The Voyage Of St. Brendan. A.D. 545. - The Buried City.

A poem by Denis Florence MacCarthy

[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,

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