liberty!
And equal reverence to the bard
All creatures gave--and his reward
Was equal glory--a blessed song
Went with them as they walked along--
It was over and round them on their way,
And ever it said thro' the cloudless day--
``Joy to the hero, who dared, and died
For his country's honor, and fame, and pride;
And joy to the bard whose song brought fame
And pride to his fallen country's name!''

And I saw such scenes of joy and love
In Paradise, that I could rove
Its holy bowers for ever and be
For ever blessed such joy to see.--

I saw an old man sitting alone--
On earth he left a darling one,
And for her coming waited here,
Without her Paradise was not dear!
In pain and sickness, want and woe
She had soothed or shared his bosom's throe;
He had no pillow but her breast,
No song but her's to sing him to rest,
No tear but her's to meet his grief,
No smile but her's to beam relief,
No hand but her's to bring him food,--
She was his only earthly good!--

Her youth and loveliness she forgot,
To shield his years, and share his lot--
The red rose withered on her cheek
Uncared for--she could only seek
Her father's heart by every wile
And every care; and if a smile
Dawned o'er his languid brow, to her
'Twas a more blessed comforter
Than morning's mildest promise, when
It smiles on hopeless sea--wrecked men.

Oft as she watched his fitful sleep,
And wished, and longed, but feared to weep
The old man in his dreams would press
Her hand--she would feel his caress,
And his fond and murmured blessing hear,
With bounding heart and raptured ear,
And every nerve upon the spring
To pay his love with answering cling,--
But fear to break his sleep would check
Her natural instinct--round his neck
Her innocent arms she then would steal
That he their pressure might not feel,
And to his wan and wasted brow
Her lovely head in reverence bow,
And breathe upon it her meek kiss
Of duteous love and holy bliss.

Alas! in earlier, happier hours,
Hope had entwined some blushing flowers
For her young heart; yes, there was one
She loved and could have doted on
Thro' weal and woe--fain would he take
Her heart to his to still its ache,
And she that true heart would have given
If sorrow for herself had riven
Its tender core; but now she said
She would watch by her father's bed
In his old age, and have no thought
But for his good:--and well she wrought
Her blessed task, until at last
The old man's struggling spirit passed,
And her young cheek was worn and wan
As his from which the life had gone!

She sought him soon. Even as I spoke
With him beneath his spreading oak,
In solitude, that holy maid
Came on to meet him. She was arrayed
In whitest glory; and, as a beam
Of moonlight, or a morning dream,
Dreamt by a saint, she came--he saw
And knew her coming,--love and awe,
Rapture and thankfulness were in his look--
And up he rose,--and first he took
Her innocent hand, and fixed his eye
Ecstatic on her, and then nigh
And nigher to his old heart he drew
Its only darling!--And they grew
Together in a long caress
Of wordless love and happiness.

I met some blissful children playing
Thro' the fair fields--and they were straying,
Wherever their innocent fancy sent
A wish before them. But I bent
My eye on one, a glorious boy,
Who in this life had been the joy
Of a widowed mother--no second child
She had--and when he laughed or smiled,
Her eyes in happy tears would swim,
And her very heart laugh out with him.

They walked together--it was o'er
A craggy, steep, and sea--washed shore:
The boy ran on to snatch a flower
From the rock's edge--Alas! no power
The wretched mother had to say,
Or shriek her fear--Away--away,
Down--down he fell! --A night and day,
Insensible of life she lay,
And then her shuddering soul had rest,
And here she came among the blest,
To meet her loved one. As she came
Instinctively she named his name,
In tenderest accents--the boy turned
And knew his mother!--His cheek burned
With rosier brightness--from among
His wondering playmates up he sprung,
And round her neck like ivy clung!
And she in the embrace she gave,
Seemed as for ever she would save
Her child from harm, and make him one
With her own essence. ``My son, my son,''
She said, ``live here upon my heart,
Now we shall never--never part.''

A father walked in silent ways
With his two children. Full ripe days
Of manhood he had known, and they,
A boy and girl, died in the May
Of earthly life, and took their way
To him in Paradise. As they walked,
The father to his children talked
Of their good mother, who on earth
Still lived and of a coming birth
Which would give them in after years
Another playmate. In her tears
On earth the widow dwelt. She knew,
And anguish on that knowledge grew,
That when her husband died, he left
An unborn orphan with her.--'Reft
In him of all that could give life
To life itself, now it was strife
To breathe or walk the earth--the child
She carried if it ever smiled
In this cold world would be forlorn
As ever was infant orphan--born;
For she was hopeless, helpless, low,
And she only wished to die, and go
Where he had gone, whose early heart
Was hers; whose life in every part,
Since their first union, had been spent
In chastened love and meek content,
For her and with her. Her hour came on,
And she was made mother of a son.
Into her feeble arms she took
Her feebler infant--one fond look,
One mother's kiss she gave, then shook
Convulsively and died--and death
Came on her babe in the same breath.

I saw the happy, happy greeting,
Of this fond family at their meeting.
With his children hand in hand,
By a lone lake's spreading strand,
The father walked;--to its far shore,
The fair girl looked and pointed--more
She could not say, but turned and ran
To meet her mother--then began
A scene of Paradise! The boy
Followed his sister in such joy
As youth, and natural love, refined
And made immortal, to his mind
Might bring, impulsive. With freshened brow,
The mother moved majestic now,
And her young infant to her breast
So fondly, yet so gently prest,
Her arms crossed o'er it like a braid
Of white flowers on a lambkin;--led
By equal love she rushed to meet
Her happy children--and quick feet
Soon find each other--the boy clung
First to his mother's breast, and hung
As a garland there--the girl had ta'en
To kiss it o'er and o'er again
The infant to herself; and when
Her brother gave his welcome, then
He took her lovely load, that she
Might also at full liberty,
Go to her mother's arms. Meanwhile
The father with a fond, fond smile,
Shining o'er all his face came on
At gentle speed--his glance hath gone
Before him with its welcome--her's
Hath met it--O the thrill that stirs
In two such hearts, when two such eyes,
Meet once again in Paradise!
She shrieked her joy--and to the child
Yet clinging to her gave a wild
And hasty kiss, and being free
From that embrace, all eagerly
Out of the young boy's arms she took,
Her rosy infant, and with a look,
I felt and feel but may not speak,
Ran forward and held forth its cheek
To tempt its father's kiss--and then,
She gave it to the boy again,
And the fond wife and husband prest,
Each other to each other's breast,
In such chaste rapture as is known
In bowers of blessedness alone!--

On his hill old Comhal dwelt--
I saw him, and in awe I knelt:
He raised me with his aged hand,
And asked of his own lovely land,
And spoke of Finn; and when I told
The fields of fight of that hero bold,
He wept in joy for the fame he won,
And often blessed his only son.

And there he dwelt upon his hill,
And thought of his deeds of danger still,
Or mounted on his cloudy steed,
Hunted the stag in pleasant speed.
Sometimes my gentle love and I
Such wild unearthly sport would try,
And it was ecstacy to chase,
That brown stag in his mimic race!
My horse was of the darkened air,
My dogs were made of the breezes there,
And the bounding stag was born of light
Made visible like the rainbow bright!--

And together we sat in her house of flowers,
And laughed at the careering hours--
Silence was round us except the sigh
Of the love--sick breezes floating by,
Or the small sweet song of the beautiful birds
That like us lived on loving:--words
We wanted not--our hearts and eyes
Shone through each other--thoughts and sighs
Were mutual--and for our nuptial bed
The tenderest flowers their softness shed
And burned in blushes ripe and red,
Such lovely limbs as her's to press
In all their modest nakedness.

Our's was not earthly love. To sit
A little parted and opposite,
And gently hold each other's hand,
While the vassal--breeze our sighings fanned
Backward and forward--and to look
Long in each other's eyes, that took
Our thinkings to the heart, and then
Gave them out in light again;
Thus to be without motion or stir,
Each the other's idolater,
Alone, and long, and wordless; 'till
Our eyes began with tears to fill,
Our frames with faintness, and our sighs,
With choaked and broken ecstacies,
And we at last sunk gently--folded
In holy fondness;--thus to be,
And thus to feel!--No creature moulded
In feelings of mere mortality,
May ever think or ever bring
Such bliss to his imagining.--

Or we wandered among shining streams,
That like the bard's delicious dreams,
Ever flow thro' beds of flowers,
And golden vales, and blushing bowers.
And all in playfulness we gaze,
With sportive and well feign'd amaze
On the water--and start and blush,
To see ourselves there, and we rush
And plunge together, as if to save
Each other from that innocent wave,
Then with it go and glide along,
In echoing laughter, mirth, and song.

Or alone we sat by the foamy fountain,
In the solitude of the silent mountain,
And I plucked a water--flower from its flow,
And wreathed it with leaves on the mountain that grow.
And when on her head it was a crown,
At her feet I knelt me down,
And called her the lady and the queen,
Of that wild and desolate scene.

Or often--for our pure nature gave
That triumph over the gloomy grave--
Often our spirits winged away,
Disembodied through the day,
And into aught they would possess,
Breathed themselves in gentleness;
And so became the breeze or dew,
Or shrub, or flower of any hue.

Then sometimes my love was the tall young tree,
That grows on the mountain lonelily,
And I was the wooing eglantine,
Around her slender shape to twine,
And climb till I kissed the topmost bough,
That blossom'd on her fragrant brow.
Or she was the softly opening flower,
Among a thousand in her bower,
And I was the bee that passed all by,
'Till I saw my own flower blushing nigh,
And then, in her bleeding bosom I lay,
And sipt its sweets and flew away.

Or still she was that rose, and I
Came down as a soft wind from the sky,
And sadly I sighed thro' fields and bowers,
'Till I found at last my flower of flowers,
And then beneath her folds I crept,
And there in perfumed sweetness slept.
Or a crystal drop was on her leaf,
And I playfully called it the tear of grief,
And then I was the loving light,
To kiss away its essence bright!

Or she kept her own immortal form,
And I came as the breezes wild and warm
Of which she breathed. I was a sigh
Within her heart, alternately
Coming and going. Or as she lay
Reclining, I stole in amorous play,
And fluttered all over her gentle frame,
As if to fan its virgin flame!