Clansman and chief in those high-sounding days
Of war-girt peace — a Heaven ringed round with
Or battle's loud-lunged shout, or conquest's blaze,
Or how the blemished King ne'er on his fault did
'Twas thus — and thus, when thrice a year had sped
King Fergus of his blemish happed to know : —
"I go to mine ablutions (so he said
Unto his bond-maid), girl, the task you know
Of preparation. Haste you, for I go
On mighty mission!" P'r'aps 'twas Fate's decree
The maiden's arm in service seemed full slow.
And Fergus, strained of nerve, was swift to see
In microscopic faults, some slight of majesty.
Howbeit, — the fire to firelike will give blaze,
And progeny of one small word or deed
Count thousand-thousand. Half in wide amaze,
And half in wild vexation that slow heed
The maiden gave to that his will decreed.
He strode into her presence : then on high
He raised the stinging lash his stout-skinned
Oft felt, and flinched, and, drawing swiftly nigh.
Its serpent hiss was drowned in the smit' maiden's
"A curse upon your laggard form !" he hissed.
The smitten girl swift raised her flashing eyes
In scarlet indignation, nor was missed
The blemish on the Monarch's face. She cries :
** King Fergus, heartless coward ! I loathe,
Your craven hand, nor e'en a word would deign,
But that I deem your spirit's shape and size
Must match your brute-like visage." Purpling
With rage, he drew his sword and cut the maid in
A maddened moment's deed ! And when the storm
Was past, the King in calm the wreck surveyed
Of his own making. Towering o'er the form
Prostrate and purple, holding still the blade
Wet with her life, he stood as sore dismayed.
Muttering : '* Visage ! Visage ! " still the word
Beat inward on his 'wildered brain, nor stayed
Till that grim truth, long hid, to sight restored,
Burst on his mind. He turned, still clasping tight
Three steps beyond the portal of the room
Where lay the maid, he stopped and cast a
Backward, — a look portentous of dark doom
To all beneath its ban. Aloft he shook
The bleeding blade ; then cried, till every nook,
E'en to the farthest of the farthest halls,
Trembled; and, as he called, his way he took
Down corridors that held his foot's swift falls
Till cry and footfall blent without the castle walls.
The cry was: "Visage! Visage! Death and
To what has wrought the ruin of yon maid, —
That hideous habitant of Rory's flood
Who plies — mayhap not long — his secret trade ;
And mine ambition that such depths essayed
As strained the strength of me. Yet, not for
The fiend was found, tho' fled I sore dismayed :
Some lesson yet is there, tho' anguish-taught ;
Some profit yet remains, tho' it in blood be bought.
One falleth — that foul spirit : then is past
Temptation of ambition ; but, perchance
Mine arm may fail : sobeit, then is cast
Away the secret." On did he advance.
And one who saw his eyeballs' lightning glance,
And marked his mood and manner, thro' the
Spread rumouring words, keen, swift as strong-
That drew them forth, a multitude, all browed
With wonderment that grew with each swift
stride, till, loud
And deep before them, Rory swells and swings.
Behold ! the King nor pauses, nor aside
Turns in his track. — Not mine to tell of things
Run riot in those minds that edged the tide.
Where late the billows did King Fergus hide,
Nor gave of him a token, save the swell
Of giant strivings in the waters wide,
And one wild wave that, as from heart of Hell,
Leaped for the shore and 'mong the wondering
And thereupon arose confusion, such
As ne'er was seen before, and ne'er again
Shall e'er be seen. With tops that seemed to
The heights of Heaven arose the strenuous main
In wild tumultuous strivings, till the brain
Of those beholders whirled, and they that spake
In terror seemed all voiceless, for in vain
Speech called at its own ears. All heaven did
Sound at whose dreadful voice all earth did seem
And far across the world a tempest bore
Sounds of a conflict such as never yet
Man's eyes beheld, — e'en to the cloudy shore
Of distant Britain : there did they beget
Vague words of wonder. Ere the sun had set
Within a stormy west nor man nor maid
Of all Ultonia but with spray was wet
As, lo ! from each far hill, each distant glade
Long thousands shoreward drew with wide-eyed
And when it seemed as if the heavens swam
In wild bewilderment, — each starry sphere
Would topple earthward, straightway fell a calm
That laid a hush upon the heart of fear,
And soothed both sea and sky, till softest tear
Would drop with sound of cataracts in the glen.
And thus they waited what should next appear,
Uncounted thousands of full-armed men,
Bards, chieftans, clansmen, women, maids, youths,
children : — then
As if the sea had stolen half the glow
Of the sunk sun, the quiet Loch flushed red,
And lengthened day, e'en tho' the day did go
To other lands. " Some portent this," they
"Of the fight's finish: one hath joined the
Which, shall appear full soon." — Lo ! on the sea
What form is yon that waves a hideous head
Within its hand ? They gaze, they shout : " 'Tis he,
Fergus, Ultonia's King. Fergus hath victory ! "
Then that red glory brightened, and they scanned
The King's marred visage — marred ? — nay, pure
As erst in youth ! He called : '' With this right
Nerved with the fury of revengeful might,
I fought — and won ! I've lived my day ; now
Doth wrap its blackness round me : I but pay
The price of mine own deed." And from their
He sank beneath the waters of the bay
Which rolled in waves of blood for many a devious
CDe Cegena of $t Wabee
ZlK Cefletid or saint i))al)ee or endritn.
To J, A. Gregg.
[Note. — Saint Mahee (mocAOi) was born about 420 a.d.,
founded the Abbey of Endrim (OeiTOjAuim — the single ridge),
on the beautiful island bearing that name, about 450,
and died in the year 496 or 497. For several centuries the
Abbey, in which education and religion were combined,
occupied a prominent position, and turned out a number of
subsequent founders of similar institutions. Between 974
and 1 1 78 history is silent in regard to it, but it is certain
that, from its position on Cuan (CuAn — a lough, now
Strangford), which was infested by Danish marauders, it
came in for a large share of their devastating attentions.
From the date of its affiliation with an English educational
establishment, 11 78, it seems to have fallen on evil days,
and in 1450 it is simply noted as a Parish Church in the
charge of the Bishop of Down.
The Island of Endrim — or, as it is now called, in memory
of its Patron Saint, Mahee — is situated most picturesquely
on Strangford Lough, about seven miles from Comber, Co.
Down, and is approachable on foot or car by a modern
causeway-road, which crosses an intervening island. On the
shoreward end of the island may be seen many remnants of
the stone buildings which superseded the original wooden
structures. These remnants include the stump of a round
tower ; traces of extensive foundations once laid bare by the
late Bishop Reeves, but now almost entirely hidden from
view; the site of the harbour where anchored " ships from
Britain;" evidences of a hallowed God's-acre, and a fairly
complete castle of a later period. The circuit of the island
can be made on foot leisurely in a couple of hours, and
the walk affords a view of the extensive waters of the once
Dane-infested lough, the distant hoary walls of Greyabbey,
the haunts of Saint Patrick, the reputed scene of the death
of Ollav Fola (otlAitib |:ot)lA, the lawgiver of Erin), and the
martial deeds of De Courcey.
Ballydrain, about half-way between Comber and Mahee
Island, is so-called from bAite, a townland, and "OfiAijiti, a
blackthorn tree ; and the reader will observe the connection
between this place and the Island of Mahee. No trace of a
church has yet been discovered at Ballydrain.
The idea contained in the Legend has been variously
rendered by several eminent authors. The incident in which
it is here embodied may, however, be fairly claimed as the
oldest version — the original, in fact. — The Author.]
Lo ! right and left, in calm repose,
Are spread unnumbered isles,
Between whose shores the bluff breeze blows>
And sungilt Strangford smiles.
The shoreward way our feet have left
Below, still winds along
Where strenuous waves, in eddy and cleft.
Croon low their iterant song.
Bright in the passionate, tremulous rays
From cloudy towers of day,
Yon crumbling castle seems to gaze
At castles far away.
Like parted friends of other years
Who meet, nor waste a word.
But wondering stand, and smile thro' tears
From depths unfathomed stirred.
Here may we rest, and make our seat
On this high rock-strewn mound,
*' Put off our shoes from off our feet " —
We tread on holy ground ;
The haunts where many a sandalled sole
Trod out life's lust and woe,
And, stedfast set to one high goal.
Went down in dust below.
No stone is theirs engraven large
With record born of strife.
No gilded scroll, no carven marge,
No legend loud with life.
Far other deeds than men applaud
Their holy hands essayed,
In life viceregent here of God,
In death still undismayed.
No fluctuant favours — servile spouse
Of princes' transient smile —
Did e'er bedeck their sacred brows,
Their saintly souls defile :
No life-warm lips their own had kissed
(Earth's hope-inspiring dove) —
Their life was one long Eucharist
Eternalised in love.
The workers went ; the works remain.
Time here small kingship owns.
Thro' 'whelming winds, thro' sun and rain,
Have lived these lichened stones,
And that brief tower upreared by those
Whose dread was from the deep, —
In strife their strength, in peace repose,
Their guardian now in sleep.
Thine eyes, old tower, have scanned the scroll
And paUmpsest of Earth,
And fain would we thy thoughts unroll
Thro' years of bliss or dearth.
For thou from thy calm height dost look
With sage, dispassionate eye,
To where the star of day-dawn shook
Within a youthful sky.
We deem thee old ; but age is not
A toll of hours and days, —
Mean measure of our little lot
And arbitrary ways.
We run our little round of change
Thro' years of less or more,
But Time to thee holds nought of strange,
Unheard, unseen before.
Down paths of night no starrier balls
No new Milanion throws ;
Thro' no transfigured day's high halls
Th' itinerant breeze still blows ;
BeUigerent ever, baffled still,
Th' importunate surges swing ;
Still dear as dawn th' ecstatic thrill
And prophet power of Spring.
Wrapt in a dream of ancient days
Thou stand' St aloof from ours,
Yet nought hast thou of battle's blaze
Or blighting iron showers ;
For well-beloved art thou of moon.
And sun, and winds, and stars.
Forever in thy heart attune
To every statelier bars
Than aught my highest hope could know
In this inspiring breath
Where wilding blossoms bloom and blow,
As life blooms out of death ;
Yet fain, withal, my lips would wed
To song, for modern ears.
This chord from lyric days long dead.
This dream from epic years :
Quoth good Saint Mahee of Endrim,
" I shall build for Christ my master
Here a church, and here defend him
And His cause from all disaster."
Seven score youths cut beam and wattle,
Seven score hands unseared in battle
Their unstinted aid did lend him,
Fast and ever faster.
But tho* arm, and voice loud-ringing,
To a test of toil defied him.
Right and left the wattles flinging.
Not a tongue could dare deride him ;
For, before them all, he stood
Finished, waiting. Not a rood
From the spot a bird was singing
In a thorn beside him.
Sang no bird in ancient story
Half so sweet or loud a strain :
Seaward to the Lough of Rory,
Landward then, and back again,
Swelled the song, and trilled and trembled
O'er the toiling youths assembled.
Rang around 'mid Summer glory
There at Ballydrain.
Far more beautiful the bird was
Than the bright -plumed Bird of Bliss
And the Abbot's feeling stirred was
To its deepest depths, I wis ;
'Till, as from the fiery splendour
Moses saw, in accents tender
Spake the bird, and lo, the word was :
** Goodly work is this ! "
" True," quoth Saint Mahee of Endrim,
^* 'Tis required by Christ my master
Here to build, and here defend Him
And His cause from all disaster ;
But my blood mounts high with weening
Of this goodly word the meaning ? "
Nearer then the bird did tend him.
Fast and even faster.
" I shall answer. I descended
From mine angel-soul's compeers,
From my home serene and splendid
To this haunt of toil and tears ;
Came to cheer thee with a note
From an angel's silvern throat."
Then he sang three songs : each, ended,]
Made a hundred years.
There, thro' days that dawned and darkened,
With his wattles by his side,
Stood the island Saint and hearkened
To that silvery-flowing tide ;
Stood entranced, and ever wond'red.
Till had circled thrice a hundred
Years o'er fields, life-lade or stark, and
Strangford's waters wide.
Then when came the final number,
Ceased the angel-bird its strain.
And, unheld by ills that cumber
Mortals, sought the heavenly plain.
Then the Saint, in mute amaze.
Round him turned an anxious gaze.
And from that far land of slumber
Came to Earth again.
Low his load, mid weed and flower.
Lay beside him all unbroken.
Till, with thrice augmented power.
From his holy dream awoken.
Up he bore it to his shoulder, —
Broad and not a hand's breath older.
Scarce, thought he, had passed an hour
Since the bird had spoken.
Toward his island church he bore it.
Lo, an oratory gleaming,
And " To Saint Mahee," writ o'er it !
"Now," quoth he, " in faith I'm dreaming!
Say, good monk, at whose consistory
Shall I solve this mighty mystery.
And to form of fact restore it
From this shadowy seeming ? "
Thus he spake to one who faced him
With a look of mild surprise,
One who swiftly brought and placed him
'Neath the Abbot's searching eyes. —
Leave him there : not mine to rhyme of
Deeds that filled the latter time of
Him who, fain tho' years would waste him,
Ages not, nor dies.
Such the wondrous old-time story
Of the bird's long, lethal strain
Sung thro' Summers hot and hoary.
Winters white on mount and main
And the monks, to mark the mission
Of the bird, — so tells tradition, —
Built a church to God's great glory
There at Ballydrain.
The song has ceased, the dream is done,
Lo, nought but shattered shrine
And weed-clad walls greet now the sun
That sparkles in the brine ;
Yet these no remnant are of dead
Vicarious blood of morning, shed
For more than Memphian haze.
The fires of worship, and of war,
De Courcey's marshalled hosts.
The rude sea-rovers from afar
Have vanished from our coasts ;
And out of these an ampler field
Found Freedom, mind and hand.
Toward unattempted ends to wield
A world-enchanting wand.
What tho' in oft ignoble cause
The wave of war still rolls,
The hate of sects, the clutching claws,
The strife of armoured souls ;
What tho* the thousands, born to fail,
In darkness come and go,
Be ours no pessimistic wail
Of fear for larger woe ;
For even now the dawn doth give
Some promissory gleams,
Tho' most 'tis ours in night to live,
Participant in dreams
Of some broad-beamed and brighter morn,
Some elemental balm,
Some purer peace, of battle born,
Some tempest-cradled calm !
i^Sm -» *i
A Song of Decadence.
I wonder if there still remain
Some echoes from the songs of old ;
Or what the measure of the strain
The future shall unfold ?
The voice that breathed across the years,
And came, and went, and passed the bar,
And sang the battle song of tears,
Sounds small, and faint, and far ;
And men have found another chord,
An offspring, not of heart, but head ;
And gold is God, and lust is Lord,
And Love lies stricken dead !
Ah, me ! the race goes blindly on
And leaves the old familiar ways ;
And still, earth-weighted, flowers the dawn
To still ignoble days ;
And men, as sheep within their folds,
Grope round their world with great sad eyes ;
And hate the hand that still withholds
The secret of the skies ;
Or, deeming God an idle tale
Withdrawn from lore of ancient shelves,
Themselves would reckon by the scale
And measure of themselves !
How mean the stature of the song
Of our inglorious — glorious time,
Attenuating, as along
It moves from that great prime
When Milton, in the midnight hours,
Lay waiting for the mystic breath
Of God to touch his soul to flowers
Of song that smile at Death.
O singers of the years to come !
Be yours the large and liberal scope :
Sing sweetly — or for aye be dumb —
Of God, and Love, and Hope,
Encircled by no little line
Of gain or loss, of time or sense,
Nor, bent at Mammon's soulless shrine,
Your birth-right part for pence ;
But bend an arm across the past.
And finger all the vibrant years.
Till sunhght, on our shadows cast,
Makes rainbows of our tears.
Cbe Railwap JflrcD.
There it stands, as it has stood —
Theme for bards, and theme for seers-
Mute to sun and tempests rude,
To the swift express of years ;
Stretched across from bank to bank
Where the rabbits flash and go,
Where the fir-trees, rank by rank,
Gaze upon the track below
As the train, at man's behest,
In the calm or tempest's teeth,
Speeds with lightning in its breast,
And the thunder underneath.
There in many a rift and rent.
Many a bird finds friendly cover ;
And the toiler, homeward bent,
Whistles as he passes over ;
And the children from the town
Climb its parapets and strain
Half a hundred throats to drown
With a cheer the passing train.
Yet how many children, toilers,
List' to what that arch would say
To the thousands of earth's moilers ? —
Dull of ear and listless they !
Ah ! adown the track of time,
In the world's great sidings lying,
Many a theme for many a rhyme
Is unmarked by thousands, flying
After all the fen-fires, darting
In the damps and swamps of life ;
Fires of meeting and of parting,
Hate and love, and strain and strife I
There it stands — O ! how I love it ;
For it speaks of weal, and woe,
For the thousands pass above it ;
For the thousands rush below ;
And, attune to whirr and clatter,
Wide and wider does it span,
High o'er time and sense and matter.
High o'er life and death and man,
Stretched from age to age unborn ;
And above it in a stream
Pass, unceasing, night and morn.
Shapes like those in Jacob's dream
All the souls of all the ages,
All the ghosts of all the years,
Priests and prophets, saints and sages,
Sweet-breathed bards and broad-browed
"Who from many a cloudy station
List' the whirring of the wheels
Bounding on without cessation,
Dragging progress at their heels ;
Who, as children from the town.
Throng the parapets, and strain
Form and voice in flashing down
Warning signals to the train
Speeding on, at man's behest,
In the calm, or tempest's teeth.
With the lightning in its breast.
And the thunder underneath !
(A Ballad of Armenia.)
They had fought, they had failed, those women ;
and now, in a wild-eyed throng.
They fled from the red destroyer, and they cried :
*' O Lord, how long ? —
How long, O Lord, till the ending of the ghastly
sounds and sights.
Till the dripping days be finished, and the thrice
red-running nights, — /
Till the last cold corpse falls, severed from the last
Till the last maid be dishonoured, and the last hot
tear be shed ? "
They had fled from the red destroyer, but he
hastens around their track.
Till the fate they had flown is before them, and
they turn in their pathway back.
But, Northward and Southward and Eastward and
Westward, and round and round,
Come the gleam of the steely lightning, and the
wild, soul-harrowing sound,
As mother and sister and daughter, and the child
at its mother's breast
Go down in the surge of slaughter and the wreck
of the great Opprest.
And now they are huddled together, as the death-
cries rise and swell,
Where the rock runs up to Heaven, and the gulf
goes down to Hell, —
On the edge of a beethng hillock ; when, lo ! from
the 'wildered crowd,
On a peak of the rock steps Schakhe, and calls to
her sisters, loud : —
" O sisters in nameless sorrow, baptised in a life of
Before you two paths lie open : behind you a
Fade far in the dusky distance, one long, broad
stream of blood,
That flows by the wreck and ruin of sword and
fire and flood !
Before you two paths lie open : one leads where
And the pain and the dumb dishonour from the
merciless hand of the Turk.
Choose ye ! Will ye thread that pathway, prove
false to the men ye love ;
Prove false to the children ye bore them ; prove
false to the God above ?
Will ye sell yourselves to the spoilers of father
and mother and child,
Who butchered and then, like devils, at their
cries for mercy smiled ?
Do ye think of the thousands rotting, flung down
in a ghastly heap
Unblessed ; whose dust commingles in their last
unhallowed sleep ?
Do ye think of the blood, the sorrow, the wild,
As the scarce-born babe was mangled to feast
their fiendish eyes ?
Do you think of the brute defilement when, full in
the flare of day,
Ye were robbed of your dear-prized honour, and
made the Moselm's prey ?
Will ye choose that path, O sisters ? 'Tis a path
ye have often trod ;
Or throw yourselves on the mercy of the great, all-
powerful God ?
What though He is veiled in silence, and behind
our clouds grown dim ;
If He come not down to help us, then we will go to
See ! there is the other pathway, down, down to
the home of Night.
Jump ! long ere the body be broken, the soul will
have taken flight.
He will give His charge to His angels : in their
hands they will bear thee up,
As ye tread the Saviour's pathway, and drink the
There, — lean on my breast, sweet infant, and
good-bye to Earth and woe.
Now, sisters, the way lies open : I am weary and
long to go ! "
They had fought : they had failed ; and they
followed brave Schakhe, a martyr throng ; —
And soft o'er the corpse-strewn valley the winds
sigh : *' Lord, how long ? "
In m Giant's Rina, Belfast.
No Shakespeare girdle this, whose girth
Would compass with its arms
The sounding seas and snows of earth,
The fruitful fields and farms.*
Here priestly power has thrown around
A circuit wide and high,
A bar where waves of human sound
Beat vainly, drop, and die.
" Who dreams of war in such a scene
Of undisturbed repose ?
Who babbles here of spite and spleen ?
Who rhymes of human woes ?
Nought here is heard of mingling cries,
Of life's unlovely jars ;
Nought here is seen but yonder skies,
And circling suns and stars ! "
' O wise in wisdom of the fool !
O warped in sight and soul !
O Arctic spirit, icy cool
As passions of the Pole !
* . . . . Put a Girdle round the earth
In forty minutes.
Is 't but a dream of babe or bard
That conjures grief and groans ?
Or is thy shrunken heart more hard
Than those three standing stones ?
I dreamed a dream when last I stood
Within their sombre shade :
Time took my hand full many a rood
Beyond the tides of trade,
Beyond the sacerdotal rite,
And soul-absorbing creeds,
Beyond the narrow skirts of sight
And despicable deeds.
I soared above the brimming Earth ;
I peered beneath its breast ;
I saw the founts of joy and mirth,
And seats of life's unrest.
But in the ocean of its thought
One current swelled and grew