The Voyage Of St. Brendan. A.D. 545. - Complete

A poem by Denis Florence MacCarthy

[We are informed that Brendan, hearing of the previous voyage of his cousin, Barinthus, in the western ocean, and obtaining an account from him of the happy isles he had landed on in the far west, determined, under the strong desire of winning heathen souls to Christ, to undertake a voyage of discovery himself. And aware that all along the western coast of Ireland there were many traditions respecting the existence of a western land, he proceeded to the islands of Arran, and there remained for some time, holding communication with the venerable St. Enda, and obtaining from him much information relating to his voyage. Having prosecuted his inquiries with diligence, Brendan returned to his native Kerry; and from a bay sheltered by the lofty mountain that is now known by his name, he set sail for the Atlantic land; and, directing his course towards the south-west, in order to meet the summer solstice, or what we should call the tropic, after a long and rough voyage, his little bark being well provisioned, he came to summer seas, where he was carried along, without the aid of sail or oar, for many a long day. This, which it is to be presumed was the great gulf-stream, brought his vessel to shore somewhere about the Virginian capes, or where the American coast tends eastward, and forms the New England States. Here landing, he and his companions marched steadily into the interior for fifteen days, and then came to a large river, flowing from east to west: this, evidently, was the river Ohio. And this the holy adventurer was about to cross, when he was accosted by a person of noble presence--but whether a real or visionary man does not appear--who told him he had gone far enough; that further discoveries were reserved for other men, who would, in due time, come and Christianise all that pleasant land. It is said he remained seven years away, and returned to set up a college of three thousand monks, at Clonfert.--"Caesar Otway's Sketches in Erris and Tyrawley," note, pp. 98, 99.]

The Voyage Of St. Brendan. A.D. 545. - THE VOCATION.

[When St. Brendan was an infant, says Colgan, he was placed under the care of St. Ita, and remained with her five years, after which period he was led away by Bishop Ercus in order to receive from him the more solid instruction necessary for his advancing years. Brendan always retained the greatest respect and affection for his foster-mother, and he is represented, after his seven years' voyage, amusing St. Ita with an account of his adventures in the ocean.]

O Ita, mother of my heart and mind--
My nourisher, my fosterer, my friend,
Who taught me first to God's great will resigned,
Before his shining altar-steps to bend;
Who poured his word upon my soul like balm,
And on mine eyes what pious fancy paints--
And on mine ear the sweetly swelling psalm,
And all the sacred knowledge of the saints;

To whom but thee, dear mother, should be told
Of all the wonders I have seen afar?--
Islands more green and suns of brighter gold
Than this dear land or yonder blazing star;
Of hills that bear the fruit-trees on their tops,
And seas that dimple with eternal smiles;
Of airs from heaven that fan the golden crops,
O'er the great ocean 'mid the blessed isles!

Thou knowest, O my mother! how to thee
The blessed Ercus led me when a boy,
And how within thine arms and at thine knee,
I learned the lore that death cannot destroy;
And how I parted hence with bitter tears,
And felt, when turning from thy friendly door,
In the reality of ripening years,
My paradise of childhood was no more.

I wept--but not with sin such tear-drops flow;--
I sighed--for earthly things with heaven entwine;
Tears make the harvest of the heart to grow,
And love though human is almost divine.
The heart that loves not knows not how to pray;
The eye can never smile that never weeps:
'Tis through our sighs hope's kindling sunbeams play
And through our tears the bow of promise peeps.

I grew to manhood by the western wave,
Among the mighty mountains on the shore:
My bed the rock within some natural cave,
My food whate'er the seas or seasons bore:
My occupation, morn and noon and night:
The only dream my hasty slumbers gave,
Was Time's unheeding, unreturning flight,
And the great world that lies beyond the grave.

And thus, where'er I went, all things to me
Assumed the one deep colour of my mind;
Great nature's prayer rose from the murmuring sea,
And sinful man sighed in the wintry wind.
The thick-veiled clouds by shedding many a tear,
Like penitents, grew purified and bright,
And, bravely struggling through earth's atmosphere,
Passed to the regions of eternal light.

I loved to watch the clouds now dark and dun,
In long procession and funeral line,
Pass with slow pace across the glorious sun,
Like hooded monks before a dazzling shrine.
And now with gentler beauty as they rolled
Along the azure vault in gladsome May,
Gleaming pure white, and edged with broidered gold,
Like snowy vestments on the Virgin's day.

And then I saw the mighty sea expand
Like Time's unmeasured and unfathomed waves,
One with its tide-marks on the ridgy sand,
The other with its line of weedy graves;
And as beyond the outstretched wave of time,
The eye of Faith a brighter land may meet,
So did I dream of some more sunny clime
Beyond the waste of waters at my feet.

Some clime where man, unknowing and unknown,
For God's refreshing word still gasps and faints;
Or happier rather some Elysian zone,
Made for the habitation of his saints:
Where Nature's love the sweat of labour spares,
Nor turns to usury the wealth it lends,
Where the rich soil spontaneous harvest bears,
And the tall tree with milk-filled clusters bends.

The thought grew stronger with my growing days,
Even like to manhood's strengthening mind and limb,
And often now amid the purple haze
That evening breathed upon the horizon's rim--
Methought, as there I sought my wished-for home,
I could descry amid the waters green,
Full many a diamond shrine and golden dome,
And crystal palaces of dazzling sheen.

And then I longed, with impotent desire,
Even for the bow whereby the Python bled,
That I might send on dart of the living fire
Into that land, before the vision fled,
And thus at length fix the enchanted shore,
Hy-Brasail, Eden of the western wave!
That thou again wouldst fade away no more,
Buried and lost within thy azure grave.

But angels came and whispered as I dreamt,
"This is no phantom of a frenzied brain--
God shows this land from time to time to tempt
Some daring mariner across the main:
By thee the mighty venture must be made,
By thee shall myriad souls to Christ be won!
Arise, depart, and trust to God for aid!"
I woke, and kneeling, cried, "His will be done!"

Ara Of The Saints.[1]

Hearing how blessed Enda lived apart,
Amid the sacred caves of Ara-mhor,
And how beneath his eye, spread like a chart,
Lay all the isles of that remotest shore;
And how he had collected in his mind
All that was known to man of the Old Sea,[2]
I left the Hill of Miracles[3] behind,
And sailed from out the shallow, sandy Leigh.

Betwixt the Samphire Isles swam my light skiff,
And like an arrow flew through Fenor Sound,
Swept by the pleasant strand, and the tall cliff,
Whereon the pale rose amethysts are found.
Rounded Moyferta's rocky point, and crossed
The mouth of stream-streaked Erin's mightiest tide,
Whose troubled waves break o'er the City lost,
Chafed by the marble turrets that they hide.

Beneath Ibrickan's hills, moory and tame,
And Inniscaorach's caves, so wild and dark,
I sailed along. The white-faced otter came,
And gazed in wonder on my floating bark.
The soaring gannet, perched upon my mast,
And the proud bird, that flies but o'er the sea,
Wheeled o'er my head: and the girrinna passed
Upon the branch of some life-giving tree.[4]

Leaving the awful cliffs of Corcomroe,
I sought the rocky eastern isle, that bears
The name of blessed Coemhan, who doth show
Pity unto the storm-tossed seaman's prayers;
Then crossing Bealach-na-fearbach's treacherous sound,
I reached the middle isle, whose citadel
Looks like a monarch from its throne around;
And there I rested by St. Kennerg's well.

Again I sailed, and crossed the stormy sound
That lies beneath Binn-Aite's rocky height--
And there, upon the shore, the Saint I found
Waiting my coming though the tardy night.
He led me to his home beside the wave,
Where, with his monks, the pious father dwelled,
And to my listening ear he freely gave
The sacred knowledge that his bosom held.

When I proclaimed the project that I nursed,
How 'twas for this that I his blessing sought,
An irrepressible cry of joy outburst
From his pure lips, that blessed me for the thought.
He said that he, too, had in visions strayed
Over the untracked ocean's billowy foam;
Bid me have hope, that God would give me aid,
And bring me safe back to my native home.

Oft, as we paced that marble-covered land,
Would blessed Enda tell me wondrous tales--
How, for the children of his love, the hand
Of the Omnipotent Father never fails--
How his own sister,[5] standing by the side
Of the great sea, which bore no human bark,
Spread her light cloak upon the conscious tide,
And sailed thereon securely as an ark.

And how the winds become the willing slaves
Of those who labour in the work of God;
And how Scothinus walked upon the waves,
Which seemed to him the meadow's verdant sod.
How he himself came hither with his flock,
To teach the infidels from Corcomroe,
Upon the floating breast of the hard rock,
Which lay upon the glistening sands below.

But not alone of miracles and joys
Would Enda speak--he told me of his dream;
When blessed Kieran went to Clonmacnois,
To found the sacred churches by the stream--
How he did weep to see the angels flee
Away from Arran as a place accursed;
And men tear up the island-shading tree,
Out of the soil from which it sprung at first.

At length I tore me from the good man's sight,
And o'er Loch Lurgan's mouth[6] took my lone way,
Which, in the sunny morning's golden light,
Shone like the burning lake of Lassarae;
Now 'neath heaven's frown--and now, beneath its smile--
Borne on the tide, or driven before the gale;
And, as I passed MacDara's sacred Isle,
Thrice bowed my mast, and thrice let down my sail.

Westward of Arran as I sailed away;
I saw the fairest sight eye can behold--
Rocks which, illumined by the morning's ray,
Seemed like a glorious city built of gold.
Men moved along each sunny shining street,
Fires seemed to blaze, and curling smoke to rise,
When lo! the city vanished, and a fleet,
With snowy sails, rose on my ravished eyes.

Thus having sought for knowledge and for strength,
For the unheard-of voyage that I planned,
I left these myriad isles, and turned at length
Southward my bark, and sought my native land.
There made I all things ready, day by day,
The wicker-boat, with ox-skins covered o'er--
Chose the good monks companions of my way,
And waited for the wind to leave the shore.


At length the long-expected morning came,
When from the opening arms of that wild bay,
Beneath the hill that bears my humble name,
Over the waves we took our untracked way;
Sweetly the morning lay on tarn and rill,
Gladly the waves played in its golden light,
And the proud top of the majestic hill
Shone in the azure air, serene and bright.

Over the sea we flew that sunny morn,
Not without natural tears and human sighs:
For who can leave the land where he was born,
And where, perchance, a buried mother lies;
Where all the friends of riper manhood dwell,
And where the playmates of his childhood sleep:
Who can depart, and breathe a cold farewell,
Nor let his eyes their honest tribute weep?

Our little bark, kissing the dimpled smiles
On ocean's cheek, flew like a wanton bird,
And then the land, with all its hundred isles,
Faded away, and yet we spoke no word.
Each silent tongue held converse with the past,
Each moistened eye looked round the circling wave,
And, save the spot where stood our trembling mast,
Saw all things hid within one mighty grave.

We were alone, on the wide watery waste--
Nought broke its bright monotony of blue,
Save where the breeze the flying billows chased,
Or where the clouds their purple shadows threw.
We were alone--the pilgrims of the sea--
One boundless azure desert round us spread;
No hope, no trust, no strength, except in THEE,
Father, who once the pilgrim-people led.

And when the bright-faced sun resigned his throne
Unto the Ethiop queen, who rules the night,
Who with her pearly crown and starry zone,
Fills the dark dome of heaven with silvery light;--
As on we sailed, beneath her milder sway,
And felt within our hearts her holier power,
We ceased from toil, and humbly knelt to pray,
And hailed with vesper hymns the tranquil hour!

For then, indeed, the vaulted heavens appeared
A fitting shrine to hear their Maker's praise,
Such as no human architect has reared,
Where gems, and gold, and precious marbles blaze.
What earthly temple such a roof can boast?--
What flickering lamp with the rich starlight vies,
When the round moon rests, like the sacred Host,
Upon the azure altar of the skies?

We breathed aloud the Christian's filial prayer,
Which makes us brothers even with the Lord;
Our Father, cried we, in the midnight air,
In heaven and earth be thy great name adored;
May thy bright kingdom, where the angels are,
Replace this fleeting world, so dark and dim.
And then, with eyes fixed on some glorious star,
We sang the Virgin-Mother's vesper hymn!

Hail, brightest star! that o'er life's troubled sea
Shines pitying down from heaven's elysian blue!
Mother and Maid, we fondly look to thee,
Fair gate of bliss, where heaven beams brightly through.
Star of the morning! guide our youthful days,
Shine on our infant steps in life's long race,
Star of the evening! with thy tranquil rays,
Gladden the aged eyes that seek thy face.

Hail, sacred Maid! thou brighter, better Eve,
Take from our eyes the blinding scales of sin;
Within our hearts no selfish poison leave,
For thou the heavenly antidote canst win.
O sacred Mother! 'tis to thee we run--
Poor children, from this world's oppressive strife;
Ask all we need from thy immortal Son,
Who drank of death, that we might taste of life.

Hail, spotless Virgin! mildest, meekest maid--
Hail! purest Pearl that time's great sea hath borne--
May our white souls, in purity arrayed,
Shine, as if they thy vestal robes had worn;
Make our hearts pure, as thou thyself art pure,
Make safe the rugged pathway of our lives,
And make us pass to joys that will endure
When the dark term of mortal life arrives.[7]

'Twas thus, in hymns, and prayers, and holy psalms,
Day tracking day, and night succeeding night,
Now driven by tempests, now delayed by calms,
Along the sea we winged our varied flight.
Oh! how we longed and pined for sight of land!
Oh! how we sighed for the green pleasant fields!
Compared with the cold waves, the barest strand--
The bleakest rock--a crop of comfort yields.

Sometimes, indeed, when the exhausted gale,
In search of rest, beneath the waves would flee,
Like some poor wretch who, when his strength doth fail,
Sinks in the smooth and unsupporting sea:
Then would the Brothers draw from memory's store
Some chapter of life's misery or bliss,
Some trial that some saintly spirit bore,
Or else some tale of passion, such as this:


[The peasants who live near the mouth of the Shannon point to a part of the river within the headlands over which the tides rush with extraordinary rapidity and violence. They say it is the site of a lost city, long buried beneath the waves.--See Hall's "Ireland," vol. iii. p. 436.]

Beside that giant stream that foams and swells
Betwixt Hy-Conaill and Moyarta's shore,
And guards the isle where good Senanus dwells,
A gentle maiden dwelt in days of yore.
She long has passed out of Time's aching womb,
And breathes Eternity's favonian air;
Yet fond Tradition lingers o'er her tomb,
And paints her glorious features as they were:--

Her smile was Eden's pure and stainless light,
Which never cloud nor earthly vapour mars;
Her lustrous eyes were like the noon of night--
Black, but yet brightened by a thousand stars;
Her tender form, moulded in modest grace,
Shrank from the gazer's eye, and moved apart;
Heaven shone reflected in her angel face,
And God reposed within her virgin heart.

She dwelt in green Moyarta's pleasant land,
Beneath the graceful hills of Clonderlaw,--
Sweet sunny hills, whose triple summits stand,
One vast tiara over stream and shaw.
Almost in solitude the maiden grew,
And reached her early budding woman's prime;
And all so noiselessly the swift time flew,
She knew not of the name or flight of Time.

And thus, within her modest mountain nest,
This gentle maiden nestled like a dove,
Offering to God from her pure innocent breast
The sweet and silent incense of her love.
No selfish feeling nor presumptuous pride
In her calm bosom waged unnatural strife;
Saint of her home and hearth, she sanctified
The thousand trivial common cares of life.

Upon the opposite shore there dwelt a youth,
Whose nature's woof was woven of good and ill--
Whose stream of life flowed to the sea of truth,
But in a devious course, round many a hill--
Now lingering through a valley of delight,
Where sweet flowers bloomed, and summer songbirds sung,
Now hurled along the dark, tempestuous night,
With gloomy, treeless mountains overhung.

He sought the soul of Beauty throughout space,
Knowledge he tracked through many a vanished age:
For one he scanned fair Nature's radiant face,
And for the other, Learning's shrivelled page.
If Beauty sent some fair apostle down,
Or Knowledge some great teacher of her lore,
Bearing the wreath of rapture and the crown,
He knelt to love, to learn, and to adore.

Full many a time he spread his little sail,
How rough the river, or how dark the skies,
Gave his light corrach to the angry gale,
And crossed the stream to gaze on Ethna's eyes.
As yet 'twas worship, more than human love,
That hopeless adoration that we pay
Unto some glorious planet throned above,
Through severed from its crystal sphere for aye.

But warmer love an easy conquest won,
The more he came to green Moyarta's bowers;
Even as the earth, by gazing on the sun,
In summer-time puts forth her myriad flowers.
The yearnings of his heart--vague, undefined--
Wakened and solaced by ideal gleams,
Took everlasting shape, and intertwined
Around this incarnation of his dreams.

Some strange fatality restrained his tongue--
He spoke not of the love that filled his breast;
The thread of hope, on which his whole life hung,
Was far too weak to bear so strong a test.
He trusted to the future--time, or chance--
His constant homage and assiduous care;
Preferred to dream, and lengthen out his trance,
Rather than wake to knowledge and despair.

And thus she knew not, when the youth would look
Upon some pictured chronicle of eld,
In every blazoned letter of the book
One fairest face was all that he beheld:
And where the limner, with consummate art,
Drew flowing lines and quaint devices rare,
The wildered youth, by looking from the heart,
Saw nought but lustrous eyes and waving hair.

He soon was startled from his dreams, for now--
'Twas said, obedient to a heavenly call--
His life of life would take the vestal vow,
In one short month, within a convent's wall.
He heard the tidings with a sickening fear,
But quickly had the sudden faintness flown,
And vowed, though heaven or hell should interfere,
Ethna--his Ethna--should be his alone!

He sought his boat, and snatched the feathery oar--
It was the first and brightest morn of May:
The white-winged clouds, that sought the northern shore,
Seemed but Love's guides, to point him out the way.
The great old river heaved its mighty heart,
And, with a solemn sigh, went calmly on;
As if of all his griefs it felt a part,
But know they should be borne, and so had gone.

Slowly his boat the languid breeze obeyed,
Although the stream that that light burden bore
Was like the level path the angels made,
Through the rough sea, to Arran's blessed shore;
And from the rosy clouds the light airs fanned,
And from the rich reflection that they gave,
Like good Scothinus, had he reached his hand,
He might have plucked a garland from the wave.

And now the noon in purple splendour blazed,
The gorgeous clouds in slow procession filed;
The youth leaned o'er with listless eyes and gazed
Down through the waves on which the blue heavens smiled:
What sudden fear his gasping breath doth drown!
What hidden wonder fires his startled eyes!
Down in the deep, full many a fathom down,
A great and glorious city buried lies.

Not like those villages with rude-built walls,
That raise their humble roofs round every coast,
But holding marble basilics and halls,
Such as imperial Rome herself might boast.
There was the palace and the poor man's home,
And upstart glitter and old-fashioned gloom,
The spacious porch, the nicely rounded dome,
The hero's column, and the martyr's tomb.

There was the cromleach with its circling stones;
There the green rath and the round narrow tower;
There was the prison whence the captive's groans
Had many a time moaned in the midnight hour.
Beneath the graceful arch the river flowed,
Around the walls the sparkling waters ran,
The golden chariot rolled along the road--
All, all was there except the face of man.

The wondering youth had neither thought nor word,
He felt alone the power and will to die;
His little bark seemed like an outstretched bird,
Floating along that city's azure sky.
It joyed that youth the battle's storm to brave,
And yet he would have perished with affright,
Had not the breeze, rippling the lucid wave,
Concealed the buried city from his sight.

He reached the shore; the rumour was too true--
Ethna--his Ethna--would be God's alone
In one brief month; for which the maid withdrew,
To seek for strength before his blessed throne.
Was it the fire that on his bosom preyed,
Or the temptation of the Fiend abhorred,
That made him vow to snatch the white-veiled maid
Even from the very altar of her Lord?

The first of June, that festival of flowers,
Came, like a goddess, o'er the meadows green!
And all the children of the spring-tide showers
Rose from their grassy beds to hail their Queen.
A song of joy, a paean of delight,
Rose from the myriad life in the tall grass,
When the young Dawn, fresh from the sleep of night,
Glanced at her blushing face in Ocean's glass.

Ethna awoke--a second--brighter dawn--
Her mother's fondling voice breathed in her ear;
Quick from her couch she started as a fawn
Bounds from the heather when her dam is near.
Each clasped the other in a long embrace--
Each know the other's heart did beat and bleed--
Each kissed the warm tears from the other's face,
And gave the consolation she did need.

Oh! bitterest sacrifice the heart can make--
That of a mother of her darling child--
That of a child, who, for her Saviour's sake,
Leaves the fond face that o'er her cradle smiled.
They who may think that God doth never need
So great, so sad a sacrifice as this,
While they take glory in their easier creed,
Will feel and own the sacrifice it is.

All is prepared--the sisters in the choir--
The mitred abbot on his crimson throne--
The waxen tapers, with their pallid fire
Poured o'er the sacred cup and altar-stone--
The upturned eyes, glistening with pious tears--
The censer's fragrant vapour floating o'er;
Now all is hushed, for, lo! the maid appears,
Entering with solemn step the sacred door.

She moved as moves the moon, radiant and pale,
Through the calm night, wrapped in a silvery cloud;
The jewels of her dress shone through her veil,
As shine the stars through their thin vaporous shroud;
The brighter jewels of her eyes were hid
Beneath their smooth white caskets arching o'er,
Which, by the trembling of each ivory lid,
Seemed conscious of the treasures that they bore.

She reached the narrow porch and the tall door,
Her trembling foot upon the sill was placed--
Her snowy veil swept the smooth-sanded floor--
Her cold hands chilled the bosom they embraced.
Who is this youth, whose forehead, like a book,
Bears many a deep-traced character of pain?
Who looks for pardon as the damned may look--
That ever pray, and know they pray in vain.

'Tis he, the wretched youth--the Demon's prey;
One sudden bound, and he is at her side--
One piercing shriek, and she has swooned away,
Dim are her eyes, and cold her heart's warm tide.
Horror and terror seize the startled crowd;
The sinewy hands are nerveless with affright;
When, as the wind beareth a summer cloud,
The youth bears off the maiden from their sight.

Close to the place the stream rushed roaring by,
His little boat lay moored beneath the bank,
Hid from the shore, and from the gazer's eye,
By waving reeds and water-willows dank.
Hither, with flying feet and glowing brow,
He fled, as quick as fancies in a dream--
Placed the insensate maiden in the prow--
Pushed from the shore, and gained the open stream.

Scarce had he left the river's foamy edge,
When sudden darkness fell on hill and plain;
The angry sun, shocked at the sacrilege,
Fled from the heavens with all his golden train;
The stream rushed quicker, like a man afeared;
Down swept the storm and clove its breast of green,
And though the calm and brightness reappeared
The youth and maiden never more were seen.

Whether the current in its strong arms bore
Their bark to green Hy-Brasail's fairy halls,
Or whether, as is told along that shore,
They sunk within the buried city's walls;
Whether through some Elysian clime they stray,
Or o'er their whitened bones the river rolls;--
Whate'er their fate, my brothers, let us pray
To God for peace and pardon to their souls.

Such was the brother's tale of earthly love--
He ceased, and sadly bowed his reverend head:
For us, we wept, and raised our eyes above,
And sang the 'De Profundis' for the dead.
A freshening breeze played on our moistened cheeks,
The far horizon oped its walls of light,
And lo! with purple hills and sun-bright peaks
A glorious isle gleamed on our gladdened sight,


"Post resurrectionis diem dominicae navigabitis ad altam insulam ad occidentalem plagam, quae vocatur PARADISUS AVIUM."--"Life of St. Brendan," in Capgrave, fol. 45.

It was the fairest and the sweetest scene--
The freshest, sunniest, smiling land that e'er
Held o'er the waves its arms of sheltering green
Unto the sea and storm-vexed mariner:--
No barren waste its gentle bosom scarred,
Nor suns that burn, nor breezes winged with ice,
Nor jagged rocks (Nature's grey ruins) marred
The perfect features of that Paradise.

The verdant turf spreads from the crystal marge
Of the clear stream, up the soft-swelling hill,
Rose-bearing shrubs and stately cedars large
All o'er the land the pleasant prospect fill.
Unnumbered birds their glorious colours fling
Among the boughs that rustle in the breeze,
As if the meadow-flowers had taken wing
And settled on the green o'er-arching trees.

Oh! Ita, Ita, 'tis a grievous wrong,
That man commits who uninspired presumes
To sing the heavenly sweetness of their song--
To paint the glorious tinting of their plumes--
Plumes bright as jewels that from diadems
Fling over golden thrones their diamond rays--
Bright, even as bright as those three mystic gems,
The angel bore thee in thy childhood's days.[8]

There dwells the bird that to the farther west
Bears the sweet message of the coming spring;[9]
June's blushing roses paint his prophet breast,
And summer skies gleam from his azure wing.
While winter prowls around the neighbouring seas,
The happy bird dwells in his cedar nest,
Then flies away, and leaves his favourite trees
Unto this brother of the graceful crest.[10]

Birds that with us are clothed in modest brown,
There wear a splendour words cannot express;
The sweet-voiced thrush beareth a golden crown,[11]
And even the sparrow boasts a scarlet dress.[12]
There partial nature fondles and illumes
The plainest offspring that her bosom bears;
The golden robin flies on fiery plumes,[13]
And the small wren a purple ruby wears.[14]

Birds, too, that even in our sunniest hours,
Ne'er to this cloudy land one moment stray,
Whose brilliant plumes, fleeting and fair as flowers,
Come with the flowers, and with the flowers decay.[15]
The Indian bird, with hundred eyes, that throws
From his blue neck the azure of the skies,
And his pale brother of the northern snows,
Bearing white plumes, mirrored with brilliant eyes.[16]

Oft in the sunny mornings have I seen
Bright-yellow birds, of a rich lemon hue,
Meeting in crowds upon the branches green,
And sweetly singing all the morning through.[17]
And others, with their heads greyish and dark,
Pressing their cinnamon cheeks to the old trees,
And striking on the hard, rough, shrivelled bark,
Like conscience on a bosom ill at ease.[18]

And diamond birds chirping their single notes,
Now 'mid the trumpet-flower's deep blossoms seen,
Now floating brightly on with fiery throats,
Small-winged emeralds of golden green;[19]
And other larger birds with orange cheeks,
A many-colour-painted chattering crowd,
Prattling for ever with their curved beaks,
And through the silent woods screaming aloud.[20]

Colour and form may be conveyed in words,
But words are weak to tell the heavenly strains
That from the throats of these celestial birds
Rang through the woods and o'er the echoing plains.
There was the meadow-lark, with voice as sweet,
But robed in richer raiment than our own;
And as the moon smiled on his green retreat,
The painted nightingale sang out alone.[21]

Words cannot echo music's winged note,
One bird alone exhausts their utmost power;
'Tis that strange bird whose many-voic'ed throat
Mocks all his brethren of the woodland bower;
To whom indeed the gift of tongues is given,
The musical rich tongues that fill the grove,
Now like the lark dropping his notes from heaven,
Now cooing the soft earth-notes of the dove.[22]

Oft have I seen him, scorning all control,
Winging his arrowy flight rapid and strong,
As if in search of his evanished soul,
Lost in the gushing ecstasy of song;
And as I wandered on, and upward gazed,
Half lost in admiration, half in fear,
I left the brothers wondering and amazed,
Thinking that all the choir of heaven was near.

Was it a revelation or a dream?--
That these bright birds as angels once did dwell
In heaven with starry Lucifer supreme,
Half sinned with him, and with him partly fell;
That in this lesser paradise they stray.
Float through its air, and glide its streams along,
And that the strains they sing each happy day
Rise up to God like morn and even song.[23]


[The earlier stanzas of this description of Paradise are principally founded upon the Anglo-Saxon version of the poem "De Phenice," ascribed to Lactantius, and which is at least as old as the earlier part of the eleventh century.]

As on this world the young man turns his eyes,
When forced to try the dark sea of the grave,
Thus did we gaze upon that Paradise,
Fading, as we were borne across the wave.
And, as a brighter world dawns by degrees
Upon Eternity's serenest strand,
Thus, having passed through dark and gloomy seas,
At length we reached the long-sought Promised Land.

The wind had died upon the Ocean's breast,
When, like a silvery vein through the dark ore,
A smooth bright current, gliding to the west,
Bore our light bark to that enchanted shore.
It was a lovely plain--spacious and fair,
And bless'd with all delights that earth can hold,
Celestial odours filled the fragrant air
That breathed around that green and pleasant wold.

There may not rage of frost, nor snow, nor rain,
Injure the smallest and most delicate flower,
Nor fall of hail wound the fair, healthful plain,
Nor the warm weather, nor the winter's shower.
That noble land is all with blossoms flowered,
Shed by the summer breezes as they pass;
Less leaves than blossoms on the trees are showered,
And flowers grow thicker in the fields than grass.

Nor hills, nor mountains, there stand high and steep,
Nor stony cliffs tower o'er the frightened waves,
Nor hollow dells, where stagnant waters sleep,
Nor hilly risings, nor dark mountain caves;
Nothing deformed upon its bosom lies,
Nor on its level breast rests aught unsmooth,
But the noble filed flourishes 'neath the skies,
Blooming for ever in perpetual youth.

That glorious land stands higher o'er the sea,
By twelve-fold fathom measure, than we deem
The highest hills beneath the heavens to be.
There the bower glitters, and the green woods gleam.
All o'er that pleasant plain, calm and serene,
The fruits ne'er fall, but, hung by God's own hand,
Cling to the trees that stand for ever green,
Obedient to their Maker's first command.

Summer and winter are the woods the same,
Hung with bright fruits and leaves that never fade;
Such will they be, beyond the reach of flame,
Till Heaven, and Earth, and Time, shall have decayed.
Here might Iduna in her fond pursuit,
As fabled by the northern sea-born men,
Gather her golden and immortal fruit,
That brings their youth back to the gods again.

Of old, when God, to punish sinful pride,
Sent round the deluged world the ocean flood,
When all the earth lay 'neath the vengeful tide,
This glorious land above the waters stood.
Such shall it be at last, even as at first,
Until the coming of the final doom,
When the dark chambers--men's death homes shall burst,
And man shall rise to judgment from the tomb.

There there is never enmity, nor rage,
Nor poisoned calumny, nor envy's breath,
Nor shivering poverty, nor decrepit age,
Nor loss of vigour, nor the narrow death;
Nor idiot laughter, nor the tears men weep,
Nor painful exile from one's native soil,
Nor sin, nor pain, nor weariness, nor sleep,
Nor lust of riches, nor the poor man's toil.

There never falls the rain-cloud as with us,
Nor gapes the earth with the dry summer's thirst,
But liquid streams, wondrously curious,
Out of the ground with fresh fair bubbling burst.
Sea-cold and bright the pleasant waters glide
Over the soil, and through the shady bowers;
Flowers fling their coloured radiance o'er the tide,
And the bright streams their crystal o'er the flowers.

Such was the land for man's enjoyment made,
When from this troubled life his soul doth wend:
Such was the land through which entranced we strayed,
For fifteen days, nor reached its bound nor end.
Onward we wandered in a blissful dream,
Nor thought of food, nor needed earthly rest;
Until, at length, we reached a mighty stream,
Whose broad bright waves flowed from the east to west.

We were about to cross its placid tide,
When, lo! an angel on our vision broke,
Clothed in white, upon the further side
He stood majestic, and thus sweetly spoke:
"Father, return, thy mission now is o'er;
God, who did call thee here, now bids thee go,
Return in peace unto thy native shore,
And tell the mighty secrets thou dost know.

"In after years, in God's own fitting time,
This pleasant land again shall re-appear;
And other men shall preach the truths sublime,
To the benighted people dwelling here.
But ere that hour this land shall all be made,
For mortal man, a fitting, natural home,
Then shall the giant mountain fling its shade,
And the strong rock stem the white torrent's foam.

"Seek thy own isle--Christ's newly-bought domain,
Which Nature with an emerald pencil paints:
Such as it is, long, long shall it remain,
The school of Truth, the College of the Saints,
The student's bower, the hermit's calm retreat,
The stranger's home, the hospitable hearth,
The shrine to which shall wander pilgrim feet
From all the neighbouring nations of the earth.

"But in the end upon that land shall fall
A bitter scourge, a lasting flood of tears,
When ruthless tyranny shall level all
The pious trophies of its early years:
Then shall this land prove thy poor country's friend,
And shine a second Eden in the west;
Then shall this shore its friendly arms extend,
And clasp the outcast exile to its breast."

He ceased and vanished from our dazzled sight,
While harps and sacred hymns rang sweetly o'er
For us again we winged our homeward flight
O'er the great ocean to our native shore;
And as a proof of God's protecting hand,
And of the wondrous tidings that we bear,
The fragrant perfume of that heavenly land
Clings to the very garments that we wear.[24]

Reader Comments

Tell us what you think of 'The Voyage Of St. Brendan. A.D. 545. - Complete' by Denis Florence MacCarthy

comments powered by Disqus

Home | Search | About this website | Contact | Privacy Policy