Page images

The fifth was wind, the sixth was stone,
The seventh was the Holy Ghost,
The last, the Light which lighteth God."

Then sang the sages of the Gael:

"Man's body, first, was built of earth
To lodge a living soul from birth,
And earthward home again to go
When Time and Death have spoken so.
Then of the sea his blood was dight
To bound in love and flow in fight.
Next, of the sun, to see the skies,
His face was framed with shining eyes.
From hurrying hosts of cloud was wrought
His roaming, rapid-changeful thought.
Then of the wind was made his breath
To come and go from birth to death.
And then of earth-sustaining stone
Was built his flesh-upholding bone.
The Holy Ghost, like cloven flame,
The substance of his soul became;
Of Light which lighteth God was made
Man's conscience, so that unafraid
His soul through haunts of night and sin
May pass and keep all clean within.

"Now, if the earthiness redound,
He lags through life a slothful hound.
But, if it be the sea that sways,
In wild unrest he wastes his days.
Whene'er the sun is sovran, there
The heart is light, the face is fair.
If clouds prevail, he lives in dreams
A deedless life of gloom and gleams.

"If stone bear rule, he masters men,
And ruthless is their ransom then.
But when the wind has won command,
His word is harder than his hand.
The Holy Ghost, if He prevail,
Man lives exempt from lasting bale,
And, gazing with the eyes of God,
Of all he sees at home, abroad,
Discerns the inmost heart, and then
Reveals it to his fellow-men,

And they are truer, gentler, more
Heroic than they were before.

"But he on whom the Light Divine
Is lavished bears the sacred sign,
And men draw nigh in field or mart
To hear the wisdom of his heart.
For he is calm and clear of face,
And unperplexed he runs his race,
Because his mind is always bent
On Right, regardless of event.

"Of each of those eight things decreed
To make and mold the human breed,
Let more or less in man and man
Be set as God has framed His plan.
But still there is a ninth in store
(Oh grant it now and evermore!)—
Our Freedom, wanting which, we read,

The bulk of earth, the strength of stone, The bounding life o' the sea, the speed

Of clouds, the splendor of the sun, The never-flagging flight of wind,

The fervor of the Holy Ghost,
The Light before the angel's host,
Though all be in our frame combined,
Grow tainted, yea, of no avail."

So sang the sages of the Gael.



IRELAND Owes much to her ballad poetry, and not a little to tha portion of it which is associated with the streets. Most, if not all, nations owe more or less to poetry. The songs of Homer, even more than her banded might, preserved Greece independent for over a thousand years. The ballads of Spain kept Spanish patriotism brightly burning thoughout the centuries which saw the Moor rooted in the land, and finally, by the potency of their magic, swept Boabdil and his legions from Granada-from Spain-tore down the Crescent from the high places of the Saracen, and raised in its stead once again the glorious emblem of man's salvation-the Cross of the Redeemer. For Ireland, the ballad and the song have done more than for even Spain or Greece. It is true, she has not obtained a result so significantly brilliant as that achieved by Spain. She has not succeeded, after all her struggles, in shaking herself free of the foreigner's yoke. Spain, like Ireland, was seized and held by a foreign foe; but that foe, though infidel, was less rapacious and less brutal than the pretentious Christian one that fastened upon Ireland. The Moor was the patron of learning, and gave almost lavish encouragement to the arts and sciences in the celebrated schools which he established at Cordova and throughout Spain.

The Englishman's instruments of civilization in Ireland were the sword and the halter-the destruction of her schools, the violation and robbery of her sanctuaries, the outlawry of her language and its teachers. It was not the province of England to build up, to foster and encourage learning there, but to despoil, to destroy, and to brutalize, by every means that the dark fiend himself might suggest, the Irish race, because, forsooth, the children of that race refused to reach out their arms, and meekly receive the shackles of the slave. Learning was banned in Ireland, but the Irish mother, with a fervor almost amounting to religious devotion, taught her child the old ballads and songs which told of Ireland and of Ireland's faith, and which her own mother in a similar way had taught to her. From Cape Clear to the Giant's Causeway, in every peasant homestead throughout the length and the breadth of the land, were those songs sung and those ballads conned over. Under God they have been the means of preserving her nationality and her faith through centuries of disasters and persecutions such as a nation never before suffered and survived. When English laws put the ban of outlawry on her bards, and finally destroyed them, did England even then succeed in her nefarious design? No!-the song lived, though the lips that first chanted it were silent for ever. The ballad never lost its significance or its power; generation after generation were swayed by the magic of its numbers-the fierceness of its invective, the pathos of its love, or the wild agony of its wail, still exercised the same talismanic effect on the Irish heart.



The Irish language, with its graceful idioms and epigrammatic terseness, was peculiarly adapted for poetry. Even when fairly translated into the English tongue, much of the beauty of the original is perceptible. What a magnificent ballad have we not in poor Clarence Mangan's beautiful translation of Dark Rosaleen.' It is unsurpassed by any ballad of any language-a real gem-classic as Homer.


It was to such ballads as this Ireland was accustomed prior to that long night of darkness and agony which set in upon her with the reign of England's Elizabeth. Such were her "Streets Ballads" in those days; and it can be readily imagined what an effect such a ballad as Dark Rosaleen,' sung or recited in the native tongue, would have on the excitable Irish temperament-how it would stir, how it would fascinate, how it would impress and mold, the susceptible Irish heart. Why, even in the foreign tongue, in the heavy, and by no means poetical language of England, the blood runs faster as it is declaimed-it carries you along in its grand flow, and its every impassioned sentiment becomes your own. But in the old tongue in the language of the land, the effect of a such a ballad would be magical.

Since the days when it became treason to love their country, the Irish bards usually adopted allegory, such as we find in Dark Rosaleen.' They sang of Ireland as the Dark Little Rose,' the 'Shan Van Vocht,' the 'Coolin,' and under a hundred other names. A great writer has said that the Irish are one of the most poetic of the peoples on earth; that in them is the true spirit poetry to be found. With an old, brave race, such as the Irish, having grand traditions and proud memories, it could scarcely be other. Nature is the great rudimentary school in which poetry is imbibed; and in "green Erin of the streams" the child of the land is ever present face to face with the high teacher, in what mood soever she chooses to array herself. And though he may never measure a line of poetry, or indeed know the difference between iambics and the Hill of Howth, he is not the less a poet, for his soul drinks in the glories of nature, and responds to her thousand fitful but always beautiful aspects. Ireland has been happily termed the "land of song." In the preChristian, as in the Christian era, song was her delight, and she delighted to excel in the art. It swayed her with a certainty as true as the moon sways the tides.

Nine out of every ten men you meet with in Ireland are poets; and the tenth man will, in all probability, be a Saxon or other benighted foreigner." The majority of them, however, it need scarcely be added, remain "mute inglorious Miltons," but might, and no doubt would, under different circumstances become glorious ones. In Ireland, rustic bards swarm thick as blackberries in harvest-time, and not a few of the craft have we ourselves personally known. As in every other department, so in the rhyming trade, there is always to be found in each parish or district a workman superior to his fellows.

The Irish street ballad proper was on every conceivable subject— embraced love, politics, religion, war, shipwreck, in fact, took in

[ocr errors]

the whole range of creation-sun, moon, stars, skies, and the earth, with all its belongings, but more particularly that delightful portion of it ycleped the "Emerald Isle." Indeed it was no uncommon thing for a countryman, on being asked to sing, to inquire on what subject the company would wish him to oblige-whether they would have a love, or love-and-murder, a rale ould Irish" (meaning a national), a controversial, or a sea song. We have often heard the question asked in this way, when the minstrel would take his cue from the majority, and treat them to what they liked best.


Love was a deity the rustic bard very frequently bowed before. Her he invoked, and to her he poured out the woes of his wounded spirit in swelling numbers. Here is one who tells us he came a stranger to the country about Ardee, where he lost his heart. He thus makes us acquainted with the sad tale :

"When first to this country a stranger I came,

I placed my affections on a comely fair maid,
She was proper, tall and handsome, in every degree,

She's the flower of this country, and the Rose of Ardee.

"I courted lovely Mary at the age of sixteen,

Her waist it was slender, and her carriage genteel;
Till at length a young weaver came for her to see,
Stole the flower of this country and the Rose of Ardee."

Poor fellow, this was a sad ending to his dreams. Though the provocation was great, he did not commit suicide, however. After cursing the weaver" by day and by night," he proceeds

"When I get my week's wages to the Shebeen I'll go,

And there I'll sit drinkin' with my heart full of woe,
I'll sit there lamentin', expectin' to see

Once more my own true love, the Rose of Ardee."

After a good deal of "lamenting," the bard arrives at a philosophic conclusion, and ends by bidding his false fair one an eternal farewell.

"Farewell, lovely Mary, tho' fled from my sight,

For you I am weepin' by day and by night,
For I fear my sweet angel I never shall see,
So adieu evermore to the Rose of Ardee."

There is another characteristic effusion, entitled the Star of Slane.' Observe how the bard displays his knowledge of history and mythology. It is so loaded with classic allusions that, like the "other" straw breaking the camel's back, one other would be more than it could actually bear. Bright Sol, Paris, the Grecian Queen, Troy, Cæsar, Cleopatra, Alexander, Cupid, Diana, Susanna, and the River Boyne, are all marshaled up to give effect.

This was the style of versification most admired, particularly when the words were, as here, of "learned length and thundering sound."

[ocr errors]

Who but an Irish street-balladist could express affection for the angel of his love in so happy a manner as does the wooer of Peggy Brady? What colleen but would melt at so moving and so artless

« PreviousContinue »