Was heard a clang of pinions and swift feet
Unchanged at heart those babes had caught that gleam ;
Instant from far had rushed, their sire to greet
Spangling the flood with silver spray ; and ere
That sire had reached the margin they were there.
Then, each and all, clamorous they made lament
Recounting all their wrong, and all the woe ;
And Lir, their tale complete, his garment rent,
Till then transfixed like marble shape ; and lo !
88 The Children of Lir.
Three times, heart-grieved, that concourse raised their
Piercing the centre of the low-hung sky.
But Lir knelt down upon the shining sand,
And cried, ' Though great the might of Druid charms,
Return and feel once more your native land,
And find once more and fill your father's arms ! '
And they made answer : ' Till the Tailkenn come
We tread not land ! The waters are our home.'
But when Finola saw her father's grief
She added thus : ' Albeit our days are sad,
The twilight brings our pain in part relief:
And songs are ours by night that make us glad :
Yea, each that hears our music, though he grieve,
Rejoices more. Abide, for it is eve.'
So Lir, and his, couched on the wave -lipped sod
All night ; and ever as those songs up swelled
A mist of sleep upon them fell from God,
And healing Spirits converse with them held.
And Lir was glad all night : but with the morn
Anguish returned ; and thus he cried, forlorn :
' Farewell ! The morn is come ; and I depart :
Farewell ! Not wholly evil are things ill !
Farewell, Finola ! Yea, but in my heart
With thee I bide : there liv'st thou changeless still :
The Children of Lir. 89
O Aodh ! O Fiacre ! the night is gone :
Farewell to both ! Farewell, my little Conn
Southward the childless father rode once more,
And saw at last beyond the forests tall
The great lake and the palace on its shore ;
And, entering, onward passed from hall to hall
To where King Bove majestic sat and crowned,
High on a terrace, with his magnates round ;
A stately terrace clustered round with towers,
And jubilant with music's merry din,
Beaten by resonant waves, and bright with flowers :
There but apart she stood that wrought the sin,
Like one that broods on one black thought alone
Seen o'er a world of happy hopes o'erthrown.
The throng made way : onward the wronged one strode
To Bove, sole-throned, and lifting in his hand
For royal sceptre that Druidic rod
Which gave him o'er the Spirit-world command ;
Then, pointing to that traitress, false as fair,
That wronged one spake: ' There stands the murderess !
there ! '
Straight on the King Druidic insight fell ;
And mirrored in his mind as cloud in lake
His daughter's crime, distinct and visible,
Before him stood. He turned to her and spake :
90 The Children of Lir.
' Thou hear'st the charge : how makest thou reply ?
And she : ' The deed is mine ! I wrought it ! I ! '
Then spake King Bove with countenance like night :
' Of all dread shapes that traverse earth or sea,
Or pierce the soil, or urge through heaven their flight,
Say, which abhorrest thou most ? ' And answered she :
' The shape of Spirits Accursed that ride the storm : '
And he : 'Be thine henceforth that demon form ! '
He spake, and lifted high his Druid Wand :
T'ward him perforce she drew : she bowed her head :
Down on that head he dropp'd it ; and beyond
The glooming lake, with bat-like wings outspread
O'er earth's black verge the shrieking Fury passed ;
Thenceforth to circle earth while earth shall last.
As when, on autumn eve from hill or cape
That slants into gray wastes of western sea,
The sun long set, some shepherd stares agape
At cloud that seems through endless space to flee
On raven pinions down the moaning wind,
Thus on that Fury stared they, well-nigh blind.
Then spake the king with hoary head that shook,
' I loved thy babes : now therefore let us go
Northward, and on their blameless beauty look,
Though changed, and hear their songs : for this I know
The Children of Lir. 91
By Druid art, they sing the whole night long,
And heaven and earth are solaced by their song.
Northward ere dawn they rode with a great host ;
And loosed their steeds by Darvra's mirror clear
What time purpureal evening like a ghost
Stepped from the blue glen on the glimmering mere :
And camped where stood the ruminating herds
With heads forth leaning t'ward those human birds.
And, ever o'er the wave those swans would come
To hear man's voice, and tell their tale to each,
Swift as the wind, and whiter than the foam ;
Yet never mounted they the bowery beach,
And still swerved backward from the beckoning hand,
Revering thus their stepmother's command.
And ever, when the sacred night descended,
While with those ripples on the sandy bars
The sighing woods and winds low murmurs blended,
Their music fell upon them from the stars,
And they gave utterance to that gift divine
In silver song or anthem crystalline.
Who heard that strain no more his woes lamented :
The exiled chief forgat his place of pride :
The prince ill-crowned his ruthless deed repented :
The childless mother and the widowed bride
92 The Children of Lir.
Amid their locks tear-wet and loosely straying
Felt once again remembered touches playing.
The words of that high music no one knew ;
Yet all men felt there lived a meaning there
Immortal, marvellous, searching, strengthening, true,
The pledge of some great future, strange and fair,
When sin shall lose her might, and cleansing woe
Shall on the Just some starry crown bestow.
Lulled by that strain the prophet king let drop
In death his Druid-Staff by Darvra's side ;
And there in later years with happy hope
King Lir, that mystic requiem listening, died :
And there those blissful sufferers bore their wrong
All day in weeping, and all night in song.
Not once 'tis whispered in that ancient story
They raised their voice God's justice to arraign :
All patient suffering is expiatory :
Their doom was linked with hope of Erin's gain ;
And, like the Holy Elders famed of old,
Those babes on that high promise kept their hold.
And they saw great towers built, and saw them fall ;
And saw the little seedling tempest-sown ;
And generations under torch and pall
Borne forth to narrow graves ere long grass-grown ;
The Children of Lir. 93
And all these things to them were as a dream,
Or shade that sleeps on some fast hurrying stream.
More numerous daily flocked to that still shore
Peace-loving spirits : yea, the Gaelic clans
And tribes Dedannan, foemen there no more,
From the same fountains brimmed their flowing cans,
And washed their kirtles in the same pure rills,
And brought their corn-sheaves to the self-same mills.
Thus, though elsewhere the sons of Erin strove
From Aileach's coast, and Uladh's marble cliffs,
To where by banks of Lee, and Beara's cove,
The fishers spread their nets and launched their skiffs,
Round Darvra's shores remained inviolate peace ;
There too the flocks and fields had best increase.
In that long strife the Gael the victory won :
Tuatha's race, Dedannan, disappeared ;
Yet still the conqueror whispered, sire to son,
' Their progeny survives, half scorned, half feared,
The Fairy Host ; and mansions bright they hold
On moonlight hills, and under waters cold.
' To snare the Gael, perpetual spells they weave :
O'er the wet waste they bid the meteor glide :
They raise illusive cliffs at morn and eve
On wintry coasts : sea-mantled rocks they hide :
94 The Children of Lir.
And shipwrecked sailors eye them o'er the waves,
Dark shapes pygmean couchant in sea-caves.
' Some say that, mid the mountains' sunless walls,
They throng beneath their stony firmament,
An iron-handed race. At intervals
Through chasm stream-cloven, and through rocky rent,
The shepherd hears their multitudinous hum
As of far hosts approaching swift yet dumb.
' In those dread vaults, Magian and Alchemist,
Supreme in every craft of brain and hand,
The mountains' mineral veins they beat and twist ;
And on red anvils forge them spear and brand
For some predestined battle. Yea, men say
The island shall be theirs that last great day ! '
The Children of Lir. 95
CANTO THE SECOND.
WHAT time, forth sliding from the Eternal Gates,
The centuries three on earth had lived and died,
Thus spake Finola to her snowy mates,
' No more in this soft haven may we bide :
The second Woe succeeds ; that heavier toil
On Alba's waves, the black sea-strait of Moyle.'
Then wept to her in turn the younger three ;
' Alas the sharp rocks and the salt sea-foam !
Thou therefore make the lay, ere yet we flee
From this our exile's cradle, sweet as home ! '
And thus Finola sang, while, far arid near,
The men of Erin wept that strain to hear :
' Farewell, Lough Darvra, with thine isles of bloom !
Farewell, familiar tribes that grace her shore !
The penance deepens on us, and the doom :
Farewell ! The voice of man we list no more
Till he, the Tailkenn, comes to sound the knell
Of darkness, and rings out his gladsome bell.'
96 The Children of Lir.
Thus singing, mid their dirge the sentenced soared
Heaven-high ; then hanging mute on plumes outspread,
With downcast eye long time that lake explored ;
And lastly with a great cry northward sped :
Then was it Erin's sons, listening that cry,
Decreed : 'The man who slays a swan shall die.'
Three days against the northern blast on-flying
To Fate obedient and the Will Divine,
They reached, what time the crimson eve was lying
On Alba's isles, and ocean's utmost line,
That huge sea-strait whose racing eddies boil
'Twixt Erin and the cloud-girt headland Movie. '
There anguish fell on them : they heard the booming
Of league-long breakers white, and gazed on waves
Wreck-strewn, themselves entombed, and all-entombing,
Rolling to labyrinths dim of red-roofed caves ;
And streaming waters broad, as with one will
In cataracts from gray shelves descending still.
There, day by day, the sun more early set ;
And through the hollows of the high-ridged sea
Which foamed around their rocky cabinet
The whirlwinds beat them more remorselessly :
1 ' The term Mae/, Mull (or Moyle, as Moore calls it), does not
properly apply to the current itself, but to the Mad, or bald head-
land by which it runs.' Professor Eugene CP Curry,
The Children of Lir. 97
And winter followed soon : and ofttimes storms
Shrouded for weeks the mountains' frowning forms.
In time all ocean omens they had learned ;
And once, as o'er the darkening deep they roved,
Finola, who the advancing woe discerned,
Addressed them : ' Little brothers, well beloved,
Though many a storm hath tried us, yet the worst
Comes up this night : now therefore, ere it burst
' Devise we swiftly if, through God's high Will,
Billow or blast divides us each from each,
Some refuge-house wherein, when winds are still,
To meet once more low rock or sandy beach : '
And answer thus they made : ' One spot alone
This night can yield us refuge, Carickrone.'
They spake, and sudden thunder shook the world,
And blackness wrapped the seas, and lightnings rent ;
And each from each abroad those swans were hurled
By solid water-scud. Outworn and spent
At last, that direful tempest over-blown,
Finola scaled their trysting-rock alone.
But when she found no gentle brother near,
And heard the great storm roaring far away,
Anguish of anguish pierced her heart, and fear,
And thus she made her moan and sang her lay :
98 The Children of Lir.
' Death-cold they lie along the far sea-tide :
Would that as cold I drifted at their side ! '
Thus as she sang, behold, the sun uprose,
And smote a swan that on a wave's smooth
Exhausted lay, like one by pitiless foes
Trampled, and looking but to death for rest :
He also clomb that rock, though weak and worn,
With bleeding feet and pinions tempest-torn.
Aodh was he ! He couched him by her side ;
Straight, her right wing, Finola o'er him spread :
Ere long beneath the rock Fiacre she spied,
Wounded yet more ; yet soon he hid his head
'Neath her left wing, her nestling's wonted place,
And slept content in that beloved embrace.
But still Finola mused with many a tear,
'Alas for us, of little Conn bereft ! '
Then Conn came floating by, full blithe of cheer,
For he, secure within a craggy cleft,
Had slept all night ; and now once more his nest
He made beneath his snowy sister's breast.
And as they slept she sang : ' Among the flowers
Of old we played where princes quaffed their wine ;
But now for flowery fields sea-floods are ours ;
And now our wine-cup is the bitter brine :
The Children of Lir. 99
Yet, brothers, fear no ill ; for God will send
At last his Tailkenn, and our woes find end.'
And God, Who of least things has tenderest thought,
Looked down on them benignly from on high,
And bade that bitter brine to enter not
Their scars, unhealed as yet, lest they should die ;
And nearer sent their choicest food full oft,
And clothed their wings with plumage fine and soft.
And ever as the spring advanced, the sea
Put on a kindlier aspect Cliffs deep-scarred
To milder airs gave welcome festively
Upon their iron breasts and foreheads hard,
And, while about their feet the ripples played,
Cast o'er the glaring deep a friendlier shade.
And when at last the full midsummer panted
Upon the austere main, and high-peaked isles,
And hills that, like some elfin land enchanted,
Now charmed, now mocked the eye with phantom
More far round Alba's shores the swans made way
To Islay's beach, and cloud-loved Colonsay.
The growths beside their native lake oft noted
In that sublimer clime no more they missed ;
Jewels, not flowers they found where'er they floated,
Emerald and sapphire, opal, amethyst,
ioo The Children of Lir.
Far -kenned through watery depths or magic air,
Or trails of broken rainbows, here and there.
Round Erin's northern coasts they drifted on
From Rathlin isle to Fanad's beetling crest,
And where, in frowning sunset steeped, forth shone
The ' Bloody Foreland,' gazing t'ward the west ;
Yet still with duteous hearts to Moyle returned
To love their place of penance they had learned.
One time it chanced that, onward as they drifted
Where Banna's current joins that stormy sea,
A princely company with banners lifted
Rode past on snow-white steeds and sang for glee :
At once they knew those horsemen, form and face,
Their native stock Tuatha's ancient race !
T'ward them they sped : their sorrows they recounted :
.The warriors could not aid them, and rode by :
Then higher than of old their anguish mounted ;
And farther rang through heaven their piteous cry ;
And when it ceased, this lay Finola sang
While all the echoing rocks and caverns rang :
' Whilome in purple clad we sat elate :
The warriors watched us at their nut-brown mead :
But now we roam the waters desolate,
Or breast the languid beds of waving weed :
The Children of Lir. 101
Our food was then fine bread ; our drink was wine :
This day on sea-plants sour we peak and pine.
' Whilome our four small cots of pearl and gold
Lay, side by side, before our father's bed,
And silken foldings kept us from the cold :
But now on restless waves our couch is spread ;
And now our bed-clothes are the white sea-foam :
And now by night the sea-rock is our home.'
Not less from them such sorrows swiftly passed
Since evermore one thought their bosoms filled
That father's home. That haunt, in memory glassed,
Childhood perpetual o'er their lives distilled :
And, coast what shore they might, green vale and plain
Bred whiter flocks, men said, more golden grain.
The years ran on : the centuries three went by :
Finola sang : ' The second Woe is ended ! '
Obedient then, once more they soared on high ;
Next morn on Erin's western coast descended,
While sunrise flashed from misty isles far seen,
Now gold, now flecked with streaks of luminous green.
And there for many a winter they abode,
Harbouring in precincts of the setting sun ;
And mourned by day, yet sang at night their ode
As though in praise of some great victory won :
IO2 The Children of Lir.
Some conqueror more than man ; some heavenly crown
Slowly o'er all creation settling down.
There once what time a great sun in decline
Had changed to gold the green back of a wave
That showered a pasture fair with diamond brine,
Then sank, anon uprising from its grave
Went shouldering onward, higher and more high,
And hid far lands, and half eclipsed the sky
There once a shepherd, Aibhric, high of race,
Marked them far off, and marking them so loved
That to the ocean's verge he rushed apace
With hands outspread. Shoreward the creatures
And when he heard them speak with human tongue
That love he felt grew tenderer and more strong.
Day after day they told that youth their tale :
Wide-eyed he stood, and inly drank their words ;
And later, harping still in wood and vale,
He fitted oft their sorrow to his chords ;
And thus to him in part men owe the lore !
Of all those patient sufferers bare of yore.
1 They met a young man of good family whose name was
Aibhric, and his attention was often attracted to the birds, and their
singing was sweet to him, so that he came to love them greatly, and
that they loved him ; and it was this young man that afterwards
arranged in order and narrated all their adventures.' The Fate of
the Children of Lir, prose version by Professor O'Curry.
The Children of Lir. 103
For bard he was ; and still the bard-like nature
Hath reverence, as for virtue, so for woe,
And ever finds in trials of the creature
The great Creator's purpose here below
To lift by lowering, and through anguish strange
To fit for thrones exempt from chance or change.
There first the Four had met that sympathy
Yearned for so long : and yet, that treasure found,
So much the more ere long calamity
Tasked them, thus strengthened ; tasked and closed
And higher yet fierce winds and watery shocks
Dashed them thenceforth upon the pitiless rocks.
At last from heaven's dark vault a night there fell
The direst they had known. The high-heaped
Vanquished by frost, beneath her iron spell
Abased their haughty crests by slow degrees :
The swans were frozen upon that ice-plain frore ;
Yet still Finola sang, as oft before,
' Beneath my right wing, Aodh, make thy rest !
Beneath my left, Fiacre ! My little Conn,
Find thou a warmer shelter 'neath my breast,
As thou art wont : thou art my little son !
Thou God that all things mad'st, and lovest all,
Subdue things great ! Protect the weak, the small ! '
IO4 The Children of Lir.
But evermore the younger three made moan ;
And still their moans more loud and louder grew ;
And still Finola o'er that sea of stone
For their sake fragments of wild waitings threw ;
And ever as she sang, the on-driving snow
Choked the sweet strain ; yet still she warbled low.
Then, louder when she heard those others grieve,
And found that song might now no more avail,
She said : ' Believe, O brothers young, believe
In that great God, whose help can never fail !
Have faith in God, since God can ne'er deceive ! '
And lo, those weepers answered : ' We believe ! '
So thus those babes, in God's predestined hour,
Through help of Him, the Lord of Life and Death,
Inly fulfilled with light and prophet power,
Believed ; and perfect made their Act of Faith ;
And thenceforth all things, both in shade and shine,
To them came softly and with touch benign.
First, from the southern stars there came a breeze
On-wafting happy mist of moonlit rain ;
And when the sun ascended o'er the seas
The ice was vanquished ; and the watery plain
And every cloud with rapture thrilled and stirred :
And lo, at noon the cuckoo's voice was heard !
The Children of Lir. 105
And since with that rough ice their feet were sore
God for their sake a breeze from Eden sent
That gently raised them from the ocean's floor
And in its bosom, as an ambient tent,
Held them, suspense : and with a dew of balm
God, while they slept, made air and ocean calm.
Likewise a beam auroral forth he sped
That flushed that tent aerial like a rose
Each morn, and roseate odours o'er it shed
The long day through. And still, at evening's close,
They dreamed of those rich bowers and alleys green
Wherein with Lir their childish sports had been.
And thrice they dreamed that in the morning gray
They gathered there red roses drenched with dew :
But lo ! a serpent 'neath the roses lay :
Then came the Tailkenn, and that serpent slew ;
And round the Tailkenn's tonsured head was light
That made that morning more than noonday bright.
Thus wrapt, thus kindled, in sublimer mood
Heaven-high they soared, and flung abroad their strain
O'er-sailing huge Croagh- Patrick swathed in wood,
Or Acaill, warder of the western main,
Or Arran Isle, that time heroic haunt,
Since Enda's day Religion's saintlier vaunt.
io6 The Children of Lir.
And many a time they floated farther south
Where milder airs endear sea-margins bleak,
To that dim Head far seen o'er Shenan's mouth,
Or Smerwick's ill-famed cliff and winding creek,
Or where on Brandon sleeps Milesius' son
With ail his shipwrecked warriors round him Bonn.
The centuries passed : her loud, exultant lay
Finola sang, their time of penance done,
And ended : ' Lo, to us it seems a day ;
Not less the dread nine hundred years are run !
Now, brothers, homeward be our flight ! ' And they
Chanted triumphant : ' Home, to Finnaha ! '
Up from the sea they rose in widening gyre,
And hung suspended mid the ethereal blue,
And saw, far-flashing in the sunset's fire,
A wood-girt lake whose splendour well they knew ;
And flew all night ; and reached at dawn its shore
Ah, then rang out that wail ne'er heard before !
There where the towers of Lir of old had stood
Lay now the stony heap and rain-washed rath ;
And through the ruin-mantling alder-wood
The forest beast had stamped in mire his path ;
And desolate were their mother's happy bowers,
So fair of old with fountains and with flowers !
The Children of Lir. 107
More closely drew the orphans, each to each :
Twas then Finola raised her dirge on high,
As nearer yet they drifted to the beach
In hope one fragment of past days to spy ;
' Upon our father's house hath fallen a change ;
And as a dead man's face this place is strange !
' No more the hound and horse ; no more the horn !
No more the warriors winding down the glen !
Behold, the place of pleasaunce is forlorn,
And emptied of fair women and brave men ;
The wine-cup now is dry ; the music fled :
Now know we that our father, Lir, is dead ! '
She sang, and ceased, though long the feathered throat
Panted with passion of the unuttered song :
At last she spake with voice that seemed remote
Like echoed voice of one the tombs among :
' Depart we hence ! Better the exile's pain ! '
And they : ' Return we to rough waves again ! '
Yet still along that silver mere they lingered
Oaring their weeping way by lawn and cape,
Till evening, purple-stoled and dewy-fingered,
O'er heaven's sweet face had woven its veil of crape ;
And tenderer came from darkening wood and wild
The voice far off of woman or of child.
io8 The Children of Lir.
And when, far travelling through the fields of ether,
The stars successive filled their thrones of light,
Still to that heaven the glimmering lake beneath her
Gave meet response, with music answering light ;
For still, wherever sailed that mystic four,
With minstrelsy divine that lake ran o'er.
But when the rising sun made visible
The night-mist hovering long o'er banks of reed
They cast their broad wings on a gathering swell
Of wind that, late from eastern sea-caves freed,
Waved all the island's oakwoods t'ward the West ;
And seaward swooped at eve, and there found rest.
And since they knew their penance now was over,
Penance that tasks true hearts to purify,
Happier were they than e'er was mortal lover,
Happy as Spirits cleansed that, near the sky,
Feel, mid that shadowy realm expiatory,
Warm on their lids the unseen yet nearing glory.
Thenceforth they roamed no more, at Inisglaire
Their change awaiting. In its blissful prime
That island was, men say, as Eden fair,
The swan-soft nurseling of a changeful clime,
With amaranth-lighted glades, and tremulous sheen
Of trees full-flowered on earth no longer seen.
The Children of Lir. 109
Not then the waves with that still site contended ;
On its warm sandhills pansies always bloomed ;