[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!"