Biography of William Allingham
He was born in Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal, Ireland, and was the son of the manager of a local bank who was of English descent. He obtained a post in the custom-house of his native town and held several similar posts in Ireland and England until 1870, when he had retired from the service, and became sub-editor of Fraser's Magazine, which he edited from 1874 to 1879, in succession to James Froude. He had published a volume of Poems in 1850, followed by Day and Night Songs, a volume containing many charming lyrics, in 1855.
Allingham was on terms of close friendship with DG Rossetti, who contributed to the illustration of the Songs. His Letters to Allingham (1854-1870) were edited by Dr. Birkbeck Hill in 1897. Lawrence Bloomfield in Ireland, his most ambitious, though not his most successful work, a narrative poem illustrative of Irish social questions, appeared in 1864. He also edited The Ballad Book for the Golden Treasury series in 1864.
In 1874 Allingham married Helen Paterson, known under her married name as a water-colour painter. He died at Hampstead in 1889, and his ashes are interred at St. Anne's in his native Ballyshannon.
Though working on an unostentatious scale, Allingham produced much excellent lyrical and descriptive poetry, and the best of his pieces are thoroughly national in spirit and local colouring. His verse is clear, fresh, and graceful.
Other works are Fifty Modern Poems (1865), Songs, Poems, and Ballads (1877), Evil May Day (1883), Blackberries (1884), Irish Songs and Poems (1887), and Varieties in Prose (1893), and, arguably his most famous work, "The Faeries" (see below).
William Allingham: a Diary (1907), edited by Mrs Allingham and D Radford, contains many interesting reminiscences of Tennyson, Carlyle and other famous contemporaries.
The Ulster poet John Harold Hewitt felt Allingham's influence keenly, and his attempts to revive his reputation included editing and writing an introduction to The Poems of William Allingham (Oxford University Press/ Dolmen Press, 1967).
William Allingham's Works:
Fifty Modern Poems (1865)
Songs, Poems, and Ballads (1877)
Evil May Day (1883)
Irish Songs and Poems (1887)
Varieties in Prose (1893)
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William Allingham Poems
Up the airy mountain, Down the rushy glen, We daren't go a-hunting For fear of little men;
See how a Seed, which Autumn flung down, And through the Winter neglected lay, Uncoils two little green leaves and two brown, With tiny root taking hold on the clay
A Day-Dream's Reflection
Chequer'd with woven shadows as I lay Among the grass, blinking the watery gleam, I saw an Echo-Spirit in his bay Most idly floating in the noontide beam.
The Lepracaun or Fairy Shoemaker
Little Cowboy, what have you heard, Up on the lonely rath's green mound? Only the plaintive yellow bird Sighing in sultry fields around,
Far from the churchyard dig his grave, On some green mound beside the wave; To westward, sea and sky alone, And sunsets. Put a mossy stone,
Four ducks on a pond, A grass-bank beyond, A blue sky of spring, White clouds on the wing;
I heard the dogs howl in the moonlight night; I went to the window to see the sight; All the Dead that ever I knew Going one by one and two by two.
O English mother, in the ruddy glow Hugging your baby closer when outside You see the silent, soft, and cruel snow Falling again, and think what ills betide
The Boy from his bedroom-window Look'd over the little town, And away to the bleak black upland Under a clouded moon.
Down on the Shore
Down on the shore, on the sunny shore! Where the salt smell cheers the land; Where the tide moves bright under boundless light, And the surge on the glittering strand;
In early morning twilight, raw and chill, Damp vapours brooding on the barren hill, Through miles of mire in steady grave array Threescore well-arm'd police pursue their way;
That which he did not feel, he would not sing; What most he felt, religion it was to hide In a dumb darkling grotto, where the spring Of tremulous tears, arising unespied,
Now Autumn's fire burns slowly along the woods, And day by day the dead leaves fall and melt, And night by night the monitory blast Wails in the key-hold, telling how it pass'd
I thought it was the little bed I slept in long ago; A straight white curtain at the head, And two smooth knobs below.
That which he did not feel, he would not sing;
What most he felt, religion it was to hide
In a dumb darkling grotto, where the spring
Of tremulous tears, arising unespied,
Became a holy well that durst not glide
Into the day with moil or murmuring;
Whereto, as if to some unlawful thing,
He sto]e, musing or praying at its side.