Poems of Rose Kavanagh

[ Source: Rose Kavanagh and Her Verses [ed.] Rev. Matthew Russell (Dublin & Waterford 1909), p.33ff. - accessed at Internet Archive online; 02.07.2010. Note that the shorter lines in many stanzas of the collection are regularly indented in the original. No page numbers have been supplied in the running text of this edition but can be inferred from the table of contents. ]

Rev. Matthew Russell, S.J. [ed. & intro.], Rose Kavanagh and Her Verses (Dublin: M. H. Gill & Son 1909), 70pp. CONTENTS: 1. HERSELF [1]. II: HER MEMORY. Rose Kavanagh - Katharine Tynan [23]; To Rose in Heaven; Tynan [24]; Requiescat - J. B. Killen [16]; In Remembrance of Rose Kavanagh - Thomas Donohoe [27]; In Memoriam Rosae - Eugene Davis [28]; Requiescat in Pace - Northern Gael [29].

III: HER VERSES. The Northern Blackwater [33]; Lough Bray [35]; An April Day [36]; St. Michan’s Churchyard [37] Knockmany [39]; Gerald Griffin [39]; The Swallows’ Message [40] Charles Kickham [43]; A Caoine - John Boyle O’Reilly [44]; The Turn of the Tide [45]; In Exile [47]; Dearvorgill at Mellifont [51]; Christmas Eve in a Suspect’s Home [55]; Bresal’s Bride [57]; A Night in ’98 [60]; Vainer than Vanity [62]; The Hillside To-day [65]; An Autumn Day in Ireland [66]; Anne [68]; Ellen O’Leary [69]; Afterword [70]. (See the poems [attached], and Russell’s “Afterword”.)

§

 

The Northern Blackwater
Oh! the broom banks of the river are fair.
Now the wild briar is blossoming there -
Now when the green banks so calmly repose,
Lulled by the river’s strange chant as it goes,
Laughing beneath the gold eyes of the broom,
Flashing so free where the heather’s in bloom,
Blushing all o’er at the kiss of the sun,
Tranquil again as the gaze of a nun.
Is it, my river, a sob or a song
Beats from that heart as you hurry along?
Once in the twilight I thought it farewell,
Just a goodbye to both mountain and dell.

Here the first daisies break free from the sod,
Stars looking up with their first glance to God!
Here, ere the first days of April are done,
Stand the swart cherry trees robed with the sun;
In the deep woodland the windflowers blow;
Where young grass is springing, the crocuses glow;
Down the green glen is the primrose’s light,
Soft shines the hawthorn’s raiment of white,
Round the rough knees of the crabtree a ring
Of daffodils dance for joy of the spring,
And then my bright river, so full and so free,
Sings as it wanders through woodland and lea.

Fed with a thousand invisible rills,
Girdled around with the awe of the hills,
High in the mountains you spring to the light,
Pure as the dawn from the dark ring of night.
Well may the fairies keep revelry round,
There where you cleave the thin air at a bound,
And rush on the crag with your white arms outspread -
Only a fairy could step where you tread
’Mid the deep echoes you pause to arouse,
’Mid the grim rocks with the frown on their brows,
Type of young Freedom, bold river, to me;
Leaping the crags, sweeping down, to Lough Neagh.

Many a ruin, both abbey and cot,
Sees in your mirror its desolate lot.
Many an ear lying shut far away
Hearkened the tune that your dark ripples play.
One - I remember her better than all -
She knew every legend of cabin and hall;
Wept when the Law and the Famine-time met,
Sang how the Red Hand was radiantly set
Over the victors who fought at the Ford,*
Over the sweep of O’Neill’s Spanish sword -
O our own river! where is she to-night?
Where are the exiles whose homes are in sight?

Once in the Maytime your carol so sweet
Found out my heart in the midst of the street.
Ah! how I listened, and you murmured low
Hope, wide as earth and as white as the snow;
Hope that, alas! like the foam on your breast,
Broke and was drifted away from its rest.
Peace did not pass from your bonny broom shore,

Lost though the hope unto me evermore,
Lost, like your song - for I think it a sigh
Stirs that deep heart when I listen anigh.
Only at dusk does it sound like farewell,
Just a goodbye to myself and the dell.

*Beal-an-atha-Buidhe.

 

Lough Bray
A little lonely moorland lake
Its waters brown and cool and deep -
The cliff, the hills behind it, make
A picture for my heart to keep.

For rock and heather, wave and strand,
Wore tints I never saw them wear;
The June sunshine was o’er the land -
Before, ’twas never half so fair!

The amber ripples sang all day,
And singing spilled their crowns of white
Upon the beach, in thin pale spray,
That streaked the sober sand with light.

The amber ripples sang their song,
When suddenly from far o’erhead
A lark’s pure voice mixed with the throng
Of lovely things about us spread.

Some flowers were there, so near the brink
Their shadows in the wave were thrown;
While mosses, green and gray and pink,
Grew thickly round each smooth dark stone.

And over all the summer sky;
Shut out the town we left behind;
’Twas joy to stand in silence by,
One bright chain linking mind to mind.

Oh, little lonely mountain spot!
Your place within my heart will be
Apart from all Life’s busy lot,
A true, sweet, solemn memory.


An April Day
Now, little gold-head, a word in your ear,
The earth is awakening; summer is near -
Leaf buds are bursting on every tree,
Linnets are singing with passionate glee.
All the sloe bushes are covered with white;
Daisies are scattered in showers of light;
Through the young grass of the valley and hill,
O’er the wild rath where the fairies live still,
Clustering violets, modest and sweet,
Purple the ground at the cherry-tree’s feet;
Broken lights shine through the gloom of the wood,
Guiding our steps to the green solitude.

St. Michan’s Churchyard
Where the pure primroses sweeten the air,
Where the tall daffodils, stately and fair,
Reign, by the right of their beauty and pride,
Over the meek celandine by their side.

List to the tumult of rapturous sound
Mixed with the sunshine above and around!
Many a lark must have mounted on high
Thus to make musical all the blue sky.
Down comes the river, right joyously too,
Strong as a lion, and pure as the dew.
Well may the lake lilies lie down and dream,
Sung to so sweetly by wild bird and stream.
Tossing their tresses of green on the breeze,
See the long line of the old forest trees;
Surely the sap in their veins has been stirred,
Just like the joy in the heart of a bird,
With the delight of our new-born spring,
With the strong hope thrilling everything.
Now, boy, your heart will beat merry and fast;
The cuckoo has come and the winter is past.

 

St. Michan’s Churchyard
Inside the city’s throbbing heart
One spot I know set well apart
From life’s hard highway, life’s loud mart.

Each Dublin lane and street and square
Around might echo; but in there
The sound stole soft as whispered prayer;

A little lonely green graveyard,
The old church tower its solemn guard,
The gate with nought but sunbeams barred;

While other sunbeams went and came
Above the stone which waits the name
His land must write with Freedom’s flame.*

The slender elm above that stone
Its summer wreath of leaves had thrown
Around the heart so quiet grown.

A robin, the bare boughs among,
Let loose his little soul in song -
Quick liquid gushes, fresh and strong.

And quiet heart and bird and tree
Seemed linked in some strange sympathy
Too fine for mortal eye to see -

But full of balm and soothing sweet
For those who sought that calm retreat,
For aching breast and weary feet.

Each crowded street and thoroughfare
Was echoing round it - yet in there
The peace of heaven was everywhere.

*It is needless to tell Irish readers that Robert Emmet is here meant. But it is well to remind others of his last speech which ended with a prohibition that still holds good: “Not till then let my epitaph be written.”

 

Knockmany
Knockmany, my darling, I see you again,
As the sunrise has made you a King;
And your proud face looks tenderly down on the plain
Where my young larks are learning to sing.

At your feet lies our vale, but sure that’s no disgrace.
If your arms had their will, they would cover
Every inch of the ground, from Dunroe to Millrace,
With the sweet silent care of a lover.

To that green heart of yours have I stolen my way
With my first joy and pain and misgiving.
Dear Mountain! old friend, ah! I would that to-day
You could thus share the life I am living.

For one draught of your breath would flow into my heart,
Like the rain to the thirsty green corn;
And I know ’neath your smile all my cares would depart
As the night shadows flee from the morn.

 

Gerald Griffin
Leal heart, and brave right hand that never drew
One false note from thy harp, although the ache
Of weariness and hope deferred might shake
Harsh discords from a soul less clear and true
Than thine amid the gloom that knew no break -
The London gloom that barred the heaven’s blue
From thy deep Celtic eyes, so wide to take
The bliss of earth and sky within their view!
On fleet white wings thy music made its way
Back o’er the waves to Ireland’s holy shore;
Close nestled in her bosom, each wild lay
Mixed with her sighs - ’twas from her deep heart’s core
She called thee: “‘Gille Machree,’ come home, I pray* -
In my green lap of shamrocks sleep, asthore!”

*Gille Machree, “brightener of my heart,’ the name of one of Gerald Griffin’s sweetest songs [which Charles Gavan Duffy, by a stroke of genius, placed absolutely first in his epoch-making Ballad Poetry of Ireland - none of the strong ballads gathered into that little book, but this sweet, innocent song.

 

The Swallows’ Message
Fly, fly, young swallows, across the sea-foam,
Float over the mountains blue;
But bear this message afar when ye roam,
O, say to my sweetheart I want him home,
My sweetheart so leal and true!

Tell him how green are our Irish hills,
Where the larks sing early and late;
Tell him how carol the silvery rills,
The thrush making answer in liquid thrills,
From beside his happy mate.

Say spring left the ways of the wood all bright
With the gold eyes of the broom;
The hedges, robed in their odorous white,
Rained down on the green sward showers of light,
When the wind sighed through their bloom.

Wild hyacinths danced in each woodland dell
For love of the balmy air;
Before the pink crown off the crabtree fell,
The starry woodsorrel’s waxen bell
Hung trembling here and there.

The sun through a gate of gold clouds on high
Stole daintily down to greet
The late-born violets, blue as the sky,
Among the mosses, so tender and shy,
In their deep, dewy retreat.

Tell him, sweet swallows, no summer before
Was is half so fair as ours.
The earth - like my heart - could contain no more,
The happiness brooding inside its core
Blossomed at last in flowers.

Up through the forest’s green echoing shade
I steal as the day grows dim;
Ah! well he will know why I haunt that glade,
’Twas there at twilight we parted, I prayed
Each eve in it since for him.

You’ll know my love in the southern lands,
There is none like him you seek;
You’ll know him when, tall, ’mid his peers he stands,
With his proud, bright eye, and his manly hands,
Still ready to aid the weak!

You’ll know him! you’ll know him, for far nor near
Is a braver knight than this -
I think of his face, as the noonday clear,
Of his noble soul that never knew fear,
Till I tremble at my own bliss.

Oh! I dreamed a dream. I was robed in white,
And kneeled upon his right hand;
They say such visions at dead of night
Are heralds of swift advancing blight,
Of woe I could not withstand.

But how could such sorrow assail my lot,
And my love on his way to me?
He’ll smile, I think, at the gruesome thought,
He’ll soothe my fancy with fear o’erfraught,
So tender and wise is he.

I’ll stand on a rock by the surging tide,
When his ship sails into view,
I’ll still my rapture and love and pride,
I’ll veil my soul till I’ve gained his side,
And his touch has thrilled me through.

She stood in the sun, as the good ship ploughed
A path to the busy quay.
The heart - how it burned and throbbed aloud,
As eager but vainly she searched the crowd -
Why tarried he by the way?

The dream - O! away with that childish tale,
He only lingered behind!
She had watched and prayed till her cheek was pale
As the snowy lily of lough or vale,
And heaven was great and kind.

She gained the deck - ah, not here! not here!
She heard, without sigh or stir,
Of his grave in the ocean at midnight drear
But the tidings flung on her famishing ear
Broke the passionate heart of her.


Charles Kickham
Rare loyal heart, and stately head of grey,
Wise with the wisdom wrested out of pain!
We miss the slender hand, the brave bright brain,
Ah faith and hope to point and light the way
Our land should go. Oh! Surely not in vain
That beacon burned for us, for we can lay
Fast hold of the fair life without a stain
And mould our own upon it - we can weigh
Full well his fate who suffered, sang, and died
As nobly as he lived. Ah! nought could tame
The truth in him, for nought could thrust aside
His lifelong love - the land whose sacred name
Throbbed to the last through his life’s ebbing tide
And lit the face of Death with love’s white flame.


A Caoine* (John Boyle O’Reilly).
It was hard to hearken the tale they told,
That Boyle O’Reilly was dead and cold,
In his golden prime, in his country’s need
Of each noble word and each worthy deed.

We loved him truly and well and long,
Who only knew him by word and song;
But around the feet of one motherland
Brethren see quickly and soon understand.

The gallant life was a wave of light,
Setting fair his race in the wide world’s sight.
Sore striken now in her loss and pain,
When will Ireland look on his like again?

Well may she mourn him in whose heart her love
Burned pure and warm as God’s sun above.
Well may she mourn him who could not rest,
E’en in death, his head upon her hallowed breast.

God’s peace be with him where he sleeps to-day
’Neath the friendly flag of America;
But with us is sorrow, and woe, and dread,
For John Boyle O’Reilly now lies cold and dead.


*This Keen appeared in The Irish Monthly after the death of John Boyle O’Reilly, who, having escaped from penal exile to which he had been condemned as an Irish rebel, became in the United States the brilliant Editor of The Boston Pilot, and a poet of acknowledged genius.


The Turn of the Tide
Green waves, green waves, whose thunder woke Wild
music ’neath the deep sea-wall,
Till every fairy echo spoke
From Duan’s cave in Donegal.

We leant and laughed above the tide.
What wine was like this Irish breeze
That swept the spray from side to side,
And rocked the quaint, sea-stunted trees?

My little nephew’s gleeful lace
Was like the sea-pink swinging nigh,
As leaving my safe-sheltered place
He sprang upon a rock hard by,

And tossed his arms above his head,
And sang while dancing to and fro;
Then one wild cry - he fell like lead
Down to the seething gulf below!

That frenzied moment - ah! I know
Not how I gained the water’s brink;
Nor how such agony of woe
Left heart and brain with power to think.

So dear he was! Oh, doubly dear
Because his parents far away
Left him with us when longer here
’Neath landlord law they could not stay.

I fought the boiling surf, and watched
Each rising wave with bated breath, I said:
“my darling may be snatched
Even yet from out the jaws of death.’

So dear he was! More dear to me
Than all the wide world held beside;
For his sweet mother’s memory
Was linked with all my love and pride.

In vain my watch throughout the storm;
When hope died hard, I cried to God:
“Give back his little lifeless form,
And I will bear your chastening rod.’

Ten hours the tide had still to stay;
Kneeling I watched its ebb and flow;
But what I suffered then I pray
No other woman’s heart may know.

The sky was calm, the day nigh done,
Before the glistening strand lay bare;
I searched its shallows one by one,
My wee dead dearie was not there.

And once within a quiet pool
I saw the face that was my own
All aged, shrunk and pitiful,
The hair snow-white, the eyes like stone.

At last ... what filled that narrow space?
... I never knew. Two kisses fell
Uupon my sleeping tear-drenched face:
The little lad I love so well

Broke my bad dream. Oh! he was here,
Living and laughing; high o’er all
God’s blessed sun was shining clear,
And we were far from Donegal!


In Exile
I see the plain and hills and vales
Whene’er I shut my eyes,
I hear the skylark’s joyous strains
Rained from the Irish skies.
Though many and a wild and weary league
Of foreign soil and sea
Lie now between my heart and home,
Between my land and me,
I cannot keep my throbbing thoughts
Through the long day at rest,
At night I cannot keep this heart
A prisoner in my breast;
The darkness sets it free to fly
Over the ocean foam,
And then I stand once more upon
The green old hills at home.

’Tis there the meek-eyed violets
Are stealing to the sun
In many a mossy Ulster glen
Ere summer is begun;
Adown the bold, bright mountain-side
A robe of gold is thrown,
The hardy whins whose blaze illumes
The braes of half Tyrone;
The fairy rath is sprinkled o’er
With daisies white and red,
In nooks of green the primrose stars
Their light and perfume shed;
In nooks of green the sorrel shines
Waxen and white and sweet,
Well may the aged oak look glad
That bloom is at its feet!

Wild flowers are here, but, ah! my heart
Can never warm to them
Like those that drank the Irish sun
And dew through bud and stem.
This fair young land is free, they say,
The one I left in chains;
But sure ’tis all my deepest love
The fettered one retains -
Her glory and her grief are mine,
Her love and sorrow beat
About my breast with eager hands,
Whose touch, though sad, is sweet
A feeble infant’s cooing cry,
Soft clasp, or clinging kiss -
A mystery of tenderness,
Of agony and bliss.

My blessing on the quiet night
That lets me see again
The sunshine on my father’s grave,
Its shamrocks wet with rain;
No tears of mine can reach that spot,
But God hath cared it best,
Beneath His smile and Heaven’s tears
There’s sweet and wholesome rest.
My blessing on the holy night,
So dark and soft and cool,
That lets me stray where Avonmore
Strong, swift and beautiful,
Sweeps the Northern hills as free
As lion from his lair,
And pure as are the pale dewdrops
The trembling lilies bear.

What memories rise and live along
These broad Blackwater banks!
Where Freedom fought her sacred fight
In Hugh and Owen’s ranks;
The rippling tide is now as clear
As were the waves of steel
That leaped to light and victory
’Neath thy Red Hand, O’Neill.
’Twas sadder warfare left late marks
Of desolation here -
The law and landlord linked their might
In the dark famine year.

They conquered - for, alas! their track
May still be seen inside*
The ruined walls, whose inmates fled
Or else lay down and died.
It may be change hath laid his hand
On homesteads that I knew
Along the level vales of green,
Among the mountains blue;
But well I know what even Time
Will neither change nor tame -
Thy hills and streams, my Ireland,
Are evermore the same!
They beckon me like kith and kin
From out the stranger’s land,
They draw me back with loving force
That I cannot withstand;
They fill my fancies of the day
With hope and love and light,
’Tis of their coming liberty
I dream the livelong night.


Dearvorgill
A Monologue
(Mellifont Abbey, Christmas, 1160)

The Annals of the Four Masters record the elopement of Dermot MacMurrough (Kavanagh), King of Leinster, in the year 1153, with Dearvorgill, the wife of O’Rourke, Prince of Breffni. The crime caused the invasion of Ireland by the Anglo-Normans, whose assistance Dermot invoked. Dearvorgill repented deeply; she died in 1193 at Mellifont. (The story is now told differently by many students of Irish history.)

The mid hour of night, and there comes not a sound
From the small solemn cells of the holy ones round.
They can sleep with a smile of clear peace on each face,
In their blue sky of dreams not a cloud hath its place.
Could I once, O my God! in such sweet visions share,
I my heart harboured guilt and its offspring, despair?
Could I sink like Thy nuns to my well-earned rest,
With hands folded close o’er an innocent breast?
To-night and last night - many nights have I known
When no sleep sought my eyes on this cold couch of stone,
Hut the quick dripping tears fell like rain on the floor,
And the ache at my heart gnawed its way to the core.
Ah! the daylight I dread, and the sun is my shame,
But the night time is hardest to bear. I can claim
No reprieve from the past, while I crouch in the dark,
With ears opened wide, but to hold and to hark
The fierce taunts of my deeds and the anguish that beats
Through my brain when the shape of my infamy meets
The dull pain of these eyes ....
But I’ll steal from the sight of my sins if I can,
I will snatch one last look o’er the self-imposed ban,
That forbids me to think of the past save to show
The dark face of my guilt - the good friar, I know,
Gave full leave for the boon, ’tis the last I will crave
Till my crimes can be hid in the merciful grave.

Ah! I see far away the green valleys of Meath,
And the soft swelling hills with their red crowns of heath;
And I see the bright river that sings like a thrush,
By each abbey and town, ’neath each golden broom bush.
Through the woodlands one rapture of song is abroad,
On the pure air faint odours rise soft from the sod,
For the daisies are springing up fast at my feet,
And new thickets of violets, modest and sweet,
Are in little blue clouds through the gloom of the glen,
Where the pale primrose light now is breaking again.
All the sward at one spot has the cherry-tree’s glow,
For the blossoms drift down like the light flakes of snow,
As the south wind goes in where the jay’s nest is hung,
And unlocks with soft kisses the eyes of her young.
And my heart, this poor wreck of a heart, was as light
As the jay’s on his way to the heaven’s blue height,
For I had not a care, nor a sorrow, nor dread
Though of summers eighteen had gone over my head.

Oh! the tumult of joy one dead summer awoke
In my heart - in the air - in the sap of the oak,
For the green leaves were greener on every tree,
While the stranger from Leinster stood silent with me
’Neath the arches that spanned the long aisles of our wood,
Where the gold-headed daffodils radiantly stood,
Lighting up the green gloom. When he rode by my side,
’Twas no gloom in my soul: that grew suddenly wide
Like the noon overhead. I could laugh with the glad,
And I knew how to weep with the hopeless and sad.

But the day came for Dermot to pass from our gate,
And the sun went away with him. All my dark fate
Closed in on me then. Through the gray mist of years
I can still see the hour when my passionate tears
Were in vain, worse than vain, for O’Rourke had my hand;
But my heart - that seemed dead like the winter-bound land.
Would to God even then I had lain in my shroud!
Wouuld that death had made room for me in his pale crowd
Ere they told me MacMurrough was true to me still -
That his charger was pawing the air on the hill;
And I went but to say I was now Breffni’s bride,
That our paths were apart, that the world, too, was wide,
When he laid his dark head on the ground at my feet,
And I wept with despair till despair became sweet
For his sake.
Oh! mine be the penalty, mine be the shame,
Through long ages let Ireland blush at my name;
Lay Thy scourges, O God, on this body and heart -
They were linked in the evil, now spare not. I start
From no trial but one ... Ah! pity and save
The wild soul of dark Dermot, who still was so brave
In Thy service and love.
Give pardon to him, let Thy rigors, Lord, cease,
And remember the night when the carnage raged fierce
Round the city of Ferns. The injured were there,
O’Rourke and the Ard-Righ; my father’s white hair
I saw dabbled with gore that my own guilt had shed,
And I sprang from the side of MacMurrough; I fled
Where his voice could not reach me, his eyes could not plead
To the passion that bent my weak heart like a reed,
But I asked Thee, my God, in that sacrifice sore
To forgive him and blot out the love that he bore
In his heart unto me.
Now welcome, thrice welcome, the darkness and all
The strange shapes of the midnight that chill and appal
This poor wreck of a heart; only let me atone.
Let my tears channel paths in this smooth floor of stone.
Far sweeter than all the fair past that I knew
Is the penance that falls on my soul like the dew
On the hot aching earth. ... Give me penance and pain,
Give me time and more tears to wipe out the red stain
Of my own guilty guilt; and, O Lord, let me cling
To the foot of Thy cross, whence the pure healing spring
Of redemption may flow over me, as it flowed
O’er the woman who bore to Thy blest feet the load
Of her woe and transgressions; Thy pardon was laid
On her fair burning brows. I will pray as she prayed,
I will weep as she wept; and my vigils I’ll keep
By Thy cold, wounded feet, while the holy ones sleep.


Christmas Eve in the Suspects’ Home*
’Tis Christmas time, my children, the time of peace and mirth;
The ruddy log is blazing on many a happy hearth;
The Christmas lights are burning - the windows all aglow -
But for you and me, my children, this time is a time of woe;
For who will bring the heavy log, with manly strength and
  pride,
And split it into fragments, and pile them side by side?
And who will light the Christmas light, and say the fervent
  prayer,
That his home and friends and children may in God’s protection
    share,
That neither sin nor sorrow may in his home be found,
And all be safe together when the day again comes round?
And who, my little Man -, shall take you on his knee?
Or laugh to see you toddling round and joining in the glee?
To-night, my little darling, to-night ’tis sorry cheer,
No merry jokes or fun for us - your father is not here.
I did not miss him half as much until this very night;
The neighbours did the work for us and made our burden light.
But who, to-night, can fill the void that’s here in home and
  heart?
No neighbours, be they e’er so kind, can take to-night his part.
I think I see him sitting in the prison dark and drear,
His eyes are with his heart to-night, and that is surely here.
How strange the time must seem to him, when all is lone and
  dim;
He’ll wake and hear the warder’s call for the Christmas morning
  hymn;
And he’ll think of how he drove us to the solemn midnight Mass,
With the bright moon in the heavens and the white frost on
  the grass.
‘A village ruffian,’ said they; well, that name indeed is odd!
He dearly loves his country, but dearer still his God.
God knows my heart is sad to-night, my eyes are filled with
  tears;
I hide them from my children’s sight, to check their childish fears.
But though my eyes are filled with tears, and though my heart
  is sore,
That very heart beats proudly for the manly part he bore.
I was glad when first his name I took - a proud moment in
  my life,
But prouder am I still to-day when made a suspect’s wife.
And other Christmas nights shall come, and when the stories
  pass,
He will tell his prison-story to his little favourite lass;
He will tell of prison comrades, with noble souls and grand,
Who helped to take the heavy yoke from our homes and from
  our land.

*In the year 1880, while W. E. Forster was Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, certain persons were put in prison without trial as being under suspicion of criminal practices or designs. These were called “suspects.”


Bresal’s Bride

Tigernach, at the year 161 of the Christian era, records the reign of a King of Ulster: ‘Bresal, son of Brian, reigned in Emania nineteen, who was drowned, while bunting, in Lough Laigh [now Neagh]. His spouse Mora died of grief for his death. From her Rath-Mor, in Moylinney, is named.’ The following words on the same subject are part of a legend in the Dinn Seanchus: ‘Mora said, “I think Bresal’s absence is too long.” And a certain woman said to her, “It will be long to thee, indeed, for Bresal will never come back to his friends until the dead come back to theirs.” Mora died of grief, and her name remained upon the Rath.’

The wild brown birds sang soft and clear.
The daisies starred the level lea,
It was the May time of the year -
Ah me! Ah me!

When forth from Uladh’s* gay, green breast,
He spurred his steed, my warrior knight,
His kernes’ tall spears, his own proud crest.
Burn in my sight,


As I recall the swift sweet awe
That smote my foolish fluttering heart,
When lifting up my eyes I saw Him ride apart.
And then I heard him speaking nigh;
I hid my happy face, yet all
My pulses shook, I knew not why,
At his footfall.

Oh! he was brave; the nation knew
His valour well, his feats of skill;
’Twas his right hand the wild boar slew
None else could kill.


And many a stag, whose antlers’ length
Proclaimed him king of all the herd,
Sank stricken in his stately strength
On the green sward.

When Bresal led the hunting band
Past Ollar’s* groves of yew and oak,
Wolf-hound and horse loved the command
His brave voice spoke.

The happiest heart beneath the sky
I gave him, wondering timidly
At all my own new bliss, and why
It came to me.


The fair young summer days went past
Our open door on flying feet -
No battle cry nor hunting blast
Pierced our retreat

For many a moon. At length the chase
Swept through our vale, and Bresal sped
To join that noble train - his place
Was at its head.

He turned upon the hill and threw
Me one last look; he kissed his hand:
Such strange foreboding thrilled me through,
I scarce could stand.

But all day long I tried to sing
The songs he loved; when night was near,
The thought of his proud home-coming
Bore down my fear.

I climbed the Rath at set of sun
To meet him first; I met instead
The cruel Lough - its murder done -
My chief was dead!

The dark fell down ... no starlight came
Into the dark that compassed me ...
No moon held up her fair white flame
For me to see.

But ’neath the good green earth what space
Is there for love or light or fears?
’Tis Peace alone waits each pale face
Worn thin with tears.

Oh! sleep, my Bresal, sleep, my own!
I pine and pray for such de`ep rest;
This heart is surely turned to stone
Inside my breast.

I cannot keen - I cannot pour
My woe away in sob or sigh -
’Tis sleep I crave for evermore
Where thou dost lie.

*Ulster
*Ollar, the ancient name of what is now the Six-Mile-Water.


A Night in Ninety-Eight
In that lone Ulster vale not a sound could you hear
But the croon of the Blackwater murmuring near,
The white walls of the house, where the beauty and pride
Of the mountain-side lived - dear, your grandfather’s bride
Was the woman I mean - she whose sorrowful fate
Was as hard as the hardest in dark Ninety-eight.

Oh! the peace of that night, while the white stars above
And the river below them seemed throbbing with love;
For the green dewy earth that was hushed into rest,
Like the fair month-old babe on your grandmother’s breast,
As she ceased the sweet “Coulin” to kiss him, and say -
All her bonny young face like a morning of May -
“Oh! a freeman you’ll be, boy - thank God you’ll be free,
For our land is awake, and the French on the sea! ”

Ere the love-light had died in her eyes, or her cheek
Lost its deep wildrose flush, came an ominous shriek,
And another! - another! - and then down the glen
Came the thunder of hoofs - ’twas the scarlet yeomen,
With ten houses behind them in flames, and before
A bound band of young peasants, in number a score.
Ah! I know you are proud of the chiefs of your race,
But, my child, not a king nor a chief would I place
Half as high as these farmers, who spoke not a word
Of the pikes they had hid, or the tidings they’d heard
From the French at Killala, Lord Edward, and Tone;
Of their comrades and leaders from Cork to Tyrone.
They who shut their white lips while the pitch-caps were laid
Hissing hot on their heads; they who were not afraid
Of the scourge, and the picket, the bullet, or rope -
With such men and such silence, what yeomen could cope?

Oh, no stag was among them; your grandfather knew
That the boys he had drilled until death would be true;
And he stood ’mid his foes like a lion at bay,
And to torture or bribe not a word would he say.
“Where was she?” - Well, you know the old bridge with one arch,
Where the river grows fierce in its oceanward march?
’Neath a sheltering rock o’er the water she hung,
For that night to her heart the poor sleeping child clung,
As if even that babe felt the death in the air,
And his part was to keep her safe sheltered in there!
So stayed they, e’en after the clamour was o’er;
And the soldiers rode on, having close locked the score
Of these silent United Men up in the loft
Of your grandfather’s granary. Oh, you’ve heard oft
How the prisoners tore all their clothing for ropes,
And how well some escaped, full of vengeance and hopes
High as ever for Ireland. Last of them all
Came your grandfather down the deep, slippery wall,

And he fell. ... All his comrades, save one, were away,
And he drove the lad off, saying: “No men would slay
One disabled like me.” ... And “what matter, if so?”
He said soft to his heart. But the stripling cried -
“No! God and Mary forsake me, if I desert you!” -
And away, seeking help, up the mountain he flew.

Then the dawning was red in the eastern skies,
And the yeomen returned. Of their rage and surprise
It is little, avourneen, you’d care to be told;
But what happened was this: as the sun’s early gold
Struck the grey, mossy bridge, they dragged him to the spot,
And the one crippled man by one hundred was shot!

Oh, of her, the young wife, there is little to tell,
For she heard every sound; at the first shot she fell
In the torrent below - but the infant lived still,
Like the cause, that no tyrant could conquer or kill!


Vainer than Vanity
Vainer than vanity! Over the billows
The slanting rays of the sunset write
That wordless wail which, beneath the willows,
Broke from my lips on the starlit night;
When you in your pale pure beauty and brightness
Last lingered here by the still lake side,
And the lilies robed in their vestal whiteness
Seem’d dim and dull by their sister-bride!

Vainer than Vanity Ah! the nuptials waiting for you, fair maiden,
Were dearer and sweeter than earth ever knew,
And the roses hiding their hearts, dew-laden,
Did only what envious earthlings do -
For your heart loved One more true and tender,
Held blossoms of beauty that shamed their blush,
And the breath of balm which it died to render
Still hovers here in the sunset’s hush!

Even then, as now, were the ripples rocking
Each dreaming bud on their heaving breasts;
Even now, as then, are the white doves flocking
In showers of snow to their leafy nests;
And the golden gloom of the twilight walketh
The amber aisles of the eastern sky,
Where the glittering eye of the young star talketh
A language solemn, and sweet, and high
As the words of wisdom you whispered slowly -
My desolate head on your brave young breast -
Till the tidings smote me, and then more slowly,
I crept more closely, your heart to rest!
While down in a veil of surpassing sweetness
The June night fell on the face of the day,
And the moments fled with infinite fleetness,
Unheeding my passionate prayer to stay!

The groves, bee-haunted, are still and sleeping,
The willows’ whisp’ring tales are o’er;
And the creamy curves of the limes are sweeping
The daisied brow of the hill no more;
While I alone by the waves am kneeling
Where last in the silence I kissed your face,
And the dew beat time to the hot tears stealing
The passionate sting from that last embrace!
But now it is only the wall and the grating
That meet my kiss with a chill like death;
As I lift my lips in the stillness, waiting
Your mouth’s mute touch or your heart’s deep breath.
Ah, cloistered head, I have bent and borne
With struggles that stifle youth’s loveliest light,
But I tried to yield when the ties were torn
That bound us one in the wild fierce fight.

“Vainer than vanity! Triumph is fleeting,
The Dead Sea Apples are fairest to see:
’Tis the hiss of hate is the strong heart’s greeting,
If God hath anointed it - leader to be.”
I know it, O sister, but coward and traitor
Are terms unmeet for the love of your life;
And the Mammon of men and its master may hate her,
But Duty hath Beauty well worthy the strife.
’Mid the calm of to-night with your mem’ry uplifting
The pall of despair that had hung o’er my heart,
I can bless the good God for the white sunlight drifting
In torrents of peace from the home where thou art;
And the hymn of the breeze-born blossoms, low bending
Their foreheads of snow through the green of the brake,
Fills my heart with an anthem of gladness unending,
As wild and as sweet as the lore of the lake.


The Hillside To-day
All the wild heather bloom is as bright as last year,
All the woods are as green and the skies are as clear
Ther’s the young summer sun dancing over the lake,
And that voice from the grass - ’tis the dusky corncrake.
One would think not a day had gone by since we stood
By the corncrake’s low nest, with its brown downy brood;
But the nest now is empty, all the young ones away,
And I’m standing alone on the hillside to-day.

Well I once knew a house ’mid the beeches below,
And its roof was of straw, while the walls were like snow;
But no smoke from the beech-trees is rising aloft,
No voice from beneath them is singing so soft.
Ah, my fair little maid! all the singing was o’er,
Since the last time you passed from that sorrowful door,
Whence the poor mother gazed, with her heart in her eyes.
But a blessing for you ’mid the storm of her sighs.
Sure the passionate love of that heart-broken prayer
Never fell from around you wherever you were,
In the land of the stranger there was many a one
“Called you sweet as the sunshine, and meek as a nun”;
Thus the Angel of Death may have looked on you too,
’Twas in pity his dark wings made shelter for you;
When the sickness came here and the rent time went past,
Ah, the weak ones you toiled for were homeless at last!

Not a charm can be missed from the earth or the sky,
Yet the change is too deep for the ear or the eye,
And the roofless old walls in the valley below
To my heart are a picture of desolate woe:
Ah! the maiden’s soft voice might be singing here still,
And her father’s tall form be at work on the hill;
But the homestead is empty, old and young are away,
And I’m standing alone on the hillside to-day.


An Autumn Day in Ireland
The heather, O! the heather! I would that I could sing
A little song of welcome
To the wondrous lovely thing.
I would bless the ruddy blossoms
Drinking in the noonday sun,
I would kiss the tiny leaflets
When the autumn day is done -
And the sunshine has departed,
For the dew has come instead,
Like a tender benediction
On a tired human head.

Oh! my native mountain heather,
How I yearned for your scent
Through the golden summer weather
In the dusty city pent;
With my heart forever turning
From the Liffey’s noisy shore To the breezy braes of Ulster
With the heather blooming o’er!
Every north wind was a summons
Very swift and very sweet,
From the royal heath-crowned headlands,
Seas of corn at their feet.

But I think my soul was stronger
For the mingled joy and pain,
That laid white and sable touches
Upon eager heart and brain;
Surely life and love are longer
Since I saw the heather here;
Ah! how wise, and old, and patient
One can grow inside a year.
God be thanked, whatever changes,
All the mountains are the same,
And the heather on the hillside
Time has never tried to tame.

Deep and tender peace and quiet
ῒNeath the fairy thorn lone,
From its ancient rath o’erlooking
Half the glens of sweet Tyrone -
There the world’s fret and fever
Fades away - in light is lost,
And e’en I can travel backward
O’er a bridge but seldom crossed -
Meeting hopes, and doubts, and dreaming
Face to face along the way,
Not as once I used to cower
From their contact chill and grey.

But amid the fragrant heather
Who would not be brave and free,
Where the mere delight of living
Has enraptured bird and bee?
Where all overhead the heaven
Stretches broad, and calm, and blue
Slender spires of smoke ascending
Of a faintly deeper hue,
From the homestead to the valley,
Link the sky and dreamy land,
While the wild, sweet crimson
heather Seems to smile and understand!


Anne
In the white waves of moonlight thy footsteps I trace,
In the green breezy broom know thy sweet subtle grace;
Every flower in the bud and each leaf on the tree
Blows and glows with a glory they’ve borrowed from thee.


When the first golden streams from the sun’s sceptre slake
Their fierce joy in the crystalline heart of the lake,
In that rare radiant union thy pure eyes I see -
Glowing sun-drops of love where darkness should be.


Ellen O’Leary
Every tassel of dew on the roses I tend -
Every fair hope and blessing high heaven doth send -
Every triumph of right over might, over wrong,
Wears the charm of thy smile - takes the ring of thy song.

When I pray, ’tis thy name marks each decade and bead;
From thy strange solemn story, is fashioned my creed,
And my psalters and psalms on their spirit wings flee,
Fast and far to the land sanctified, love, by thee.

As of old, thou can’st mould all my life - not its part -
As I sleep with my face to the land where thou art;
And my hot heart leaps up from its dreaming to seek,
But in vain, for the touch of thy soft vanished cheek.

God guard and reward thee, my tempest-tried one!
In the proud sun of triumph thy innocence shone!
Let the waste weaker life which my wan spirit leads
Link its lot to thy power that pardoning pleads.


Ellen O’Leary
Asleep, asleep! God loved you well,
My dear one, when He let you lay
Life’s burthen down that autumn day.

’Twas bravely borne. Who knew you learned
How white a truth true living brings
To glorify the homeliest things.

Who knew you learned the noble lore
Of boundless faith and hope and love
For Ireland here, and God above.


Appendix
Kavanagh submitted the following poem to Merry England and suffered its rejection, criticisms and encouragements from the editor. It is included in the introductory section (“Herself”) of Rose Kavanagh and Her Verses (1909), rather than among the verses collected therein.

Now, little gold-head! whither shall we stray?
This April evening’s wreath of rosy hours,
Twined with the sunlight and lark’s lay, is ours.
How shall we wear it? My merry one, say!
Soon the green spring shall lie drowned in flowers,
Soon through the land the white presence of May
Shall flash till the wee wild-birds in their green bowers
Tremble with rapturous song through the day.

Give me your hand, and we’ll hurry to meet
All the delight that young summer is bringing:
Listen will we for the fall of her feet
Where the brave spears of the green grass are springing
Catch the first throb of her happy heart-beat
From the clear anthem the linnets are singing.

Give me your hand, boy, we’ll ramble to where
The home river laughs as it leaps into sight,
Pure as the dawn from the dark heart of night,
Bright like a sword where it cleaves the thin air,
Then links the crags with a rainbow of light
Only the fairies are sentinels there,
Watching the water’s wild musical flight,
Holding beside it their revelry rare.

Gold-head, to-day we will wander away
Where nature before us tenderly trod,
She’ll let us creep to her bosom and lay
Our cheeks to the daisies, chained to the sod,
Their little feet bound by fetters of clay,
Their starry eyes lifted always to God.

 

Rose Kavanagh and Her Verses, ed. Matthew Russell, S. J. (Dublin: M. H. Gill 1900), pp.11-12.


[ close ]

[ top ]