The HyperTexts

Ethna Carbery

with a Critical Appreciation by Esther Cameron

Ethna Carbery was the pen-name of the Irish poet Anna MacManus, née Johnston. She was born in Ballymena, County Antrim, in 1866. Her writings did much to stimulate the early Sinn Féin movement and were published in the Nation, United Ireland and elsewhere. She and Alice Milligan founded a monthly paper, the Northern Patriot, and the Shan Van Vocht. Her publications include The Four Winds of Eirinn (1902), a book of poetry, The Passionate Hearts (1903), a collection of short stories, and In the Celtic Past (1904). She died 1911, survived by her husband, Séamus MacManus.


Now that the gates are shut on all I cherished,
    O wistful Love, I pray,
Blow no more haunting scents of roses perished,
    About my lonely way.

Take from me memory of happy laughter,
    Of kisses more than kind
And that I may not meet his eyes hereafter,
    I pray thee strike me blind.

Lest I should knock against the bars, and, bleeding,
    Cry to him, faithless—“Come!”
The while he passes by, my grief unheeding,
    I pray thee strike me dumb.

So it were best. And dumb and blind, forgetting,
    White peace may wrap my soul;
Till, lorn of love and hate, and unregretting,
    It passes to its goal.

The Cold Sleep of Brighidin

There’s a sweet sleep for my love by yon glimmering blue wave,
But alas ! it is a cold sleep in a green-happed narrow grave.
shadowy Finn, move slowly,
Break not her peace so holy,
Stir not her slumber in the grass your restless ripples lave.

My Heart’s Desire, my Treasure, our wooing time was brief,
From the misty dawns of April till the fading of the leaf,
From the first clear cuckoo calling
Till the harvest gold wasfalling,
And my store of joy was garnered at thebinding of the sheaf.

There came another lover, more swift than I,more strong,
He bore away my little love in middle of her song;
Silent, ah me! his wooing,
And silent his pursuing,
Silent he stretched his arms to her who did not tarry long.

So in his House of Quiet she keeps her troth for aye
With him, the stronger lover, until the Judgment Day
And I go lonely, lonely,
Bereft of my one only
Bright star, Rose-blossom, Singing-bird that held the year at May.

The purple mountains guard her, the valley folds her in,
In dreams I see her walking with angelscleansed of sin.
Is heaven too high and saintly
For her to hear, though faintly,
One word of all my grieving on her grave beside Loch Finn?

Note by Seumas MacManus: “In the light of after-events, this song—even in the very particulars of season and month—proves to have been the singer’s own inspired death-lament.”

The Song of Ciabhan

To the Isle of Peace
   I turn our prow:
No angry seas
Shall fright you now;
   But calm lake waters
Lie smooth as glass,
   Where we shall pass
From the place of slaughters.

The slow blue stars
   Beneath your brows
At the clash of wars
   Need never rouse;
Through day hours winging,
   My love shall tend,

   And my gold harp send
You to sleep with singing.

Tall blossoms gleam
   Where the spear-sharp sedge
Sways in its dream
   By the wavelet’s edge;
There shall come to harm you
   No scourging wind;
   But south-blown, kind,
It shall soothe and charm you.

A wattled dun
   Safe-sheltered, strong,
For my treasured one
   Hath waited long;
Of the wild bee’s honey
    A queenly fare
    Shall glad you there
In a grianán sunny.

Broad wings of red,
   And green and azure,
Make a roof outspread
   To give you pleasure;
Strange scrolls are shining
   On walls lime-white—
   A mystic sight
In their wondrous twining.

Its oaken door
   Hath a threshold shady,
To lure you o’er,
   O sunbright lady.
My wolf-hound lingers
   Beside our seat
   For the stroking, Sweet,
Of your slender fingers.

In our Isle the calm
    Slow-dropping dew
Shall shed its balm
   ‘Twixt night and you:
And peace shall hover,
   Till Angus calls,
   And the Great Peace falls
On beloved and lover.

Mo Chraoibhin Cno *

A Sword of Light hath pierced the dark, our eyes have seen the Star:
Oh Eire, leave the ways of sleep now days of promise are:
The rusty spears upon your walls are stirring to and fro,
In dreams they front uplifted shields—Then wake,
Mo Chraoibhín Cno!

The little waves creep whispering where sedges fold you in,
And round you are the barrows of your buried kith and kin;
Oh! famine-wasted, fever-burnt, they faded like the snow
Or set their hearts to meet the steel—for you,
Mo Chraoibhín Cno!

Their names are blest, their caoine sung, our bitter tears are dried;
We bury Sorrow in their graves, Patience we cast aside;
Within the gloom we hear a voice that once was ours to know—
‘Tis Freedom—Freedom calling loud, Arise!
Mo Chraoibhín Cno!

Afar beyond that empty sea, on many a battle-place,
Your sons have stretched brave hands to Death before the foeman’s face—
Down the sad silence of your rest their war-notes faintly blow,
And bear an echo of your name-of yours,
Mo Chraoibhín Cno!

Then wake, a grádh! We yet shall win a gold crown for your head,
Strong wine to make a royal feast—the White wine and the red—
And in your oaken mether the yellow mead shall flow
What day you rise, in all men’s eyes—a Queen,
Mo Chraoibhín Cno!

The silver speech our fathers knew shall once again be heard;
The fire-lit story, crooning song, sweeter than lilt of bird;
Your quicken-tree shall break in flower, its ruddy fruit shall glow,
And the Gentle People dance beneath its shade—
Mo Chraoibhín Cno!

There shall be peace and plenty—the kindly open door;
Blessings on all who come and go—the prosperous or the poor—
The misty glens and purple hills a fairer tint shall show,
When your splendid Sun shall ride the skies again—
Mo Chraoibhín Cno!

* Pronounced "Mo chreeveen no" = “My cluster of nuts “ = "My brown-haired girl "(i.e. Ireland)

The Love-Talker

I met the Love-Talker one eve in the glen,
He was handsomer than any of our handsome young men,
His eyes were blacker than the sloe, his voice sweeter far
Than the crooning of old Kevin’s pipes beyond in Coolnagar.

I was bound for the milking with a heart fair and free—
My grief! my grief! that bitter hour drained the life from me;
I thought him human lover, though his lips on mine were cold,
And the breath of death blew keen on me within his hold.

I know not what way he came, no shadow fell behind,
But all the sighing rushes swayed beneath a fairy wind;
The thrush ceased its singing, a mist crept about,
We two clung together—with the world shut out.

Beyond the ghostly mist I could hear my cattle low,
The little cow from Ballina, clean as driven snow,
The dun cow from Kerry, the roan from Inisheer,
Oh, pitiful their calling—and his whispers in my ear!

His eyes were a fire; his words were a snare;
I cried my mother’s name, but no help was there;
I made the blessed Sign: then he gave a dreary moan,
A wisp of cloud went floating by, and I stood alone.

Running ever thro’ my head is an old-time rune—
“Who meets the Love-Talker must weave her shroud soon.”
My mother’s face is furrowed with the salt tears that fall,
But the kind eyes of my father are the saddest sight of all.

I have spun the fleecy lint and now my wheel is still,
The linen length is woven for my shroud fine and chill,
I shall stretch me on the bed, where a happy maid I lay—
Pray for the soul of Máire Og at dawning of the day!

Páistín Fionn

O, Páistín Fionn, but it vexed her sore,
The day you turned from your mother’s door
For the wide gray sea, and the strife and din
That lie beyond, where the ships go in.

There was always peace in the little town—
The kindly neighbours went up and down,
With a word to you, and a word to me,
And a helping hand where need might be.

The sheltering hills and the rainbow skies,
Set the dreams alight in your boyish eyes,
And the shrill sweet singing from every brake
Stirred in your heart a restless ache.

So you left our glens, and our fishful streams,
To follow the lure of your boyish dreams:
Through the lonely cities you wander long,
Far from the moors and the blackbird’s song.

Has the world been good to you, Páistín Fionn?
Has the yellow gold that you sought to win
Been worth the toil and the danger dared?
Has plenty blessed you and sorrow spared?

Your mother sits in the dusk alone,
And croons old songs in an undertone,
Old cradle-songs that your childhood knew,
When her folding arms made a world for you.

Her sad heart, loving and hoping on,
Awaits your footsteps from dark to dawn—
The thin cheeks paler and paler grow,
With hunger for you as the hours drift slow.

Then, Páistín Fionn, come back, come back—
A homebound bird o’er the glancing track;
The door is open—the hearth is red—
And our love is calling you, Dear Fair Head.

Mary of Carrick

Mary of Carrick has gone away
From our pleasant places, down to the sea,
She has put a loss on our mountain gray,
She has drained the joy from the heart o’me,
Mary a-stór,
Mary a-stór,
Black hair, black eyes, I am grieving sore!

Mary of Carrick is small and sweet—
My Share of the World, how sweet were you
Tripping along on little bare feet
With your milking-pails through the rainbow dew?
Mary a-stór,
Mary a-stór,
The sun was a shadow with you to the fore!

Mary of Carrick gave only a smile—
No word of comfort for words I spake,
But since she left me, this weary while,
My heart is learning the way to break,
Mary a-stór,
Mary a-stór,
Quick is my learning—and bitter the lore!

Mary of Carrick, ‘tis you I must follow,
For where you are ‘tis there I must be—
On mountain gray, or in heathery hollow,
Or where the salt wind blows from the sea.
Mary a-stór,
Mary a-stór,
When I find I shall bind you, nor lose evermore!

On an Island

Weary on ye, sad waves!
Still scourging the lonely shore.
Oh, I am far from my father’s door,
And my kindred’s graves!

From day to day, outside
There is nothing but dreary sea
And at night o’er the dreams of me
The great waters glide.

If I look to east or west,
Green billows go tipped with foam—
Green woods gird my father’s home,
With birds in each nest.

The grass is bitter with brine,
Sea-stunted the rushes stir—
In my father’s woods the fir
Smells sweeter than wine.

My mother’s eyes were kind,
But oh! kind eyes and smile
That won me to this lone isle,
She is left behind.

For love came like a storm,
Uprooted, and bound me here
In chains more strong, more dear,
Than the old home charm.

Swiftly I thrust away
This thought of the Woods of Truagh,
My poplar, my fir are you,
My larch a-sway—

My mether of full delight,
My sun that is never spent,
And thus I go well-content
Through gray days in your light,

The Heathery Hill

I mind it well, and I see it yet
   In a halo of sunset glory,
When I climbed knee-deep through the gorse and fern
   To keep my tryst with Rory.
Like a singing-flame the little red lark
   Poured the joy of its heart above me;
My grief, my grief I for the Heathery Hill
   And the lad that used to love me.

The blue mist eerily drifted down,
   Till the kine were lost in shadow,
‘Twas time for Rory to come this way
   By boreen and dewy meadow.
Then, then a song, that was sweeter far
   Than thrush’s or lark’s, rose near me—
Oh! I’m thinking long for the Heathery Hill
   And the voice of my lad to cheer me.

I miss my mother the livelong day—
   Sure I was my mother’s treasure;
I cry in dreams for my father’s fields,
    And the city holds no pleasure:
I’d part its ease and its golden store,
    Though the wise folk may deride me,
For a summer eve on the Heathery Hill
    And the lad o’ my heart beside me.

The Spell-Stricken

I hung my gift on the hawthorn bush,
Because three sips from the Holy Well
Had hurried the fever out of my veins,
And a pain that no tongue could tell.

And the gift I gave to the good Saint Bride
Was your little kerchief of spotted blue—
Cáilín deas, it had circled your neck,
And was sweet with the warmth of you.

The priest came by as I sat and dreamed
(I dreamed at night and I dreamed at noon),
He laid his, kindly hand on my brow—
“Are you hearing a fairy tune?

“Do you hear them sing as you sit and smile?”
Then he led my steps to the blessed place,
I drank that day from his hollowed palms,
And he prayed, “God give you grace.”

No fairy piping had troubled me—
It was you, O girl of the yellow hair!
It was you, bright blossom of loveliness I
Who set for my soul a snare.

Your smile had more than the strength of ten
To draw me after—your frown was worse,
For then I turned to the cup of woe,
And drained to the dregs its curse.

Mary O’Hara, my soul is safe!
I walk with men as a man should walk,
No longer my mother makes her moan
For my idle hours and my foolish talk.

I see you pass in your homespun dress,
Your white throat bare, and your eyelids meek,
But your wonder of beauty is all in vain,
Dark eyes, soft lips, and young round cheek.

Is it in vain ? Kind saints be near!
I vow that the tortures of love are fled;
Yet something stirs at yon light foot-fall,
Till I close my ears for dread.

Mary O’Hara, pass on, pass on,
The spell is broken—the captive free.
Pass on, ere I pillow your yellow head
On my heart where it used to me.

The Brown Wind of Connaught

The brown Wind of Connaught—
    Across the bogland blown,
(The brown wind of Connaught),
    Turns my heart to a stone;
For it cries my name at twilight,
     And cries it at the noon—
O, Mairgread Ban! O, Mairgread Ban!
Just like a fairy tune.

The brown wind of Connaught.,
   When Dermot came to Woo,
(The brown wind of Connaught),
    It heard his whispers too;
And while my wheel goes whirring,
     It taps on my window-pane,
Till I open wide to the Dead outside,
   And the sea-salt misty rain.

The brown wind of Connaught
  With women wailed one day
(The brown wind of Connaught),
   For a wreck in Galway Bay;
And many the dark-faced fishers
   That gathered their nets in fear,
But one sank straight to the Ghostly Gate—
   And he was my Dermot Dear.

The brown wind of Connaught
   Still keening in the dawn,
(The brown wind of Connaught),
    For my true love long gone.
Oh, cold green wave of danger,
    Drift him a restful sleep
O’er his young black head on its lowly bed,
    While his weary wake I keep.

The Four Places of Sorrow

There is sorrow for me in the North, where the black wind blows,
(Hush, O Wind of the dirges, O Voice of the restless dead!)
The ache of its cruel keening thro’ my heart like an arrow goes,
I see in the tossing waters the sheen of a dear bright head.

There is sorrow for me in the South, where the white wind sings,
(Hush, O wind of all lovers, crooning a laugh and a cry!)
On the pain of a dream love-haunted breaks the music of wings,
Seagulls, sweeping and swaying, saw ye my dead drift by?

There is sorrow for me in the East, where the red wind bums,
(Hush, O Wind of remorse, O Wind of the scourging flame!)
Under its slow cold dawning the soul of the drowned returns
And wan, in the startled daybreak, a ghost from the sea he came.

There is sorrow for me in the West, where the brown wind raves,
 (Hush, O Wind from the bogs, O memory-freighted Wind!)
He is spindrift hither and thither, sport of unweary waves:
Would that my heart were close on his heart, my eyes on his eyes were blind!

Glen Moylena

All the Summer for our loving, with the soft wind in the wheat
    Ah! but Autumn brought disaster, speeding far on deadly feet.
We two kept our tryst that eve; how you clasped me, loth to leave,
    Though the pikemen sought their chief in Glen Moylena.

“Ere I go to meet my doom, Love, one kiss—the best and last.
    Sweet wet eyes, oh, vex me not with haunting memories of the past.
Make me brave for death, I pray, since I tread a sterner way
    Than the woodbine-scented paths of Glen Moylena.”

To the wise moon gleams of steel flashed defiance from the shade,
    Round the hill the red-coats toiled, plunder-laden, unafraid;
Then the horror of the meeting, pike and pike sprang out in greeting—
     (Sleep in peace, ye pallid ghosts of Glen Moylena).

"This for Eileen, yellow-haired, this for dear and dark­eyed Maeve,
    This for altar overthrown, this for desecrated grave,
Strong and swift for hunger dire, withered mother, murdered sire —"
   Red the heart’s-blood tinged each pike in Glen Moylena.

Fighting through the startled night, fighting while the shy  dawn peeps    
     On stark forms upon the sward, green and red in ghastly heaps;
Hand to hand in desperate strife, fighting for your country’s life,
     Fighting till ye lost the day in Glen Moylena.

Since you came not, stór mo chroidhe, through the gloom I wandered far:
     High above in heaven trembled here and there a frightened star,
I could hear the sleuth-hounds’ bay, tracking sure their bleeding prey,
     Hear the cry of spear-tossed babes in Glen Moylena.

In those awful hours, while Death reaped for harvest Ireland’s best,
     By the thorn-crowned rath I stole, where some old king takes his rest,
Kindly angels mourned with me, when beneath our trysting-tree,
     Cold and wan I found you, love, in Glen Moylena.

Brave in life, brave in death, in the foremost ranks you fell,
     With the torn green banner draped round the heart that loved it well,
Staring with your dead grey eyes to the pitiful wet sides,
     Saddest day of all the days in Glen Moylena

There’s a quiet dell, unknown save to Love and me alone,
     Where the Spring-time enters first, and where Summer holds her throne;
Where I kneel at eve and Weep tears that never thrill your sleep,
     Only keep your grave-grass green in Glen Moylena.

All Soul's Night

Mhuire a’s truagh!  Mhuire a’s truagh!
A foot went by in the night,
A swift foot that I knew,
And I saw in the chill moonlight
A golden ghostly head—­
O my Love long dead!

Mhuire a’s truagh!  Mhuire a’s truagh!
Is it colder yet in the clay,
Since the wandering’s come on you
‘Twixt the dark and the day
Now the frost’s on the window-pane
And you come to my door again

Mhuire a’s truagh!  Mhuire a’s truagh!
Do you bring me the word at last
That the waiting hours are through
And my loneliness is past ?
That after the joy denied
I may rest satisfied.

Mhuire a’s truagh!  Mhuire a’s truagh!
 ‘Twill be sweet to sleep in the sod,
With the singing lark in the blue,
Under the smile of God;
So that a grave we share
Together, Heart’s Dearest, there.

Our Road

Here is the road that you must climb with me,
This road that winds between the hill and sea, 
And leads to where our quiet home shall be.

Love waits us there—not proud, nor kingly clad,
Oh! just a little joyous country lad,
With tender wiles to make our tired hearts glad.

No barbed arrow doth he hold for us—
But outstretched hands, divine and generous.
Would all sad wayfarers were welcomed thus!

The world hath tortured—yet immense our gain
To find enduring peace around us twain,
I, weary of my wanderings, you of your disdain.

Brian Boy Magee
(AD. 1641.)

I am Brian Boy Magee—
My father was Eoghain Bán—
I was wakened from happy dreams
By the shouts of my startled clan
And I saw through the leaping glare
That marked where our homestead stood,
My mother swing by her hair—
And my brothers lie in their blood.

In the creepy cold of the night
The pitiless wolves came down—
Scotch troops from that Castle grim
Guarding Knockfergus Town;
And they hacked and lashed and hewed
With musket and rope and sword,
Till my murdered kin lay thick
In pools by the Slaughter Ford.

I fought by my father’s side,
And when we were fighting sore
We saw a line of their steel
With our shrieking women before:
The red-coats drove them on
To the verge of the Gobbins gray,
Hurried them—God! the sight!
As the sea foamed up for its prey.

Oh, tall were the Gobbins cliffs,
And sharp were the rocks, my woe!
And tender the limbs that met
Such terrible death below
Mother and babe and maid
They clutched at the empty air,
With eyeballs widened in fright,
That hour of despair.

(Sleep soft in your heaving bed,
O little fair love of my heart!
The bitter oath I have sworn
Shall be of my life a part;
And for every piteous prayer
You prayed on your way to die,
May I hear an enemy plead
While I laugh and deny.)         

In the dawn that was gold and red,
Ay, red as the blood-choked stream.
I crept to the perilous brink—
Great Christ ! was the night a dream?
In all the Island of Gloom
I only had life that day—
Death covered the green hill-sides,
And tossed in the Bay.

I have vowed by the pride of my sires—
By my mother’s wandering ghost—
By my kinsfolk’s shattered bones
Hurled on the cruel coast—
By the sweet dead face of my love,
And the wound in her gentle breast—
To follow that murderous band,
A sleuth-hound who knows no rest.

I shall go to Phelim O’Neill
With my sorrowful tale, and crave
A blue-bright blade of Spain,
In the ranks of his soldiers brave.
And God grant me the strength to wield
That shining avenger well—
When the Gael shall sweep his foe
Through the yawning gates of Hell.

I am Brian Boy Magee!
And my creed is a creed of hate:
Love, Peace, I have cast aside—
But Vengeance, Vengeance I wait!
Till I pay back the four-fold debt
For the horrors I witnessed there,
When my brothers moaned in their blood,
And my mother swung by her hair.

Let the Frost Glisten

Let the frost glisten,
Let the winds blow,
Dearest, together we sit by our fire—
Lean closer and listen,
My words tremble slow,
Let them mount from my spirit like flame from a pyre.

Eyes brave and brown,
      Shine through the gloom,
Tell me, fond lips, how this rapture befell—
            Did winter frown
                   Or the rose bloom,
When we first met and our hearts sang, ‘Tis well?

Nay, tell me not Love—
      Enough to be glad,
Enough to sit here with your head on my breast
            Like a home-drafted dove
                  That forgets to be sad
In the warmth and the peace of its newly-found nest.

There, close to my heart,
                   Smile, Sweet—be content
Nor shall I remember old sorrows, old fears,
Joy wakes with a start—
        Hope comes as she went—
I triumph, I live, and have done with my tears.

Donal Mac Seaghain Na Mallacht

Donal Mac Shan of the Curses took the garrison of Liscallaghan, October 23rd, 1641.

“Donal Mac Seaghain Na Mallacht
Sign the cross on your lips and breast
Before you go into the battle
Where, maybe, you’ll find your rest.

‘‘And sign it on brow of blackness:
Loved vein of my heart, my son,
That the bitter hate may leave you,
And the bitter words be done.

“For a grief is ever with me—
Dark sorrow without shine—
That Donal Mac Seaghain of the Curses
Should be name on son of mine.”

He took the hands of his mother
And answered in gentle wise,
Though his face was a cloud of anger,
And a quenchless flame his eyes.

“For you I have only loving
Who nursed me upon your knee:
Yet, O Mother, you cannot sweeten
The sights that to-day I see.

“I look on our smoking valleys,
I gaze on our wasted lands,
I stand by our grass-grown thresholds
And curse their ruffian hands.

“I curse them in dark and daylight—
I curse them the hours between
The grey dawn and shadowy night time,
For the sights my eyes have seen.

“I curse them awake or sleeping,
I curse them alive or dead,
And, O Christ! that my words were embers
To fall on each Saxon head.

“They have swept my land with their fury,
It is burnt where their feet have passed
It is blighted, dishonoured, lowly
In the track of the poisonous blast.

“But Eoghan, God shield him, gathers
The tall spears of the Gael—
And Donal Mac Seaghain Na Mallacht
Goes foremost to win or fail.

“Then stay me not of my curses—
When mountain and fair green glen
Are free as time Lord God meant them,
I shall pray at your bidding then.”


There is a way I am fain to go—
To the mystical land where all are young,
Where the silver branches have buds of snow
And every leaf is a singing tongue.

It lies beyond the night and day,
Over shadowy hill, and moorland wide,
And whoso enters casts care away,
And wistful longings unsatisfied.

There are sweet white women, a radiant throng,
Swaying like flowers in a scented wind
But between us the veil of earth is strong,
And my eyes to their luring eyes are blind.

A blossom of fire is each beauteous bird,
Scarlet and gold on melodious wings.
And never so haunting a strain was heard
From royal harp in the Hall of Kings.

The sacred trees stand in rainbow dew,
Apple and ash and the twisted thorn,
Quicken and holly and dusky yew,
Ancient ere ever gray Time was born.

The oak spreads mighty beneath the sun
In a wonderful dazzle of moonlight green—
O would I might hasten from tasks undone,
And journey whither no grief hath been!

Were I past the mountains of opal flame,
I would seek a couch of the kingfern brown,
And when from its seed glad slumber came,
A flock of rare dreams would flutter down.

But I move without in an endless fret,
While somewhere beyond earth’s brink, afar,
Forgotten of men, in a rose-rim set,
I-Breasil shines like a beckoning star.


The steeds of the Black Wind race
    Frost-shod and fleet,
Where you hide from my love your face,
    And stay your feet:
In this rose-rimmed quiet glen
   I bide, and pray
Through the star-filled gloom, and the day,
    For your voice again.

The flames on my hearth leap red,
    Each a slender spear,
My bosom awaits your head,
    And to charm your ear
I have wonder-tales without end,
    Fond words untold,
Or the spell of a harp of gold,
    As your wild moods tend.

Oh strong man! man of my love
    With eyes of dreams,
Pools of the dusk where move
    No starry gleams:
Come from your storm-girt tower,
    Come to my side,
And sweetly your sheath of pride
     Shall break into flower.

When the arrow ends its flight
    You will lonely grow
For a woman’s kiss in the night,
    And her breast of snow:
You will reach your arms to the Dark,
    And call and cry,
As the winged winds sweep by—
    But no ear shall hark.

My Yellow Yorlin

I would build myself a nest, a little downy nest,
    And a warbler of the woodland I would wed—
Oh, not the blackbird bold, nor the thrush with voice so cold
    But the Yorlin with the yellow on his head.

I would keep him safe and warm, I would screen him from the storm:
    Together we would greet the golden sun—
We would mount the greening stair of the slender larch and fir,
    And sing our love until the day be done.

Should he journey far away I would watch both night and day,
    I would call upon the seas to go asleep,
And to be a floor of glass, that my wandering love might pass,
    Nor fear the curly snares of the deep.

Oh, my Yellow-Yorlin dear, I should ever go in fear
    Of the Little Folk who dance beneath the moon:
They would steal you from my side to mate a fairy bride,
    And cage my darling Yorlin in the dún.

But I know a way to take to a secret lonely lake
    Where scented groves above the waters sway;
And I know a secret tree for my Heart’s Desire and me,
    Where we’ll live and love, for ever and a day.

My Prayer

Set your love before me as a shield!
    That, whistling by, the shadowy, wounding spear
        Of the world’s hate may seek my heart in vain
    Where on your breast it nestles—half in fear
        Of the divine sweet silence round us twain—
Set your love before me as a shield!

Set your love before me as a light!
    A candle tall; so shall I, weak, prevail
        O’er Darkness; pass beyond all venomed things
    Into the endless Dawn, gold-starred, rose-pale,
        And murmurous with whirring silver wings—
Set your love before me as a light!

Set your love before me as a cloud!
    A cloud of rainbow mist, where Grief discerns
        The radiant face of Joy, and groweth glad
    And Joy, remembering how God’s Angel turns
        The Wheel of Life, hath pity for the sad—
Set your love before me as a cloud!

Set your love about me as a sea
    Encompassing—whose white and cooling wave
        Brings peace—or should at times your soul desire
    To prove my spirit’s fervour, then I crave
        Love’s baptism in deeps of strengthening fire—
Set your love about me as a sea!

Set your love upon me as a prayer!
        A benison so softly breathed that none
    But God and you and I the words may guess—
        Whisper it down the quiet, Dearest One,
    The while I reach my lips for your caress—
Set your love upon me as a prayer!

To the Comely Four of Aran 

I send my prayer upon
The winds that chase the sun,
O Four who are most comely and renowned!
Conal the wanderer
And Brendan grave, of Birr,
Fursey, and BercHain of this holy ground.

Keep you my treasure safe
From sorrow and from chafe;
From the strange deadly things that haunt the world
When dark lies, dewy-cool;
From rush-fringed bogland pool;
And from the storm-whipped sea’s green snare upcurled.

O when his weary feet
Journeyed through snow and sleet
On high bald mountains where the way was lone,
My prayers went as a light
Before him in the night,
And Christ, the Kind, was kindly to my own.

He is my secret love,
O Four who sit above!
To you I whisper all my hungering heart;
He is my dear desire,
My soul’s red altar-fire,
And, bitter woe ! too long are we apart.

By Oghil Well in gray
Mist ere the dawn of day,
I knelt for sake of him and cried to you,
And made my hands a cup,
And drank the white wave up,
The three keen draughts that chilled me through and through.

            His bright head be your care,
O tender Saints and fair!
Be you his mantle in the dew and rain,
His shelter from the cold,
The staff within his hold,
And mine the grieving be, the cold, the pain.

Rody M'Corley 

Ho! see the fleet-foot hosts of men
Who speed with faces wan,
From farmstead and from fisher’s cot
Upon the banks of Bann!
They come with vengeance in their eyes—
Too late, too late are they—
For Rody M’Corley goes to die
On the Bridge of Toome to-day.

Oh Ireland, Mother Ireland,
You love them still the best,
The fearless brave who fighting fall
Upon your hapless breast;
But never a one of all your dead
More bravely fell in fray,
Than he who marches to his fate
On the Bridge of Toome to-day.

Up the narrow street he stepped,
Smiling and proud and young;
About the hemp-rope on his neck
The golden ringlets clung.
There’s never a tear in the blue, blue eyes,
Both glad and bright are they—
As Rody M’Corley goes to die
On the Bridge of Toome to-day.

Ah ! when he last stepped up that street,
His shining pike in hand,
Behind him marched in grim array
A stalwart earnest band!
For Antrim town! for Antrim town !
He led them to the fray—
And Rody M’Corley goes to die
On the Bridge of Toome to-day.

The gray coat and its sash of green
Were brave and stainless then
A banner flashed beneath the sun
Over the marching men—
The coat bath many a rent this noon,
The sash is torn away,
And Rody M’Corley goes to die
On the Bridge of Toome to-day.

Oh, how his pike flashed to the sun!
Then found a foeman’s heart!
Through furious fight, and heavy odds,
He bore a true man’s part;
And many a red-coat bit the dust
Before his keen pike-play—
But Rody M’Corley goes to die
On the Bridge of Toome to-day.

Because he loved the Motherland,
Because he loved the Green,
He goes to meet the martyr’s fate
With proud and joyous mien,
True to the last, true to the last,
He treads the upward way—
Young Rody M’Corley goes to die
On the Bridge of Toome to-day.

The Wonder-Music

I would play you the music of mourning!
And put you to grieving, oh dear love and fair,
Till you droop your young head of the shadowy hair,
And the round rainbow tears come a-trembling and fall,
For a sorrow of sorrows that broods over all—
For a cruel pain burning.

I would play you the music of laughter!
And set the smiles lighting your apple-bloom face,
In little glad ripples, that gather apace
As if the lone hush of lake-waters were stirred
In a wind from the swift-sweeping wing of a bird,
Which trails the breeze after.

I would play you the music of sleeping!
And close the white lids over gray wistful eyes,
And bring the rare dreams in a troop from the skies,
And the dreams I should choose for you, pulse of my heart,
Are the sweet and the secret for love kept apart—
My love in your keeping.

Angus the Lover

I follow the silver spears flung from the hands of dawn.
Through silence, though singing of stars, I journey on and on:
The scattered fires of the sun, blown wide ere the day be done,
Scorch me hurrying after the swift white feet of my fawn.

I am Angus the Lover, I who haste in the track of the wind
The tameless tempest before, the dusk of quiet behind
From the heart of a blue gulf hurled, I rise on the waves of the world,
Seeking the love that allures, woeful until I find.

The blossom of beauty is she, glad, bright as a shaft of flame
A burning arrow of life winging me joy and shame,
The hollow deeps of the sky are dumb to my searching cry,
Rending the peace of the gods with the melody of her name.

My quest is by lonely ways—in the cairns of the mighty dead,
On the high-lorn peaks of snow—panting to hear her tread,
At the edge of the rainbow well whose whispering waters tell
Of a face bent over the rim, rose-pale, and as roses red.

Thus she ever escapes me—a wisp of cloud in the air,
A streak of delicate moonshine ; a glory from otherwhere;
Yet out in the vibrant space I shall kiss the rose in her face,
I shall bind her fast to my side with a strand of her flying hair.

The Passing of the Gael

They are going, going, going from the valleys and the hills,
They are leaving far behind them heathery moor and mountain rills,
All the wealth of hawthorn hedges where the brown thrush sways and trills.

They are going, shy-eyed colleens and lads so straight and tall,
From the purple peaks of Kerry, from the crags of wild Imaal,
From the greening plains of Mayo and the glens of Donegal.

They are leaving pleasant places, shores with snowy sands outspread;
Blue and lonely lakes a-stirring when the wind stirs over­head
Tender living hearts that love them, and the graves of kindred dead.

They shall carry to the distant land a tear-drop in the eye
And some shall go uncomforted—their days an endless sigh
For Kathaleen Ní Houlihan’s sad face, until they die.

Oh, Kathaleen Ní Houlihan, your road’s a thorny way,
And ‘tis a faithful soul would walk the flints with you for aye,
Would walk the sharp and cruel flints until his locks grew gray.

So some must wander to the East, and some must wander West
Some seek the white wastes of the North, and some a Southern nest
Yet never shall they sleep so sweet as on your mother breast.

The whip of hunger scourged them from the glens and quiet moors
But there’s a hunger of the heart that plenty never cures;
And they shall pine to walk again the rough road that is yours.

Within the city streets, hot, hurried, full of care,
A sudden dream shall bring them a whiff of Irish air—
A cool air, faintly-scented, blown soft from otherwhere.

Oh, the cabins long-deserted!—Olden memories awake !.
Oh, the pleasant, pleasant places!  —Hush! the blackbird in the brake!
Oh, the dear and kindly voices! —Now their hearts are fain to ache.

They may win a golden store—sure the whins were golden too;
And no foreign skies hold beauty like the rainy skies they knew,
Nor any night-wind cool the brow as did the foggy dew.

They are going, going, going, and we cannot bid them stay;
The fields are now the strangers’ where the strangers’ cattle stray.
Oh! Kathaleen Ní Houlihan, your way’s a thorny way!

The Kisses of Angus

The kisses of Angus came to me—
And three bright birds on my apple-tree
Pipe their magical haunting song
That shall fill with dreaming my whole life long.

The first bird sings of my love’s shut eyes,
The second her lips, where silence lies,
The third her blushes for ever fled,
And the plenteous curls of her radiant head.

Night and day, asleep or awake,
I carry a heart nigh fit to break,
I carry a pain I shall not forget
Until above me the cairn is set.

For Angus the Druid sent them forth—
These birds that fly to the South and North
Three kisses he blew on a fateful wind—
These three bright birds for our grief designed.

He bade them circle green Erin round,
Wherever a love-lorn youth be found,
From the High-King’s son in his torque of gold,
To the shepherd guarding his master’s fold.

He bade them sting like the honey-bee,
In the bitter-sweet of their minstrelsy
Or soothe as soft as a mother’s croon
When her tired babe droops to the drowsy tune.

He bade them foster the wild unrest
That burns like a flame in a lover’s breast,
Or haunt the sad from a burial-place
With the pale content of a ghostly face.

Mo bhrón! Mo bhrón! my lady’s sleep
Under the bracken is cold and deep;
At head and at foot stands an ogham-stone,
Where my carved lament on each slab is shown.

Why doth the young god hurl his ire
At a lover bereft of his soul’s Desire?
My heart goes withering in the sun—
And mirth hath forsaken my father’s dún.

It is Sorrow’s raven I fain would see!
O Angus, call the bright birds from me!
To happier lovers who love may win—
For the hill-fern foldeth my dear one in.

The Shadow House of Lugh

Dreamfair, beside dream waters, it stands alone:
A winging thought of Lugh made its corner stone
A desire of his heart raised its walls on high,
And set its crystal windows to flaunt the sky.

Its doors of the white bronze are many and bright,
With wondrous carven pillars for his Love’s delight,
And its roof of the blue wings, the speckled red,
Is a flaming arc of beauty above her head.

Like a mountain through mist—Lugh towers high,
The fiery-forked lightning is the glance of his eye,
His countenance is noble as the Sun-god’s face—
The proudest chieftain he of a proud Dedanaan race.

He bides there in peace now his Wars are all done—
He gave his hand to Balor when the death-gate was won,
And for the strife-scarred heroes who wander in the shade.
His door lieth open, and the rich feast is laid.

He hath no vexing memory of blood in slanting rain,
Of green spears in hedges on a battle plain.
But through the haunted quiet his love’s silver words,
Blow round him swift as wing-beats of enchanted birds.

A gray haunted wind is blowing in the hall,
And stirring through the shadowy spears upon the wall,
The drinking horn goes round from shadowy lip to lip—
And about the golden methers shadowy fingers slip.

The Star of Beauty, she who queens it there
Diademed, and wondrous long, her yellow hair.
Her eyes are twin-moons in a rose-sweet face,
And the fragrance of her presence fills all the place.

He plays for her pleasure on his harp’s gold wire
The Laughter-tune that leaps along in trills of fire.
She hears the dancing feet of Sidhe where a white moon gleams,
And all her world is joy in the House of Dreams.

He plays for her soothing the Slumber-song
Fine and faint as any dream it glides along.
She sleeps until the magic of his kiss shall rouse
And all her world is quiet in the Shadow-house.

His days glide to night, and his nights glide to day:
With circling of the amber mead, and feasting gay;
In the yellow of her hair his dreams lie curled,
And her arms make the rim of his rainbow World.

I have pieced together, as best I could, from the unpolished, and unfinished, rough draft. I supplied a missing word here and there, and missing lines—to complete stanzas—S. MacManus

The Green Plover

The Eske wood is lonely, and I go in fear,
Where the shadows are thickest, to seek you, my dear.
Your bed is the sere leaf, your roof the green boughs,
And cold is your house, though the Summer is near.

You crouch with the wild-birds in bracken and ling,
O’er your sleep, danger-haunted, the wistful larks sing,
And the gay blackbirds fling you their mirth, my Green Plover,
Lie close in your cover—the Hawk’s on the wing.

In the sweep of the Hawk over mountain and moor,
Is danger, Green Plover, relentless and sure.
He dangles the lure of his gold where he goes—
‘Mid friends and ‘mid foes, your doom to secure.

He hath taken your castle, your life he demands,
He hath harried with fire your father’s broad lands,
At your broken gate stands all his red-coated men,
And through the green glen roams his murderous bands.

Oh, what if he knew that the bride he would wed,
Were pressing her cheek to your bonny dark head,
That her lips had grown red with the warmth of your kiss,
And her heart found its bliss in the fond words you said!

But a sail’s on the waters—a snowy far sail
And Christ in His mercy hath sent us a gale,
That from sad Innisfail we may fly in the night—
Green Plover, what sight makes your brown face grow pale?

The Hawk! God be praised for this marvellous grace.
Our last earthly look is on each other’s face.
And death hath no trace of dread fear now that I
Am given to die in my true love’s embrace.

My Prayer for You

Our hands are met for the parting; your path must lie afar,
Yet well my heart shall know the way that heads to where you are,
And whether in gladness or in woe this is my prayer sincere—
The blessing of God be with you through all the day, my Dear.

May it be nigh you when the hours are filled with anxious care,
And guide you when the track of sin shows smooth and very fair,
May it ease your soul of every grief, scatter each cloud of fear—
The blessing of God be with you through all the day, my Dear.

Can you see the sadness of my heart deep down within mine eyes?
Can you hear in my gay farewell words the echo of my sighs?
Or guess behind my laughter that the tears are trembling near—
The blessing of God be with you through all the day, my Dear.

The golden glory forsakes the sky, the throstle’s song is dumb,
The flowers are sleeping on their stalks, and the parting time has come;
It may be never again we’ll stand in the gathered gloaming here—
Then the blessing of God go with you through all your days, my Dear.

Amor Vincit

A rush of wings upon the air, while here you sit and spin—
Give over wailing, O sad heart, and let the Summer in!
Love knocks without your guarded gate, your fire is burning red—
 “I cannot let him in,” she wept, “because of Love that’s dead.”

His wings are heavy with the rain, his curls are tempest-tossed,
He bears fair gifts to compensate for all the joys you’ve lost.
Your silent house hath need of him, your lonely ingleside—
“I gave Love shelter once,” she said, “for this my heart hath died.”

“But if I be the Love of old,” uprose his pleading sweet,
“Say might I then have welcoming, and nestle at your feet ?
I only slept, uncared, unsought, beneath the stress of tears,
And ashes of remembrance, piled by the passing years.

“Yet Love outlives—if Love be true—aught born of blind disdain,
Comes in the gladness of the Spring, and seeks his own again—
Aught born of wrath when speech rings free and tried souls drift afar—
So Love be true, his benison can heal the deepest scar.

“Then let me in “—Her mournful eyes glow with their vanished grace
To see his drifted locks of gold, the glory on his face.
There’s bloom in desert-lands to-day, there’s singing in the sky,
Since Love remembered one sad heart, and cast his dreaming by.

Ethna Carbery, A Critical Appreciation
by Esther Cameron

Books have a way of turning up at apposite moments.  Recently, just as I was finishing a chapter on James Joyce, I "happened" to find an Irish poet whose relationship with Ireland was very different from his.

For some time I had been feeling that I needed a rest from the twentieth century, and had thought of a simple vacation plan:  to borrow some old volumes of The Atlantic Monthly and read some of the books reviewed there.  Perhaps I'd find a few good things that had been left behind. In the 1901 Atlantic was a poem by Ethna Carbery, or Anna MacManus - "The Four Places of Sorrow" that seemed not old-fashioned but elemental.  Then, in the 1902 Atlantic, I saw a review of her book of poems, The Four Winds of Eirinn, which also sadly noted her premature death.

Did the University library have The Four Winds of Eirinn?  They did, and in the 1918 edition with a memoir by her husband, Seumas MacManus, and a photograph for frontispiece.  There is such a thing as a poetic physiognomy (a Jerusalem adept who went by the name of Colette pointed this out to me), though not all poets have it.  Many look as if they belonged to the same family.  Anna MacManus looked most like the Russian symbolist Aleksandr Blok.

MacManus was a folk poet, or on the border between literature and folk poetry.  She has read the English poets, yet draws above all on the tradition of Irish song, like some of the early poems of Yeats, who was almost her exact contemporary.  It is a poetry in which there is no holding back:

There is sorrow for me in the South, where the white wind sings,
(Hush, O Wind of all lovers, crooning a laugh and a cry!)
On the pain of a dream love-haunted breaks the music of wings,
Seagulls, sweeping and swaying, saw ye my dead drift by?

For the most part the poems do not seem to be at all autobiographical; they seem based on the experience of the people rather than the poet.  There are love poems in male as well as female voices.  There are poems based on Celtic legend and many poems about the fighters who resisted British rule over the centuries.  An example is "Rody M'Corley":

Ho! see the fleet-foot hosts of men
Who speed with faces wan,
From farmstead and from fisher's cot
Upon the banks of Bann!
They come with vengeance in their eyes —
Too late, too late are they —
For Rody M'Corley goes to die
On the Bridge of Toome today.

I cite this one because I found it on the Internet, with an audio of the tune.  Its stern note is not altogether typical of Carbery; more characteristic is her address to Ireland:

The silver speech our fathers knew shall once again be heard:
The fire-lit story, crooning song, sweeter than lilt of bird;
Your quicken-tree shall break in flower, its ruddy fruit shall glow,
And the Gentle People dance beneath its shade —
Mo Chraoibhin Cno!

It is a patriotism that speaks the language of endearments (a note translates the Gaelic phrase as "my nut-brown girl").  On the Internet I found a note that MacManus' poems inspired the Sinn Fein, the Irish national party whose leader, James Connolly, was one of those whose deaths Yeats commemorated in "Easter, 1916" ("A terrible beauty is born").  Faced with the fervor of these poems, one might find something a bit hedging in the aesthetic distance from which Yeats regarded the struggle.  There are ballads that do not spare us its horrors ("I could hear the sleuth-hounds' bay, tracking sure their bleeding prey,/ Hear the cry of spear-tossed babes in Glen Moylena").  There is one poem, "Brian Boy Magee," that is terrible.  But even these poems of war have a tenderness that is not cancelled by the horror.  When not dealing with war, the poems speak of ordinary life with beauty and dignity:

My mother's eyes were kind,
But oh! kind eyes and smile
That won me to this lone isle,
She is left behind.

For love came like a storm,
Uprooted, and bound me here
In chains more strong, more dear,
Than the old home charm.

This poetry seems truly rooted in a world where

There was always peace in the little town —
The kindly neighbours went up and down,
With a word to you, and a word to me,
And a helping hand where need might be.

That is from a poem written for the man who later became her husband, when he was abroad in America. She did not send it to him, but published it under misleading initials in the little magazine, Shan Van Vocht (the name means "the poor old woman," a folk term for Ireland), which she and a woman friend started in the 1890's to keep alive the hope for an Irish renewal after Parnell's fall.  It is not as herself alone, but as the voice of the community, that in the last stanza she calls to him:

Then, Paistin Fionn, come back, come back —
A homebound bird o'er the glancing track;
The door is open — the hearth is red —
And our love is calling you, Dear Fair Head.

There are also expressions of religious faith, for the most part not concerned with dogma but with drawing strength from Beyond for life and death:

It may be never again we'll stand in the gathered gloaming here —
Then the blessing of God go with you through all your days, my Dear.

Is this Irish poetry the "cracked looking glass of a servant girl," as Stephen put it in Ulysses?  There may be worse things. Seumas MacManus wrote of Ethna Carbery:  "She was Ireland's singing handmaid."

The memoir by her husband allows us to glimpse the life in which these poems were rooted, a life that was perhaps greater than the poetry.  Yeats says that the poet must choose between "perfection of the life, and of the work."  There are arguments for choosing the former.  In the Talmud it is said:  "He whose wisdom is greater than his deeds, his wisdom will not endure.  He whose deeds are greater than his wisdom, his wisdom will endure."  It is true that MacManus is forgotten, while Yeats and Joyce are still read — by those who still read poetry.   But in distancing themselves (especially Joyce) from the people, they set literature on a course that has been subject to the law of diminishing returns.

That life:  Seumas MacManus writes:

A poor old woman from a back street in Donegal town said to me, "Ach! Sure it was the oddest thing under the sun, how many of us who never had the luck to split lips to her, loved her after only seeing her walk the street!" 

He writes that people, women especially, were always confiding in her and that "Because she knew that her hopeful heart could help, she never spared herself. But it must be noted that the confidences showered upon her were by no means all sad. Her woman friends' romances were constantly rejoicing her.  (...) She delighted in the romance of a friend — even of an acquaintance — as if it were her own."  But her greatest passion was for Ireland: "She loved all who worked for Ireland. She worshipped all who died for Ireland." She did not think of a patriot but only as "one of the crowd who tried to encourage the patriots. She did not think of herself as a true poet — only as a lover, a far-off humble worshipper, of true poets." As editor of the Shan Van Vocht she devoted herself to encouraging and inspiring others to write for Ireland. Her own poems were written not in retirement but in the very thick of social interaction:

She could, and often did write them (as when the printer pressed) in the same room in which her father, mother, and sister, and maybe some visitors, were talking — talking not merely to one another, but to her also. As she penned her poem or story she could take her mother's frequent banter, and between the lines, parry it — and in her quietly humorous and deft way, give back better than she got.

MacManus himself was a poet and folklorist; their marriage, cut short by Anna's illness and early death, was also a poetic partnership.  I found two of their poems for each other deeply moving.  Here is the last poem in The Four Winds of Eirinn:


In a sheltered, cool, green place
You and I once stood together
Where the quickens interlace.

Then it was our love declared
(Thro' a throstle's silver chiming)
All the passion that it dared.

Then you called me by my name,
And the answering eyes I lifted
Flashed a flame unto a flame.

Hushed, we watched the eve descend
The rose-flecked stair of day, to see
Our heart's probation fitly end.

Stars and mist and dew-wet flowers
Scented, shielded, and made holy,
That sweet hour of the hours.

Oh Dear Heart, life holds no gift
Half so precious, half so brittle,
As this Love-cup that we lift.

And remembering, down the years
All my songs shall echo sighing,
All my laughter trill with tears.

And here is a poem by Seumas MacManus, written after her death:

To You in Heaven —

When your head once lay on my breast,
And your hand was closed in my hand,
You drew back the veil from your soul
And asked could I understand.

The letters that flamed in gold flame
On its virgin whiteness I scanned —
"I love, you, I love you, O love" —
And I whispered, I understand.

I thought I did. Foolish we be!
I, in Sorrow's intense solitude,
Where the dread hours drag into ages,
Fared far ere I understood.

Yesternight I lifted wet eyes
To the stars, that were as the sands,
And cried, O my God! it is now,
Only now, that my soul understands.

Three years after this second edition of the poems was published, Ireland finally gained its independence.  It is said to think that in the country she helped to found, her voice is no longer heard.  Probably this has much to do with the postmodern mistrust of feeling in general, and of patriotic feeling in particular.  Yet poets seeking a way back to the heart of the people could do worse than look up this heartfelt work.

Related Pages: St. Patrick's Day Poems

The HyperTexts