Reminiscence Poem by Padraic Colum


Rating: 2.8

The Swallows sang
ALIEN to us are
Your fields, and your cotes, and your glebes;
Secret our nests are
Although they be built in your eaves;
Un-eaten by us are
The grains that grow in your fields.

The Weathercock on the barn answered
Not alien to ye are
The powers of un-earthbound beings:
Their curse ye would bring
On our cotes, and our glebes, and our fields,
If aught should befall
The brood that is bred in the eaves.

The Swallows answered
If aught should befall
Our brood that's not travelled the seas,
Your temples would fall,
And blood ye would milk from your beeves:
Against them the curse we would bring
Of un-earthbound beings!

I saw the wind to-day:
I saw it in the pane
Of glass upon the wall:
A moving thing 'twas like
No bird with widening wing,
No mouse that runs along
The meal bag under the beam.
I think it like a horse,
All black, with frightening mane.
That springs out of the earth,
And tramples on his way.
I saw it in the glass,
The shaking of a mane:
A horse that no one rides!

Meet for a town where pennies have few pairs
In children's pockets, this toyshop and its wares:
Jew's-harps and masks and kites
And paper lanterns with their farthing lights,
All in a dim lit window to be seen:
The walls that have the patches of the damp,
The counter where there burns the murky lamp,
And then, the counter and the shelf between,
The dame,
Meagre, grey-polled, lame.

And here she's been since times are legendary,
For Miler Dowdall whom we used to see
Upon the hoarding with deft hands held up
To win the champion's belt or silver cup-
Would come in here to buy a ball or top-
That Miler Dowdall, the great pugilist
Who had the world once beneath his fist!
Now Miler's is a name that's blown by!

How's custom? Bad enough! She had not sold
Kites for ten boys along the street to hold-
She sold them by the gross in times agone:
Wasn't it poor, the town
Where boys
Would count their mort of marbles, saving them
In crock or jar till round the season came,
And buy no more to handsel in first game?
And toys
The liveliest were stiffened like herself,
The brightest were grown drab upon her shelf!

But she's not tragical no, not a whit :
She laughs as she talks to you that is it
As paper lantern's farthing candle light
Her eyes are bright,
Her lame, spare frame upborne
A paper kite held by a string that's worn;
And like a jew's-harp when you strike its tongue
That way her voice goes on

Recalling long ago. And she will hop
The inches of her crib, this narrow shop,
When you step in to be her customer:
A bird of little worth, a sparrow, say,
Whose crib's in such neglected passageway
That one's left wondering who brings crumbs to her.

How strange to think that she is still inside
After so many turns of the tide
Since this lit window was a dragon's eye
To turn us all to wonder coming nigh
Since this dim window was a dragon's eye!

Down a street that once I lived in
You used to pass, a honey-seller,
And the town in which that street was
Was the shabbiest of all places;
You were different from the others
Who went by to barter meanly:
Different from the man with colored
Windmills for the children's pennies;
Different from the drab purveyor
With her paper screens to fill up
Chill and empty fireplaces.

You went by, a man upstanding,
On your head a wide dish, holding
Dark and golden lumps of honey;
You went slowly, like an old horse
That's not driven any longer,
But that likes to take an amble.

No one ever bought your honey,
No one ever paid a penny
For a single comb of sweetness;
Every house was grim unto you
With foregone desire of eating
Bread whose taste had sweet of honey.

Yet you went, a man contented
's though you had a king to call on
Who would take you to his parlour,
And buy all your stock of honey.
On you went, and in a sounding

Voice, just like the bell of evening,
Told us of the goods you carried,
Told us of the dark and golden
Treasure dripping on your wide dish.
You went by, and no one named you!

The crows still fly to that wood, and out of the wood she comes,
Carrying her load of sticks, a little less now than before,
Her strength being less; she bends as the hoar rush bends in the wind;
She will sit by the fire, in the smoke, her thoughts on root and the living branch no more.

The crows still fly to that wood, that wood that is sparse and gapped;
The last one left of the herd makes way by the lane to the stall,
Lowing distress as she goes; the great trees there are all down;
No fiddle sounds in the hut to-night, and a candle only gives light to the hall.

The trees are gapped and sparse, yet a sapling spreads on the joints
Of the wall, till the castle stones fall down into the moat:
The last one who minds that our race once stood as a spreading tree,
She goes, and thorns are bare, where the blackbird, his summer songs done, strikes one metal note.

The Mountain Thrush I say,
But I am thinking of her, Nell the Rambler:
She'd come down to our houses bird-alone,
From some haunt that was hers, and we would see her
Drawing the water from the well one day,
For one house or another, or we'd hear her
Garrulous with the turkeys down the street,
We children.

From neighbour's house to neighbour's house she'd go
Until one day we'd see
Her worn cloak hanging behind our door;
And then, that night, we'd hear
Of Earl Gerald: how he rides abroad,
His horse's hooves shod with the weighty silver,
And how he'll ride all roads till those silver shoes
Are worn thin;
As thin as the cat's ears before the fire,
Upraised in such content before the fire,
And making little lanterns in the firelight.

The Mountain Thrush, when every way's a hard one,
Hops on in numbness till a patch of sunlight,
Falling, will turn her to a wayside song;
So it was with her, Rambler Nell, a shelter,
A bit upon the board, and she flowed on
With rambler's discourse tales, and rhymes, and sayings,
With child's light in her worn eyes, and laughter
To all her words.

The lore she had-
'Twas like a kingly robe, on which long rains
Have fallen and fallen, and parted
The finely woven web, and have washed away
The kingly colours, but have left some threads
Still golden, and some feathers still as shining
As the kingfisher's. While she sat there, not spinning,
Not weaving anything but her own fancies,
We ate potatoes out of the ash, and thought them
Like golden apples out of Tiprobane.

When winter's over-long, and days that famish
Come one upon another like snowflakes,
The Mountain Thrush makes way down to our houses:
Hops round for crumbs, and stays a while, a comer
Upon our floors.

She did not think
Bread of dependence bitter; three went with her
Hunger, Sorrow, and Loneliness and they
Had crushed all that makes claims, though they'd not bent her,
Nor emptied her of trust what was it led her
From house to house, but that she always looked for
A warmer welcome at the hearth ahead?

So she went on until it came one day
The Mountain Thrush's heart-stop on the way.

An old man said, 'I saw
The chief of the things that are gone;
A stag with head held high,
A doe, and a fawn;

'And they were the deer of Ireland
That scorned to breed within bound:
The last; they left no race
Tame on a pleasure-ground.

'A stag, with his hide all rough
With the dew, and a doe and a fawn;
Nearby, on their track on the mountain,
I watched them, two and one,

'Down to the Shannon going-
Did its waters cease to flow
When they passed, they that carried the swiftness
And the pride of long ago?

'The last of the troop that had heard
Finn's and Oscar's cry;
A doe and a fawn, and before,
A stag with head held high!'

'A Stranger you came to me over the Sea,
But welcome I made you, Seumas-a-ree,
And shelter I gave you, my sons set to ward you,
Red war I faced for you, Seumas-a-ree.

'Now a craven you go from me over the Sea,
But my best sons go with you, Seumas-a-ree;
Foreign graves they will gam, and for those who remain
The black hemp is sown och, Seumas-a-ree!

'But the Boyne shall flow back from the wide Irish Sea,
On the Causeway of Aughrim our victory shall be:
Two hundreds of years and the child on the knee
Will be rocked to this cronach, Seumas-a-ree!'

You blew in
Where Jillin Brady kept up state on nothing,
Married her daughter, and brought to Jillin's house
A leash of dogs, a run of ferrets, a kite
In a wired box; linnets and larks and gold-finches
In their proper cages; and you brought with you this song:

If you come to look for me,
Perhaps you'll not me find:
For I'll not in my Castle be-
Inquire where horns wind.

Before I had a man-at-arms
I had an eager hound:
Then was I known as Reynardine,
In no crib to be found.

You used to say
Five hounds' lives were a man's life, and when Teague
Had died of old age, and when Fury that was a pup
When Teague was maundering, had turned from hill to hearth
And lay in the dimness of a hound's old age,
I went with you again, and you were upright
As the circus-rider standing on his horse;
Quick as a goat that will take any path, and lean-
Lean as a lash; you'd have no speech
With wife or child or mother-in-law till you
Were out of doors and standing on the ditch
Ready to face the river or the hill:

Then Hen-wife's son once heard the grouse
Talk to his soft-voiced mate;
And what he heard the health-poult say
The loon would not relate.

Impatient in the yard he grew,
And patient on the hill;
Of cocks and hens he'd take no charge.
And he went with Reynardine.

Lean days when we were idle as the birds,
That will not preen their feathers, but will travel
To taste a berry, or pull a shred of wool
That they will never use. We pass the bounds:
A forest's grave, the black bog is before us,
And in its very middle you will show me
The snipe's nest that is lonelier than the snipe
That's all that's there; and then a stony hill,
A red fox climbing, pausing, looking round his tail
At us travailing against wind and ram
To reach the river-spring where Finn or Fergus
Hardened a spear, back of a thousand years.

And still your cronies are what they were then
The hounds that know the hill and know the hearth
(One is Fury that's as old as Argos now
That crawled to Odysseus coming back);
Your minstrels, the blackbird singing still
When kites are leaving, crows are going home,
And the thrush in the morning like a spectre showing
Beside the day-spring; and your visitors,
The cuckoo that will swing upon a branch,
The corncrake with quick head between the grass-tufts.

And still your song is what it used to be
About that Reynardine who came to lord
A castle (O that castle with its trees!),
Who heard the horns, and let his turret grow
The foxglove where his banner should be seen:

The hawk is for the hill, he cried,
The badger for the glen;
The otter for the river-pools
Amen, amen, amen!

At the fore of the year, and on Candlemas Day,
All early at Mass I remarked her
Like the dew on green corn, as bright and as clear
Were her eyes, and her voice was the starling's!

With bragging and lies, I thought that her mind
I'd engage, and then win her with praises,
But through Spring and through Summer she has left me to rise
Every day with a pain that will slay me!

Oh, come, O my love, ere the life from me goes
If your hand but to lightly lay on me,
And a grief take away that none else can remove
For now 'tis the reaping of barley!

It would not be far for us two to go back to the age of bronze:
Then you were a king's daughter, your father had curraghs on hore,
A herd of horses, good tillage upon the face of four hills,
And clumps of cattle beyond them where rough-browed men showed their spears.
And I was good at the bow, but had no men, no herds,
And your father would have bestowed you in a while on some unrenowned
Ulysses, or on the old king to whom they afterwards raised
Three stones as high as the elk's head (this cromlech, maybe, where we sit)

How fair you were when you walked beside the old forest trees!
So fair that I thought you would change and fly away as a swan,
And then we were mates for play, and then all eagle you grew
To drive me to range the tempest king's child of the hero-age!
I called three times as an owl: through the gap where the herdsmen watched
You ran, and we climbed the height where the brackens pushed at our knees;
And we lay where the brackens drew the earth-smell out of the earth,
And we journeyed and baffled the fighters of three ill-wishing kings!
It would not be far for us two to go back to the age of bronze
The fire left by the nomads is lone as a burning ship!
We eat them as we pass by, the ears of the sweet green wheat!
At last, a king, I relieve a good clan from a dragon's spleen!
Pieces of amber I brought you, big as a bowman's thumbs,
Trumpets I left beside you, wrought when the smiths had all art,
A dancing-bird that I caught you they are back in the age of bronze:
I give what I made, and found, and caught a score of songs!

Padraic Colum

Padraic Colum

County Longford
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