Dora Sigerson Shorter
The Fate Of Three Sons Of Uisneach And Dierdré, Daughter Of Feilim - Poem by Dora Sigerson Shorter
Woe to thee, daughter of Feilim! woe to thee, Deirdré!
Slain for thy sake were the three sons of Uisneach, and red
Grew the broad plains of Ulster, on Connaught unnumbered the dead.
Woe to thee, Deirdré!—Deirdré, daughter of Feilim.
Smiled the sweet babe in the face of the Druid and his warning,
Held her young mouth for his kissing, and wept at his scorning.
‘King Connor, there's woe for thy pity, this woman-child born,
This bud of sweet promise, will wound herself red with her thorn.
O King, in the future I prophesy evil before thee,
With the life of this child. Wilt thou listen and heed to my story?
The breath of a babe? or Connaught and Ulster in sorrow?
Let her be slain! Who remembers the deed on tomorrow?’
A dozen swords spring from their scabbards and flash fierce and bright,
The child for the fair steel stretched out her small hands in delight.
Connor laughed ‘Let her live, and if beauty should grant her a dower,
I will wed. Toast your queen, ere I hide her from fate in a tower.’
So the child prattled and grew fair as a wild-flower uncurled,
Till the maid's reason began to wonder how narrow her world,
What the great walls of the court hid from her inquisitive view,
What perfumed the wind from the west, and where went the finch when he flew.
Many sweet tales told her nurse, that fed her romantic young brain,
Till sleeping were sweet for its dreams, and waking was dreaming again.
What if their lone tower was built on a high rock right out in the sea,
Like the rock in that fountain of hers? or perhaps, it might be
The world were a garden of flowers. Comes a prince in a boat—
That dream-prince of hers—(thrice a raven, with threatening note,
Flaps his wings)—or mayhap on an elf steed he'd ride.
High walls could not stay him. She leaned from her casement and cried
‘Look, nurse, they have slain a young deer in the courtyard below,
And the raven awaits them. My prince shall have skin like yon snow,
As red as that blood be his lip, and his hair like the raven's black wing.’
‘Hush, dearest!’ the woman replied. ‘Hush, dearest, and think on the King!’
‘Oh, nurse, were the pretty flower safe to live on the ocean's broad breast?
Would the little wren fly for her home and her mate to the eagle's cold nest?’
‘Peace, childie! last night the wolf-hound howled long 'neath thy window-sill there.’
‘Sweet nurse! dost thou know of a youth, so pure-skinned, with raven dark hair?’
‘Peace, child! know the death-watch ticked night long at thy own bed-head,
And a cock crew thrice out of hours.’ ‘Oh, nurse! and with lips blood-red?’
‘Darling, in Connor's famed court, I've heard of as fair a young knight.’
‘Oh, nurse! I 've loved him in dreams.—Wilt bring him but once to my sight?’
Woe to thee, fair child of sorrow! Love laughs at high walls in derision.
Woe to Naois and Ainlé and Ardan, who rescued thee safe from thy prison.
Into the mouth of the lion they flew from the lion pursuing,
For Scotia's king saw the bride's face—loved the beauty that was her undoing,
And many were slain for her sake, till the brave sons of Ulster have spoken
‘Lo, King! it were sad, for one maid that our armies were scattered and broken.’
And Connor, aloud, to those chiefs, bade the three sons of Uisneach return—
Forgiven, come home to their land. But his heart was still hot with the burn
Of the shame of the maiden's desertion, and her scorn of a king and his glory;
He thought that the lips of the world must be glad on the theme of his story.
Tricked by a girl! how his pride turned the word, till Hate made it, in growing,
Fly back to the Druid and his warning. So this was the seed of his sowing.
He half thought it was writ on his brow, that the people were sick of their laughter;
He turned the stone in his sleeve ‘Let them laugh; he laughs best who laughs after.’
So Eogan, at word of the King, when he heard that the three youths had landed,
Was to welcome the brothers to Erinn, outspoken to seem and free-handed—
‘But’—this in a whisper aside—‘slay them, each man, without warning.’
So by the sword of a traitor fell Ainlé, Ardan, and Naois, for scorning
Of a king by the daughter of Feilim; and Deirdré was brought to King Connor.
What heeded she of his laughter, the sneers or the slights put upon her?
Since Naois was dead, her belovèd, the rose on her cheek paled with sorrow,
And laughter was dead on her lips, only tears were her own night and morrow,
Till the King a new vengeance had planned to wake her strange listlessness to life
To Eogan, the slayer of Naois, he gave the sad Deirdré to wife.
And Deirdré smiled once in his face as she mounted the steed by his side,
That was chafing to bear her away and bring the false Eogan his bride.
Never such quarry was seen as Connor's men hunted that day,
Never such laughter was heard as they followed up valley and brae,
For Connor the King for his vengeance was spending his courser's hot breath,
But Deirdré, the daughter of Feilim, was racing her brown steed for Death.
Woe to thee, daughter of Feilim! woe to thee, Deirdré!
Slain for thy sake were the fair sons of Uisneach, and red
Grew the broad plains of Ulster, on Connaught unnumbered the dead—
Woe to thee, Deirdré, Deirdré, daughter of Feilim!
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