Padraic Colum

(8 December 1881 – 11 January 1972 / County Longford)

The Ballad Of Downal Baun - Poem by Padraic Colum

The moon-cradle's rocking and rocking,
Where a cloud and a cloud goes by:
Silently rocking and rocking,
The moon-cradle out in the sky.

The hound's in his loop by the fire,
The bond-woman spins at the door;
One rides on a horse through the court-yard:
The sword-sheath drops on the floor.

MY grandfather, Downal Baun,
Had the dream that comes three times:
He dreamt it first when, a servant-boy,
He lay by the nets and the lines,

In the house of Fargal More,
And by Fargal's ash-strewn fire,
When Downal had herded the kine in the waste,
And had foddered them all in the byre;

And he dreamt the dream when he lay
Under sails that were spread to the main,
When he took his rest amid dusky seas,
On the deck of a ship of Spain;

And the dream came to him beneath
The roof he had raised in his pride,
When beside him there lay and dreamt of her kin,
His strange and far-brought bride.

He had dreamt three times of the treasure
That fills a broken tale
The hoard of the folk who had raised the mounds,
Who had brewed the Heather Ale;

And he knew by the thrice-come dream
He could win that hoard by right,
If he drew it out of the lake by a rush
Upon Saint Brighid's Night,
By rushes strung to the yoke of an ox
That had never a hair of white!

So Downal, the silent man,
Went to many a far-off fair,
And he bought him an ox no man could say
Was white by a single hair;

And he came to the edge of the lake
Where no curlew cried overhead:
Silent and bare from the shaking reeds
The lake-waters spread;

And he found it afloat on the current,
The yoke that was hard for the brunt;
And he took the yoke and he bound it,
Upon the ox its front;

It was strung with a tie of rushes:
He saw the burthened net:
By the push of the ox, by the pull on the rush
Towards the shore the hoard was set'

Gold cups for Downal Baun,
Sword hilts that Kings' hands wore!
O the rush-string drew the treasure
Till the ripples touched the shore!

Red rings for Downal's bride,
With silver for her rein!
But weight was laid on each mesh of the net,
And the lake held its own again!

'I will break their strength,' he cried,
'Though they put forth all of their might,
For to me was given the yoke and the dream,
And the ox with no hair of white.'

He whispered, 'Labour, O Creature.'
The wide-horned head was set;
The runnels came from eyes, nose and mouth;
The thick hide was all sweat.

'Forgive me the goad, O Creature!'
It hunched from foreleg to flank,
Heaved; then the yoke on its forehead
Split, and the treasure sank,
And Downal was left with the broken yoke,
And the silent ox on the bank.

He turned the ox to the sedges;
He took it and held the yoke up,
Then he flung it far back in the waters
Of the dark mountain-cup;

And he shouted, 'Doomsters, I know
Till five score years from this night,
The treasure is lost, and I trow
My ox has the hair of white.'

He stood by the ox its front,
And brute and man were still,
Till Downal saw lights burn on the lake,
And fires within the hill.

He turned: a horse was beside him;
It was white as his ox was black;
Who rode it was a woman:
She paced with him down the track;

And along a road not straitened
By ridge or tower or wood,
And past where the Stones of Morna
Like headless giants stood;

And then on the Night of Saint Brighid,
The prayer of her vigil he said,
When he looked on the white-horsed woman,
And saw the sign on her head.

'The silks that I wear to my elbows,
The golden clasps at my side,
The silver upon my girdle
I will give them for your bride.'
'Such gear, O Horned Woman,
Makes due a pledge, I deem.'
'Nay. I will gift you freely,
And you shall tell your dream.'

'They say that whoever tells not
His dream till he hears the birds
That man will know the prophecies
In long-remembered words.'

'Nay. Tell your dream. Then this hazel
Distaff your wife will gain.'
'The thing that comes in silence,' he said,
'In silence must remain.'

'O dream-taught man,' said the woman
She stood where the willows grew,
A woman from the country
Where the cocks never crew!

'O dream-taught man,' said the woman
She stayed by a running stream
'As wise, as wise as the man,' she said,
'Who never told his dream.'

Then, swift as the flight of the sea-pie,
White woman, white horse, went away,
And Downal passed his haggard,
And faced the spear of the day;

And brought his ox to the byre,
And gave it a measure of straw
'A white hair you have,' said Downal,
'But my plough you are fit to draw,

'And for no dream you'll be burthened,
And for none you will bear the yoke.'
Then he lifted the latch of his house-door,
And his bride at his coming awoke,
And he drank the milk that she gave him,
And the bread she made he broke.

The ox was his help thereafter
When he ploughed the upland and lea,
And the growth on the Ridge of the Black Ox
Had a place in men's memory.

And my grandfather, Downal Baun,
Henceforth grew in gains where he stood
Strong salmon of Lough Oughter,
Grey hawk of the shady wood!
The moon-cradle's rocking and rocking,
Where a cloud and a cloud goes by:
Silently rocking and rocking,
The moon-cradle out in the sky.

To morrow well gather the rushes,
And plait them beside our fire,
And make Saint Brighid's crosses
To hang in the room and the byre.

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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, April 20, 2010

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