Category Archives: The Book of Irish Poetry

What is Love?

WHAT IS LOVE? [From the Early Irish.]

A love all-commanding, all-withstanding
Through a year is my love;
A grief darkly hiding, starkly biding
Without let or remove ,
Of strength a sharp straining, past sustaining
Wheresoever I rove,
A force still extending without ending
Before and around and above.

Of Heaven ’tis the brightest amazement,
The blackest abasement of Hell,
A struggle for breath with a spectre,
In nectar a choking to death;
‘Tis a race with Heaven’s lightning and thunder,
Then Champion Feats under Moyle’s water
‘Tis pursuing the cuckoo, the wooing
Of Echo, the Rock’s airy daughter.

Till my red lips turn ashen,
My light limbs grow leaden,
My heart loses motion,
In Death my eyes deaden,
So is my love and my passion,
So is my ceaseless devotion
To her to whom I gave them,
To her who will not have them.

Patrick’s Blessing on Munster

Blessing from the Lord on High
Over Munster fall and lie;
To her sons and daughters all
Choicest blessings still befall ;
Fruitful blessing on the soil
That supports her faithful toil!

Blessing full of ruddy health,
Blessing full of every wealth
That her borders furnish forth,
East and West and South and North ;
Blessing from the Lord on High
Over Munster fall and lie!

Blessing on her peaks in air,
Blessing on her -flag-stones bare;
Blessing tram her ridges flow
To her grassy glens below;
Blessing from the Lord on High
Over Munster fall and lie!

As the sands upon the shore
Underneath her ships, for store,
Be her hearths, a twinkling host
Over mountain, plain, and coast!
Blessing from the Lord on High
Over Munster fall and lie!

The Breastplate of St. Patrick

I invoke, upon my path
To the king of Ireland’s rath,
The Almighty power of the Trinity;
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Maker’s Eternal Divinity.

I invoke, on my journey arising,
The power of Christ’s Birth and Baptizing,
The powers of the hours of His dread Crucifixion,
Of His Death and Abode in the Tomb,
The power of the hour of his glorious Resurrection
From out the Gehenna of gloom,
The power of the hour when to Heaven He ascended,
And the power of the hour when by Angels attended
He returns for the Judgment of Doom
I On my perilous way
To Tara to-day,
I, Patrick, God’s servant,
Invoke from above,
The Cherubim’s love!
Yea! I summon the might of the Company fervent
Of Angel obedient, ministrant Archangel
To speed and to prosper my Irish Evangel,
I go forth on my path in the trust
Of the gathering to God of the Just;
In the power of the Patriarchs’ prayers;
The foreknowledge of Prophets and Seers;

The Apostles’ pure preaching;
The Confessors’ sure teaching;
The virginity blest of God’s Dedicate Daughters,
And the lives and the deaths of His Saints and His
I arise to-day in the strength of the heaven,
The glory of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendour of fire and the swiftness of the levin,
The wind’s flying force,
The depth of the sea,
The earth’s steadfast course,
The rock’s austerity.
I arise on my way,
With God’s Strength for my stay,
God’s Might to protect me,
God’s Wisdom to direct me,
God’s Eye to be my providence,
God’s Ear to take my evidence,
God’s ‘Word my words to order,
God’s Hand to be my warder,
God’s Way to lie before me,
God’s Shield and Buckler o’er me,
God’s Host Unseen to save me,

From each ambush of the Devil,
From each vice that would enslave me
And from all who wish me evil
Whether far I fare or near,
Alone or in a multitude.

All these Hierarchies and Powers
I invoke to intervene,
When the Adversary lowers
On my path, with purpose keen
Of vengeance black and bloody
On my soul and no my body ;
I bind these powers to come
Against Druid councel dark,
The black craft of Pagandom,
And the false heresiarch,
The spells of wicked women,
And the wizard’s arts in human,
And every knowledge, old and fresh,
Corruptive of man’s soul and flesh.

May Christ on my way
To Tara to-day,
Shield me from poison
Shield me from fire,
Drowning or wounding
By enemy’s ire,
So that mighty fruition
May follow my mission.
Christ behind and before me,
Christ beneath me and o’er me,
Christ within and without me,
Christ with and about me,

Christ on my left and Christ on my right,
Christ with me at morn and Christ with me at night;
Christ in each heart that shall ever take thought of me
Christ in each mouth that shall ever speak aught of me;
Christ in each eye that shall ever on me fasten,
Christ in each ear that shall ever to me listen.
I invoke, upon my path
To the King of Ireland’s rath,
The Almighty power of the Trinity;
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Maker’s Eternal Divinity.

The Monk and His White Cat

Pangar, my white cat, and I
Silent ply our special crafts;
Hunting mice his one pursuit,
Mine to shoot keen spirit shafts.

Rest I love, all fame beyond,
In the bond of some rare book;
Yet white Pangar from his play
Casts, my way, no jealous look.

Thus alone within one cell
Safe we dwell-not dull the tale-
Since his ever favourite sport
Each to court will never fail.

Now a mouse, to swell his spoils,
In his toils he spears with skill ;
Now a meaning deeply thought
I have caught with startled thrill.

Now his green full-shining gaze
Darts its rays against the wall;
Now my feebler glances mark
Through the dark bright knowledge fall.

Leaping up with joyful purr,
In mouse fur his sharp claw sticks,
Problems difficult and dear
With my spear I, too, transfix.

Crossing not each other’s will.
Diverse still, yet still allied,
Following each his own lone ends,
Constant friends we here abide.

Pangar, master of his art,
Plays his part in pranksome youth;
While, in age sedate, I clear
Shadows from the sphere of Truth.

Columbkilles Farewell by Douglas Hyde

Alas far the voyage, O high King of Heaven,
Enjoined upon me,
Far that I on the red plain of bloody Cooldrevin
Was present to see.

How happy the son is of Dima; no sorrow
For him is designed,
He is having, this hour, round his own hill in Durrow,
The wish of his mind.

The sounds of the winds in the elms, like the strings of
A harp being played,
The note of a blackbird that claps with the wings of
Delight in the glade. .

With him in Ros-Grencha the cattle are lowing
At earliest dawn,
On the brink of the summer the pigeons are cooing
And doves in the lawn.

Three things am I leaving behind me, the very
Most dear that I know,
Tir-Leedach I’m leaving, and Durrow and Derry;
Alas, I must go !

Yet my visit and feasting with Comgall have eased me
At Cainneach’s right hand,
And all but thy government, Eirie, have pleased me,
Thou waterful land.

Written by Douglas Hyde.

On the Flightness of Thought

Shame upon my thoughts, O shame!
How they fly in order broken.
Much therefore I’ll feel the blame
When the Trump of Doom has spoken.

At my psalms, they oft are set

On the path the Fiend must pave them ;
Evermore, with fash and fret,
In God’s sight they misbehave them.

Through contending crowds they fleet,
Companies of wanton women,
Silent wood or strident street,
Swifter than the breezes skimming.

Now through paths of loveliness,
Now through ranks of shameful riot,
Onward ever more they press,
Fledged with folly and disquiet

O’er the Ocean’s sounding deep
Now they flash like fiery levin ;
Now at one vast bound they leap
Up from earth into the heaven.

Thus afar and near they roam
On their race of idle folly;
Till at last to reason’s home
They return right melancholy.
Would you bind them wrist to wrist-
Foot to foot the truants shackle,
From your toils away they twist
Into air with giddy cackle.
Crack of whip or edge of steel
Cannot hold them in your keeping;
With the wriggle of an eel
From your grasp they still go leaping.

Never yet was fetter found,
Never lock contrived, to hold them;
Never dungeon underground,
Moor or mountain keep controlled them

Thou Whose glance alone makes pure,
Searcher of all hearts and Saviour,
With Thy Sevenfold Spirit cure
My stray thoughts’ unblessed behaviour.

God of earth, air, fire and flood,
Rule me, rule me in such measure,
That, to my eternal good,
I may live to love Thy pleasure.

Christ’s own flock thus may I reach,
At the flash of Death’s sharp sickle,
Just in deed, of steadfast speech,
Not, as now, infirm and fickle.

The Scribe

For weariness my hand writes ill,
My small, sharp quill runs rough and slow;
Its slender beak with failing craft
Puts forth its draught of dark, blue flow.

And yet God’s blessed wisdom gleams
And streams beneath my fair-brown palm
The while quick jets of holly ink
The letters link of prayer or psalm.

So, still my dripping pen is fain
To cross the plain of parchment white,
Unceasing at some rich man’s call,
Till wearied all am I to-night.

From the Irish of Saint Columbkille.