The Irish Avatar.[ir][592]

A poem by Lord George Gordon Byron

"And Ireland, like a bastinadoed elephant, kneeling to receive the paltry rider." - [Life of Curran, ii. 336.]


1.

Ere the daughter of Brunswick is cold in her grave,[593]
And her ashes still float to their home o'er the tide,
Lo! George the triumphant speeds over the wave,
To the long-cherished Isle which he loved like his - bride.

2.

True, the great of her bright and brief Era are gone,
The rain-bow-like Epoch where Freedom could pause
For the few little years, out of centuries won,
Which betrayed not, or crushed not, or wept not her cause.

3.

True, the chains of the Catholic clank o'er his rags,
The Castle still stands, and the Senate's no more,
And the Famine which dwelt on her freedomless crags
Is extending its steps to her desolate shore.

4.

To her desolate shore - where the emigrant stands
For a moment to gaze ere he flies from his hearth;
Tears fall on his chain, though it drops from his hands,
For the dungeon he quits is the place of his birth.

5.

But he comes! the Messiah of Royalty comes!
Like a goodly Leviathan rolled from the waves;
Then receive him as best such an advent becomes,[is]
With a legion of cooks,[594] and an army of slaves!

6.

He comes in the promise and bloom of threescore,
To perform in the pageant the Sovereign's part - [it]
But long live the Shamrock, which shadows him o'er!
Could the Green in his hat be transferred to his heart!

7.

Could that long-withered spot but be verdant again,
And a new spring of noble affections arise -
Then might Freedom forgive thee this dance in thy chain,
And this shout of thy slavery which saddens the skies.

8.

Is it madness or meanness which clings to thee now?
Were he God - as he is but the commonest clay,
With scarce fewer wrinkles than sins on his brow -
Such servile devotion might shame him away.

9.

Aye, roar in his train![595] let thine orators lash
Their fanciful spirits to pamper his pride -
Not thus did thy Grattan indignantly flash
His soul o'er the freedom implored and denied.

10.

Ever glorious Grattan! the best of the good!
So simple in heart, so sublime in the rest!
With all which Demosthenes wanted endued,
And his rival, or victor, in all he possessed.

11.

Ere Tully arose in the zenith of Rome,
Though unequalled, preceded, the task was begun -
But Grattan sprung up like a god from the tomb
Of ages, the first, last, the saviour, the one![596]

12.

With the skill of an Orpheus to soften the brute;
With the fire of Prometheus to kindle mankind;
Even Tyranny, listening, sate melted or mute,
And Corruption shrunk scorched from the glance of his mind.

13.

But back to our theme! Back to despots and slaves![iu]
Feasts furnished by Famine! rejoicings by Pain!
True Freedom but welcomes, while Slavery still raves,
When a week's Saturnalia hath loosened her chain.

14.

Let the poor squalid splendour thy wreck can afford,
(As the bankrupt's profusion his ruin would hide)
Gild over the palace, Lo! Erin, thy Lord!
Kiss his foot with thy blessing - his blessings denied![iv]

15.

Or if freedom past hope be extorted at last,[iw]
If the idol of brass find his feet are of clay,
Must what terror or policy wring forth be classed
With what monarchs ne'er give, but as wolves yield their prey?

16.

Each brute hath its nature; a King's is to reign, -
To reign! in that word see, ye ages, comprised
The cause of the curses all annals contain,
From C├Žsar the dreaded to George the despised!

17.

Wear, Fingal, thy trapping![597] O'Connell, proclaim[ix]
His accomplishments! His!!! and thy country convince
Half an age's contempt was an error of fame,
And that "Hal is the rascaliest, sweetest young prince!"[iy]

18.

Will thy yard of blue riband, poor Fingal, recall
The fetters from millions of Catholic limbs?
Or, has it not bound thee the fastest of all
The slaves, who now hail their betrayer with hymns?

19.

Aye! "Build him a dwelling!" let each give his mite![598]
Till, like Babel, the new royal dome hath arisen![iz]
Let thy beggars and helots their pittance unite -
And a palace bestow for a poor-house and prison!

20.

Spread - spread for Vitellius, the royal repast,
Till the gluttonous despot be stuffed to the gorge!
And the roar of his drunkards proclaim him at last
The Fourth of the fools and oppressors called "George!"

21.

Let the tables be loaded with feasts till they groan!
Till they groan like thy people, through ages of woe!
Let the wine flow around the old Bacchanal's throne,
Like their blood which has flowed, and which yet has to flow.

22.

But let not his name be thine idol alone -
On his right hand behold a Sejanus appears!
Thine own Castlereagh! let him still be thine own!
A wretch never named but with curses and jeers!

23.

Till now, when the Isle which should blush for his birth,
Deep, deep as the gore which he shed on her soil,
Seems proud of the reptile which crawled from her earth,
And for murder repays him with shouts and a smile.[599]

24.

Without one single ray of her genius, - without
The fancy, the manhood, the fire of her race -
The miscreant who well might plunge Erin in doubt[ja]
If she ever gave birth to a being so base.

25.

If she did - let her long-boasted proverb be hushed,
Which proclaims that from Erin no reptile can spring -
See the cold-blooded Serpent, with venom full flushed,
Still warming its folds in the breast of a King![jb]

26.

Shout, drink, feast, and flatter! Oh! Erin, how low
Wert thou sunk by misfortune and tyranny, till
Thy welcome of tyrants hath plunged thee below
The depth of thy deep in a deeper gulf still.

27.

My voice, though but humble, was raised for thy right;[600]
My vote, as a freeman's, still voted thee free;
This hand, though but feeble, would arm in thy fight,[jc]
And this heart, though outworn, had a throb still for thee!

28.

Yes, I loved thee and thine, though thou art not my land;[jd]
I have known noble hearts and great souls in thy sons,
And I wept with the world, o'er the patriot band
Who are gone, but I weep them no longer as once.

29.

For happy are they now reposing afar, -
Thy Grattan, thy Curran, thy Sheridan,[601] all
Who, for years, were the chiefs in the eloquent war,
And redeemed, if they have not retarded, thy fall.

30.

Yes, happy are they in their cold English graves!
Their shades cannot start to thy shouts of to-day -
Nor the steps of enslavers and chain-kissing slaves[je]
Be stamped in the turf o'er their fetterless clay.

31.

Till now I had envied thy sons and their shore,
Though their virtues were hunted, their liberties fled;[jf]
There was something so warm and sublime in the core
Of an Irishman's heart, that I envy - thy dead.[jg]

32.

Or, if aught in my bosom can quench for an hour
My contempt for a nation so servile, though sore,
Which though trod like the worm will not turn upon power,
'Tis the glory of Grattan, and genius of Moore![jh][602]

Ra. September 16, 1821.
[First published, Conversations of Lord Byron, 1824, pp. 331-338.]

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