Page images



MR. GEORGE F. ARMSTRONG, perhaps the most fertile of Irish authors of his time, was born in Dublin County in May, 1845, and was educated partly by private tuition in the Channel Islands, and at Trinity College. He is the son of the late Edmund J. Armstrong, and brother of E. J. Armstrong (q.v.); in 1891 he assumed the name of Savage on the death of a maternal uncle. Returning from a tour in Normandy, whither he had accompanied his brother Edmund, he gained, in 1864, the highest distinction in English verse. In 1866 the gold medal for composition was awarded to him by the Historical Society; and in the following year his essays won the gold medal of the Philosophical Society, of which he was twice elected President. Poems, Lyrical and Dramatic,' appeared in 1869, and in 1870 Ugone,' a tragedy, which had been suggested by his travels and residence in Italy. In the following year he was appointed professor of history and English literature in Queen's College, Cork, which position he still holds. In 1872 he was presented with the degree of M.A. in Dublin University, revisited Italy and Switzerland, and published the first part of The Tragedy of Israel,' 'King Saul,' together with new editions of his former works. In 1874 appeared King David,' and in 1876 King Solomon,' the second and final parts of 'The Tragedy of Israel.' In 1877 he brought out Life, Letters, and Essays' of his brother, and a new edition of the Poems' of the latter, the first edition having appeared under his editorship in 1865. The distinct note, the original flavor, of Mr. Armstrong's poetry," says Mr. T. W. Rolleston in A Treasury of Irish Poetry,' appears to be formed by the union of his ornate and stately diction with the peculiar freshness and directness of his pictures of outdoor life. These pictures have the true quality of the plein air-they are not memories or dreams of Nature, but experiences, won by the toil that deepens the breath and braces the muscles upon the mountain-side, and that reader must surely have left his youth of body and spirit long behind in whose veins they do not stir the roving blood."




He himself tells us that "the love of Nature led in my brother's case and in mine to the love of poetry. At the age of twelve I had read all Shakespeare's plays and a vast deal of other poetry and prose besides. I used to spend hours, with a book of poetry in my hand, in the tops of the tall trees, reading, or on the side of the Dublin or Wicklow mountain, with a volume of Byron, or Scott or Wordsworth or Coleridge or Keats or Shelley, and lie in the heather, reading aloud poem after poem.

"His work," says the authority quoted above, "is simple and objective in its conception, and forms the most important body of poetic work which has been produced outside the Celtic tradition since the time when Ferguson and Mangan began to lead the waters from that ancient source into the channels of modern Irish verse.'




It was long past the noon when I pushed back my chair

In the hostel, slung knapsack on shoulder, and walked Through the low narrow room where the folks from the fair,

Old peasants deep-wrinkled, sat clustered and talked In their guttural Gaelic; and out through the stalls

Girt with marketers laughing, and groups here and there Of maidens blue-eyed, hooded figures in shawls

Of scarlet, and wild mountain lads in long hair,

Rude carts, and rough ponies with creels, and gayly passed

Up the street; through the starers and bargainers prest; And asked of an idler my way, and at last

Struck out on the hill-road that winds to the west.


And I thought, as I strode by the last heavy cart

Moving earlier home than the rest (wife and child Sitting close on the trusses of straw, and apart

On the road, cracking whip, chatting loud, laughing wild, The husband and sire in knee-breeches and shoes),

Though it was of the first of such journeys to me Since my life's friend was lost, yet I dared not refuse

The gift of good angels that even, the free Glad heart in my breast, the delight in my soul,

As I greeted the hill-tops, and saw down below The sea winding in from afar, heard the roll

Of the stream on the rocks, felt the autumn air blow Through my hair as I moved with light step on the way:

And I said, “Let me drink to the dregs the black cup Of pain when 't is nigh; but if joy come to-day,

Let me drain the last drop of the dæmon-wine up."
Then I journeyed along through the moorlands, and crossed

The mad stream by the bridge at the crest of the creek,
And wound up the mountain to northward, and lost
All sight of the village and hill-folk.


A bleak Heavy cloud, dull and inky, crept over the sun And blackened the valleys.


In under the hills

Ran the road, among moors where the myrtle stood dun,
And the heather hung rusted. The voice of the rills

Was choked in gray rushes. No footstep was nigh.
One rush-covered hut smoked aloft. Not a bird
Or a bee flittered by me. The wind seemed to die

In the silence and sadness. No blade of grass stirred.
Not a tuft of the bog-cotton swayed. Lone and rude

Grew the path; and the hills, as I moved, stood apart And opened away to the drear solitude.


Then a sorrow crept writhingly over my heart And clung there-a viper I dared not fling off.

The sound of dear voices sang soft in my ear To mock me, dear faces came smiling to scoff

At my loneliness, making the drearness too drear. Up the track, now to right, now to left as I clomb,

Weird visions came thronging in thick on the brainOf days long forgotten, of friends, of a home

By death desolated, of eyes that in vain

Gazed out for a soul that no more would come back,
Of one face far away drawing out my life's love
Very strangely that day to it.

Everywhere, black,

Storm-shattered, the mountains loomed lonely above. A horror, a sickness slipt down through my blood.

All my thoughts, all my dreams, all that memory's load, All the terror of loneliness, broke like a flood

Over body and soul, and I shrank from the road.


I cowered at the frown of the mountains that hung
On this side and that; and the brown dreary waste;
The barren gray rocks far aloft; for they wrung

My soul with dim fears; and I yearned but to taste
The sweets of companionship, yearned to return

To the far-away village; to hear once again The buzz of kind voices about me; to spurn

The sadness and horror, the fear and the pain. Then I bent down my head as I moved, and my mind Ran out in vague musings:

"If God laid His hand On my life now, and suddenly, swiftly consigned My soul, at a breath to the dim spirit-landGuiding on to a world that at best would be strange, Would be sad in its joys, in its sweetness unsweet To a mind rent away in so awful a change

From a world of bright faces, the park and the street,

And the room, and the glances of languishing eyes,
The smiles of red lips, and the touch of soft arms,
The gay merry laughters, the happy love-sighs-

And I found myself out in a region of storms,
Out beating my way through the waste, with one star
In dark heavens to lead me; through regions unknown,
Dim regions of midnight outstretching afar;

A bodiless soul on its journey alone:

Ah, methinks I would yearn for a land such as this,
For a cloud that but darkens the sun, for the strife
With dim dreams, for the heights that shut out the near bliss
Of dear home for a little . O life of my life,
My lost one, thou stay of my childhood, my youth,
Thou fount of my joys in the days that are gone,
Where, where in the darkness, the regions of drouth,
The realm of the dead, art thou journeying on?
Is it strange to thee now, that new being of thine?

Dost thou fear in the midst of the darkness, and yearn
To be back in the sweet human throngs, in the shine

Of the bird-waking sun, 'mid the soft eyes that burn With love and with bliss? art thou lonely as I?

[ocr errors]

Art thou sad in the world that belieth its God In its pitiless coldness?"

I lifted my face, and I cried unto God.

Then up to the sky


And when back from the dream I had come, every rock
Had a livelier tinge, and the frown from the heaven
Had faded, the mountains no more seemed to lock

My lone life in their folds out of hate, and the even
Grew cheery, grew sweet, and a light wind upsprung

Mid the grasses, and fanned me, and wooed me to roam Through the moorlands to seaward, and blissfully sung In music as soothing as whispers of home.

And at last when the sun had gone down to his sleep,

And I caught the Atlantic's loud roar from the west, Saw the flare of the lighthouse, and wound to the deep, All awe of the wilds had died out in my breast.


Stern granite Gate of Wicklow, with what awe,

What triumph, oft (glad children strayed from home))
We passed into thy shadows cool, to roam
The Land beyond, whose very name could draw

A radiance to our faces; till we saw,
With airy peak and purple mountain-dome,

And lawn and wood and blue bay flecked with foam,
The Land indeed-fair truth without one flaw!
Never may I with foot of feeble age

Or buoyant step of manhood pass thy pale

And feel not still renewed that awe, that joy
(Of the dim Past divinest heritage)-
Seeking the sacred realm thou dost unveil,
Earth's one spot loved in love without alloy!

[ocr errors]


Year after year

The leaf and the shoot;
The babe and the nestling,
The worm at the root;
The bride at the altar,

The corpse on the bier-
The Earth and its story,

Year after year:

Whither are tending,

And whence do they rise,
The cycles of changes,

The worlds in their skies,
The seasons that rolled

Ere I flashed from the gloom,
And will roll on as now

When I'm dust in the tomb?

« PreviousContinue »