W. B. (William Butler) Yeats.

A Book of Irish verse; online

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Preface xiii

Modern Irish Poetry xvii

Old Age _Oliver Goldsmith_ (1725-1774) 1

The Village Preacher " " " " 2

The Deserter's Meditation _John Philpot Curran_ (1750 - 1817) 3

'Thou canst not boast' _Richard Brinsley Sheridan_ (1751-1816) 4

Kathleen O'More _James Nugent Reynolds_ ( -1802) 5

The Groves of Blarney _Richard Alfred Milliken_ (1767-1815) 6

The Light of other Days _Thomas Moore_ (1779-1852) 10

'At the Mid Hour of
Night' " " " " 11

The Burial of Sir John
Moore _Rev. Charles Wolfe_ (1791-1823) 12

The Convict of Clonmel _Jeremiah Joseph Callanan_ (1795-1839) 14

The Outlaw of Loch Lene " " " 16

Dirge of O'Sullivan Bear " " " 17

Love Song _George Darley_ (1795-1846) 20

The Whistlin' Thief _Samuel Lover_ (1797-1868) 22

Soggarth Aroon _John Banim_ (1798-1842) 24

Dark Rosaleen _James Clarence Mangan_ (1803-1849) 27

Lament for the Princes
of Tyrone and Tyrconnell " " " 31
A Lamentation for the
Death of Sir Maurice
Fitzgerald " " " 41

The Woman of Three
Cows _James Clarence Mangan_ (1803-1849) 43

Prince Alfrid's Itinerary
through Ireland " " " 47

O'Hussey's Ode to The
Maguire " " " 50

The Nameless One " " " 55

Siberia " " " 57

Hy-Brasail _Gerald Griffin_ (1803-1840) 59

Mo Craoibhin Cno _Edward Walsh_ (1805-1850) 61

Mairgréad Ni Chealleadh " " " " 63

From the Cold Sod
that's o'er you " " " " 65

The Fairy Nurse " " " " 67

A cuisle geal mo chroidhe _Michael Doheny_ (1805-1863) 69

Lament of the Irish
Emigrant _Lady Dufferin_ (1807-1867) 71

The Welshmen of
Tirawley _Sir Samuel Ferguson_ (1810-1886) 74

Aideen's Grave " " " " " 91

Deirdre's Lament for
the Sons of Usnach " " " " " 99

The Fair Hills of Ireland " " " " " 102

Lament over the Ruins
of the Abbey of Timoleague " " " " " 104

The Fairy Well of Lagnanay " " " " " 107

On the Death of Thomas
Davis " " " " " 111

The County of Mayo _George Fox_ 115

The Wedding of the
Clans _Aubrey de Vere_ (1814) 117

The Little Black Rose _Aubrey de Vere_ (1814) 119
Song " " " " 120

The Bard Ethell " " " " 121

Lament for the Death
of Eoghan Ruadh
O'Neill _Thomas Davis_ (1814-1845) 135

Maire Bhan Astór " " " " 138

O! the Marriage " " " " 140

A Plea for Love " " " " 142

Remembrance _Emily Brontë_ (1818-1848) 143

A Fragment from 'The
Prisoner: a Fragment' " " " " 145

Last Lines " " " " 147

The Memory of the Dead _John Kells Ingram_ (? 1820) 148

The Winding Banks of
Erne _William Allingham_ (1824-1889) 150

The Fairies " " " " 157

The Abbot of Inisfalen. " " " " 160

Twilight Voices " " " " 164

'Four Ducks on a Pond' " " " " 166

The Lover and Birds " " " " 167

The Celts _Thomas D'Arcy McGee_ (1825-1868) 169
Salutation to the Celts " " " 172

The Gobban Saor " " " 174

Patrick Sheehan _Charles J. Kickham_ (1825-1882) 176

The Irish Peasant Girl " " " " " 180

To God and Ireland
True _Ellen O'Leary_ (1831-1889) 182

The Banshee _John Todhunter_ (1836) 183

Aghadoe " " " 186

A Mad Song _Hester Sigerson_ 188

Lady Margaret's Song _Edward Dowden_ (1843) 188

Song _Arthur O'Shaughnessy_ (1844-1881) 189

Father O'Flynn _Alfred Perceval Graves_ (1846) 191

Song _Rosa Gilbert_ 192

Requiescat _Oscar Wilde_ (1855) 193

The Lament of Queen
Maev _Thomas William Rolleston_ (1857) 195

The Dead at Clonmacnois " " " " 197

The Spell-struck " " " " 198

'Were you on the
Mountain?' _Douglas Hyde_ 199

'My Grief on the Sea' " " 200

My Love, O, she is my
Love " " 201

I shall not die for thee " " 204

Riddles " " 205

Lough Bray _Rose Kavanagh_ (1861-1891) 206

The Children of Lir _Katharine Tynan Hinkson_ 209

St. Francis to the Birds " " " 212

Sheep and Lambs " " " 215

The Gardener Sage " " " 216

The Dark Man _Nora Hopper_ 218

The Fairy Fiddler " " 219

Our Thrones Decay _A.E._ 220

Immortality " 221

The Great Breath " 221

Sung on a By-way " 222

Dream Love " 223

Illusion " 223

Janus " 224

Connla's Well " 225A

Names _John Eglinton_ 226A

That _Charles Weekes_ 227A

Think " " 227A

Te Martyrum Candidatus _Lionel Johnson_ 228A

The Church of a Dream " " 229A

Ways of War " " 230A

The Red Wind _Lionel Johnson_ 231A

Celtic Speech " " 232A

To Morfydd " " 225

Can Doov Deelish _Dora Sigerson_ 226


Shule Aroon 231

The Shan Van Vocht 232

The Wearing of the Green 235

The Rakes of Mallow 237

Johnny, I hardly knew ye 238

Kitty of Coleraine 241

Lament of Morian Shehone for Miss Mary Bourke 242

The Geraldine's Daughter 246

By Memory Inspired 247

A Folk Verse 249

Notes 250


I have not found it possible to revise this book as completely as I
should have wished. I have corrected a bad mistake of a copyist, and
added a few pages of new verses towards the end, and softened some
phrases in the introduction which seemed a little petulant in form, and
written in a few more to describe writers who have appeared during the
last four years, and that is about all. I compiled it towards the end of
a long indignant argument, carried on in the committee rooms of our
literary societies, and in certain newspapers between a few writers of
our new movement, who judged Irish literature by literary standards, and
a number of people, a few of whom were writers, who judged it by its
patriotism and by its political effect; and I hope my opinions may have
value as part of an argument which may awaken again. The Young Ireland
writers wrote to give the peasantry a literature in English in place of
the literature they were losing with Gaelic, and these methods, which
have shaped the literary thought of Ireland to our time, could not be
the same as the methods of a movement which, so far as it is more than
an instinctive expression of certain moods of the soul, endeavours to
create a reading class among the more leisured classes, which will
preoccupy itself with Ireland and the needs of Ireland. The peasants in
eastern counties have their Young Ireland poetry, which is always good
teaching and sometimes good poetry, and the peasants of the western
counties have beautiful poems and stories in Gaelic, while our more
leisured classes read little about any country, and nothing about
Ireland. We cannot move these classes from an apathy, come from their
separation from the land they live in, by writing about politics or
about Gaelic, but we may move them by becoming men of letters and
expressing primary emotions and truths in ways appropriate to this
country. One carries on the traditions of Thomas Davis, towards whom our
eyes must always turn, not less than the traditions of good literature,
which are the morality of the man of letters, when one is content, like
A.E. with fewer readers that one may follow a more hidden beauty; or
when one endeavours, as I have endeavoured in this book, to separate
what has literary value from what has only a patriotic and political
value, no matter how sacred it has become to us.

The reader who would begin a serious study of modern Irish literature
should do so with Mr Stopford Brooke's and Mr Rolleston's exhaustive
_August 15, 1899_


The Irish Celt is sociable, as may be known from his proverb, 'Strife is
better than loneliness,' and the Irish poets of the nineteenth century
have made songs abundantly when friends and rebels have been at hand to
applaud. The Irish poets of the eighteenth century found both at a
Limerick hostelry, above whose door was written a rhyming welcome in
Gaelic to all passing poets, whether their pockets were full or empty.
Its owner, himself a famous poet, entertained his fellows as long as his
money lasted, and then took to minding the hens and chickens of an old
peasant woman for a living, and ended his days in rags, but not, one
imagines, without content. Among his friends and guests had been
O'Sullivan the Red, O'Sullivan the Gaelic, O'Heffernan the blind, and
many another, and their songs had made the people, crushed by the
disasters of the Boyne and Aughrim, remember their ancient greatness.
The bardic order, with its perfect artifice and imperfect art, had gone
down in the wars of the seventeenth century, and poetry had found
shelter amid the turf-smoke of the cabins. The powers that history
commemorates are but the coarse effects of influences delicate and vague
as the beginning of twilight, and these influences were to be woven like
a web about the hearts of men by farm-labourers, pedlars,
potato-diggers, hedge-schoolmasters, and grinders at the quern, poor
wastrels who put the troubles of their native land, or their own happy
or unhappy loves, into songs of an extreme beauty. But in the midst of
this beauty was a flitting incoherence, a fitful dying out of the sense,
as though the passion had become too great for words, as must needs be
when life is the master and not the slave of the singer.

English-speaking Ireland had meanwhile no poetic voice, for Goldsmith
had chosen to celebrate English scenery and manners; and Swift was but
an Irishman by what Mr Balfour has called the visitation of God, and
much against his will; and Congreve by education and early association;
while Parnell, Denham, and Roscommon were poets but to their own time.
Nor did the coming with the new century of the fame of Moore set the
balance even, for all but all of his Irish melodies are artificial and
mechanical when separated from the music that gave them wings. Whatever
he had of high poetry is in 'The Light of other Days,' and in 'At the
Mid Hour of Night,' which express what Matthew Arnold has taught us to
call 'the Celtic melancholy,' with so much of delicate beauty in the
meaning and in the wavering or steady rhythm that one knows not where to
find their like in literature. His more artificial and mechanical verse,
because of the ancient music that makes it seem natural and vivid, and
because it has remembered so many beloved names and events and places,
has had the influence which might have belonged to these exquisite
verses had he written none but these. An honest style did not come into
English-speaking Ireland, until Callanan wrote three or four naïve
translations from the Gaelic. 'Shule Aroon' and 'Kathleen O'More' had
indeed been written for a good while, but had no more influence than
Moore's best verses. Now, however, the lead of Callanan was followed by
a number of translators, and they in turn by the poets of 'Young
Ireland,' who mingled a little learned from the Gaelic ballad-writers
with a great deal learned from Scott, Macaulay, and Campbell, and turned
poetry once again into a principal means for spreading ideas of
nationality and patriotism. They were full of earnestness, but never
understood that though a poet may govern his life by his enthusiasms, he
must, when he sits down at his desk, but use them as the potter the
clay. Their thoughts were a little insincere, because they lived in the
half illusions of their admirable ideals; and their rhythms not seldom
mechanical, because their purpose was served when they had satisfied the
dull ears of the common man. They had no time to listen to the voice of
the insatiable artist, who stands erect, or lies asleep waiting until a
breath arouses him, in the heart of every craftsman. Life was their
master, as it had been the master of the poets who gathered in the
Limerick hostelry, though it conquered them not by unreasoned love for a
woman, or for native land, but by reasoned enthusiasm, and practical
energy. No man was more sincere, no man had a less mechanical mind than
Thomas Davis, and yet he is often a little insincere and mechanical in
his verse. When he sat down to write he had so great a desire to make
the peasantry courageous and powerful that he half believed them already
'the finest peasantry upon the earth,' and wrote not a few such verses

'Lead him to fight for native land,
His is no courage cold and wary;
The troops live not that could withstand
The headlong charge of Tipperary,'

and to-day we are paying the reckoning with much bombast. His little
book has many things of this kind, and yet we honour it for its public
spirit, and recognise its powerful influence with gratitude. He was in
the main an orator influencing men's acts, and not a poet shaping their
emotions, and the bulk of his influence has been good. He was, indeed, a
poet of much tenderness in the simple love-songs 'The Marriage,' 'A Plea
for Love,' and 'Mary Bhan Astór,' and, but for his ideal of a Fisherman,
defying a foreign soldiery, would have been as good in 'The Boatman of
Kinsale'; and once or twice when he touched upon some historic sorrow he
forgot his hopes for the future and his lessons for the present, and
made moving verse. His contemporary, Clarence Mangan, kept out of public
life and its half illusions by a passion for books, and for drink and
opium, made an imaginative and powerful style. He translated from the
German, and imitated Oriental poetry, but little that he did on any but
Irish subjects is permanently interesting. He is usually classed with
the Young Ireland poets, because he contributed to their periodicals and
shared their political views; but his style was formed before their
movement began, and he found it the more easy for this reason perhaps to
give sincere expression to the mood which he had chosen, the only
sincerity literature knows of; and with happiness and cultivation might
have displaced Moore. But as it was, whenever he had no fine ancient
song to inspire him, he fell into rhetoric which was only lifted out of
commonplace by an arid intensity. In his 'Irish National Hymn,' 'Soul
and Country,' and the like, we look into a mind full of parched sands
where the sweet dews have never fallen. A miserable man may think well
and express himself with great vehemence, but he cannot make beautiful
things, for Aphrodite never rises from any but a tide of joy. Mangan
knew nothing of the happiness of the outer man, and it was only when
prolonging the tragic exultation of some dead bard, that he knew the
unearthly happiness which clouds the outer man with sorrow, and is the
fountain of impassioned art. Like those who had gone before him, he was
the slave of life, for he had nothing of the self-knowledge, the power
of selection, the harmony of mind, which enables the poet to be its
master, and to mould the world to a trumpet for his lips. But O'Hussey's
Ode over his outcast chief must live for generations because of the
passion that moves through its powerful images and its mournful,
wayward, and fierce rhythms.

'Though he were even a wolf ranging the round green woods,
Though he were even a pleasant salmon in the unchainable sea,
Though he were a wild mountain eagle, he could scarce bear, he,
This sharp, sore sleet, these howling floods.'

Edward Walsh, a village schoolmaster, who hovered, like Mangan, on the
edge of the Young Ireland movement, did many beautiful translations from
the Gaelic; and Michael Doheny, while out 'on his keeping' in the
mountains after the collapse at Ballingarry, made one of the most moving
of ballads; but in the main the poets who gathered about Thomas Davis,
and whose work has come down to us in 'The Spirit of the Nation,' were
of practical and political, not of literary importance.

Meanwhile Samuel Ferguson, William Allingham, and Mr Aubrey de Vere were
working apart from politics, Ferguson selecting his subjects from the
traditions of the Bardic age, and Allingham from those of his native
Ballyshannon, and Mr Aubrey de Vere wavering between English, Irish, and
Catholic tradition. They were wiser than Young Ireland in the choice of
their models, for, while drawing not less from purely Irish sources,
they turned to the great poets of the world, Mr de Vere owing something
of his gravity to Wordsworth, Ferguson much of his simplicity to Homer,
while Allingham had trained an ear, too delicate to catch the tune of
but a single master, upon the lyric poetry of many lands. Allingham was
the best artist, but Ferguson had the more ample imagination, the more
epic aim. He had not the subtlety of feeling, the variety of cadence of
a great lyric poet, but he has touched, here and there, an epic vastness
and naïveté, as in the description in 'Congal' of the mire-stiffened
mantle of the giant spectre Mananan macLir, striking against his calves
with as loud a noise as the mainsail of a ship makes, 'when with the
coil of all its ropes it beats the sounding mast.' He is frequently
dull, for he often lacked the 'minutely appropriate words' necessary to
embody those fine changes of feeling which enthral the attention; but
his sense of weight and size, of action and tumult, has set him apart
and solitary, an epic figure in a lyric age. Allingham, whose pleasant
destiny has made him the poet of his native town, and put 'The Winding
Banks of Erne' into the mouths of the ballad-singers of Ballyshannon,
is, on the other hand, a master of 'minutely appropriate words,' and can
wring from the luxurious sadness of the lover, from the austere sadness
of old age, the last golden drop of beauty; but amid action and tumult
he can but fold his hands. He is the poet of the melancholy peasantry of
the West, and, as years go on, and voluminous histories and copious
romances drop under the horizon, will take his place among those minor
immortals who have put their souls into little songs to humble the
proud. The poetry of Mr Aubrey de Vere has less architecture than the
poetry of Ferguson and Allingham, and more meditation. Indeed, his few
but ever memorable successes are enchanted islands in grey seas of
stately impersonal reverie and description, which drift by and leave no
definite recollection. One needs, perhaps, to perfectly enjoy him, a
Dominican habit, a cloister, and a breviary.

These three poets published much of their best work before and during
the Fenian movement, which, like 'Young Ireland,' had its poets, though
but a small number. Charles Kickham, one of the 'triumvirate' that
controlled it in Ireland; John Casey, a clerk in a flour-mill; and Ellen
O'Leary, the sister of Mr John O'Leary, were at times very excellent.
Their verse lacks, curiously enough, the oratorical vehemence of Young
Ireland, and is plaintive and idyllic. The agrarian movement that
followed produced but little poetry, and of that little all is forgotten
but a vehement poem by Fanny Parnell, and a couple of songs by Mr T.D.
Sullivan, who is a good song-writer, though not, as the writer has read
on an election placard, 'one of the greatest poets who ever moved the
heart of man.' But while Nationalist verse has ceased to be a portion of
the propaganda of a party, it has been written, and is being written,
under the influence of the Nationalist newspapers and of Young Ireland
societies and the like. With an exacting conscience, and better models
than Thomas Moore and the Young Irelanders, such beautiful enthusiasm
could not fail to make some beautiful verses. But, as things are, the
rhythms are mechanical, and the metaphors conventional; and inspiration
is too often worshipped as a Familiar who labours while you sleep, or

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Online LibraryW. B. (William Butler) YeatsA Book of Irish verse; → online text (page 1 of 11)