THE IRISH HARP.*
"Voice of the days of old, let me hear you.--Awake the soul
of song." OSSIAN.
WHY sleeps the Harp of Erin's pride?
Why with'ring droops its Shamrock wreath?
Why has that song of sweetness died
Which Erin's Harp alone can breathe?
Oh! 'twas the simplest, wildest thing!
The sighs of Eve that faintest flow
O'er airy lyres, did never fling
So sweet, so sad, a song of wo.
And yet its sadness seem'd to borrow
From love, or joy, a mystic spell;
'Twas doubtful still if bliss or sorrow
From its melting lapses fell.
For if amidst its tone's soft languish
A note of love or joy e'er stream'd,
'Twas the plaint of love-sick anguish,
And still the "joy of grief" it seem'd.
'Tis said oppression taught the lay
To him--(of all the "sons of song"
That bask'd in Erin's brighter day)
The last of the inspir'd throng;
That not in sumptuous hall, or bow'r,
To victor chiefs, on tented plain,
To festive souls, in festal hour,
Did he (sad bard!) pour forth the strain.
Oh no! for he, opprest, pursued,*
Wild, wand'ring, doubtful of his course,
With tears his silent heart bedew'd,
That drew from Erin's woes their source.
It was beneath th'impervious gloom
Of some dark forest's deepest dell,
'Twas at some patriot hero's tomb,
Or on the drear heath where he fell.
It was beneath the loneliest cave
That roofs the brow of misery,
Or stems the ocean's wildest wave,
Or mocks the sea-blast's keenest sigh.
It was through night's most spectral hours,
When reigns the spirit of dismay,
And terror views demoniac pow'rs
Flit ghastly round in dread array.
Such was the time, and such the place,
The bard respir'd his song of wo,
To those, who had of Erin's race
Surviv'd their freedom's vital blow.
Oh, what a lay the minstrel breath'd!
How many bleeding hearts around,
In suff'ring sympathy enwreath'd,
Hung desponding o'er the sound.
For still his Harp's wild plaintive tones
Gave back their sorrows keener still,
Breath'd sadder sighs, heav'd deeper moans,
And wilder wak'd despair's wild thrill.
For still he sung the ills that flow
From dire oppression's ruthless fang,
And deepen'd every patriot wo,
And sharpen'd every patriot pang.
Yet, ere he ceas'd, a prophet's fire
Sublim'd his lay, and louder rung
The deep-ton'd music of his lyre,
And Erin go brach* he boldly sung.
*With an enthusiasm incidental to my natural and national character, I visited the western part of the province of Connaught in the autumn of 1805, full of many an evident expectation that promised to my feelings, and my taste, a festival of national enjoyment. The result of this interesting little pilgrimage has already been given to the world in the story of the "Wild Irish Girl," and in a collection of Irish Melodies, learned among those who still "hum'd the Song of other times." But the hope I had long cherished of hearing the Irish Harp played in perfection was not only far from being realized, but infinitely disappointed. That encouragement so nutritive to genius, so indispensably necessary to perserverance, no longer stimulates the Irish bard to excellence, nor rewards him when it is attained; and the decline of that tender and impressive instrument, once so dear to Irish enthusiasm, is as visibly rapid, as it is obviously unimpeded by any effort of national pride or national affection. [return to title]
*The persecution begun by the Danes against the Irish bards finished in almost the total extirpation of that sacred order in the reign of Elizabeth. [return to stanza VII]
*Ireland for ever!--a national exclamation, and, in less felicitous times, the rallying point to which many an Irish heart revolted from the influence of despair. [return to stanza XV]