The Wanderings of Oisin

‘Give me the world if Thou wilt, but grant me an asylum for my affections.’


S. Patrick. You who are bent, and bald, and blind,
    With a heavy heart and a wandering mind,
    Have known three centuries, poets sing,
    Of dalliance with a demon thing.
Oisin. Sad to remember, sick with years,
    The swift innumerable spears,
    The horsemen with their floating hair,
    And bowls of barley, honey, and wine,
    Those merry couples dancing in tune,
    And the white body that lay by mine;
    But the tale, though words be lighter than air,
    Must live to be old like the wandering moon.
    Caoilte, and Conan, and Finn were there,
    When we followed a deer with our baying hounds,
    With Bran, Sceolan, and Lomair,
    And passing the Firbolgs’ burial-mounds,
    Came to the cairn-heaped grassy hill
    Where passionate Maeve is stony-still;
    And found on the dove-grey edge of the sea
    A pearl-pale, high-born lady, who rode
    On a horse with bridle of findrinny;
    And like a sunset were her lips,
    A stormy sunset on doomed ships;
    A citron colour gloomed in her hair,
    But down to her feet white vesture flowed,
    And with the glimmering crimson glowed
    Of many a figured embroidery;
    And it was bound with a pearl-pale shell
    That wavered like the summer streams,
    As her soft bosom rose and fell.
S. Patrick. You are still wrecked among heathen dreams.
Oisin. ‘Why do you wind no horn?’ she said.
    ‘And every hero droop his head?
    The hornless deer is not more sad
    That many a peaceful moment had,
    More sleek than any granary mouse,
    In his own leafy forest house
    Among the waving fields of fern:
    The hunting of heroes should be glad.’
    ‘O pleasant woman,’ answered Finn,
    ‘We think on Oscar’s pencilled urn,
    And on the heroes lying slain
    On Gabhra’s raven-covered plain;
    But where are your noble kith and kin,
    And from what country do you ride?’
    ‘My father and my mother are
    Aengus and Edain, my own name
    Niamh, and my country far
    Beyond the tumbling of this tide.’
    ‘What dream came with you that you came
    Through bitter tide on foam-wet feet?
    Did your companion wander away
    From where the birds of Aengus wing?’
    Thereon did she look haughty and sweet:
    ‘I have not yet, war-weary king,
    Been spoken of with any man;
    Yet now I choose, for these four feet
    Ran through the foam and ran to this
    That I might have your son to kiss.’
    ‘Were there no better than my son
    That you through all that foam should run?’
    ‘I loved no man, though kings besought,
    Until the Danaan poets brought
    Rhyme that rhymed upon Oisin’s name,
    And now I am dizzy with the thought
    Of all that wisdom and the fame
    Of battles broken by his hands,
    Of stories builded by his words
    That are like coloured Asian birds
    At evening in their rainless lands.’
    O Patrick, by your brazen bell,
    There was no limb of mine but fell
    Into a desperate gulph of love!
    ‘You only will I wed,’ I cried,
    ‘And I will make a thousand songs,
    And set your name all names above,
    And captives bound with leathern thongs
    Shall kneel and praise you, one by one,
    At evening in my western dun.’
    ‘O Oisin, mount by me and ride
    To shores by the wash of the tremulous tide,
    Where men have heaped no burial-mounds,
    And the days pass by like a wayward tune,
    Where broken faith has never been known,
    And the blushes of first love never have flown;
    And there I will give you a hundred hounds;
    No mightier creatures bay at the moon;
    And a hundred robes of murmuring silk,
    And a hundred calves and a hundred sheep
    Whose long wool whiter than sea-froth flows,
    And a hundred spears and a hundred bows,
    And oil and wine and honey and milk,
    And always never-anxious sleep;
    While a hundred youths, mighty of limb,
    But knowing nor tumult nor hate nor strife,
    And a hundred ladies, merry as birds,
    Who when they dance to a fitful measure
    Have a speed like the speed of the salmon herds,
    Shall follow your horn and obey your whim,
    And you shall know the Danaan leisure;
    And Niamh be with you for a wife.’
    Then she sighed gently, ‘It grows late.
    Music and love and sleep await,
    Where I would be when the white moon climbs,
    The red sun falls and the world grows dim.’
    And then I mounted and she bound me
    With her triumphing arms around me,
    And whispering to herself enwound me;
    But when the horse had felt my weight,
    He shook himself and neighed three times:
    Caoilte, Conan, and Finn came near,
    And wept, and raised their lamenting hands,
    And bid me stay, with many a tear;
    But we rode out from the human lands.
    In what far kingdom do you go,
    Ah, Fenians, with the shield and bow?
    Or are you phantoms white as snow,
    Whose lips had life’s most prosperous glow?
    O you, with whom in sloping valleys,
    Or down the dewy forest alleys,
    I chased at morn the flying deer,
    With whom I hurled the hurrying spear,
    And heard the foemen’s bucklers rattle,
    And broke the heaving ranks of battle!
    And Bran, Sceolan, and Lomair,
    Where are you with your long rough hair?
    You go not where the red deer feeds,
    Nor tear the foemen from their steeds.
S. Patrick. Boast not, nor mourn with drooping head
    Companions long accurst and dead,
    And hounds for centuries dust and air.
Oisin. We galloped over the glossy sea:
    I know not if days passed or hours,
    And Niamh sang continually
    Danaan songs, and their dewy showers
    Of pensive laughter, unhuman sound,

  By PanEris using Melati.

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