alfred austin

To Ireland

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“What ails you, Sister Erin, that your face
Is, like your mountains, still bedewed with tears?
As though some ancient sorrow or disgrace,
Some unforgettable wrong from far-off years,
Done to your name or wreaked upon your race,
Broods in your heart and shadows all your mind;
So that no change of Season, nor the voice
Of hopeful Time, who bids the sad rejoice,
Can lift your gloom, but you, to kind unkind,
Keep moaning with the wave, and wailing with the wind.

“Come let us sit upon yon cliff, we twain,
Whence we may gaze across your soft green Isle,
Girt by the strong immeasurable main,
That, see! looks up, and sweetens to a smile;
And you shall talk to me of all your pain,
Through deep blue eyes and dark unbraided tresses
Hooded by wimple that your own hands weaved
When you and Winter last together grieved,
While far beneath our feet the fast foam presses
Round bluff, and creek, and bay, and seabird-sung-to nesses.”

Then half withholding, yielding half, her gaze,
She smoothed her kirtle under her, and clasped
Her hands about her knees, as one who prays,
Watching the clambering billows as they grasped
At slippery rocks where wild-goats may not graze,
Then fell back foiled, shivered to spray and smoke.
And I could see the warm blood of her race
Crimson beneath her weather-beaten face:
As though her heart would break, her voice would choke,
In accents harsh with hate, and brimmed with sobs, she spoke.

“They came across the sea with greed of spoil,
And drove me hither and thither from fen to foam,
Reaving and burning, till the blackened soil
Waxed bitter-barren as the brine they clomb,
Sterile to seed and thankless unto toil.
Harried and hunted, fleeing through the land,
I hid among the caves, the woods, the hills,
Where the mist curdles and the blind gust shrills,
Suckling my hate and sharpening my brand,
My heart against their heart, my hand against their hand.

“And ever as I fled, they ever pursued.
They drove away my cattle and my flocks,
And left me, me a Mother! to claw for food
‘Mong ocean-boulders and the brackish rocks
Where sea-hogs wallow and gorged cormorants brood;
Unroofed my hut, set the sere thatch aflame,
Scattered my hearth-fire to the wintry air,
Made what was bare before stretch yet more bare,
I waxing wilder more they strove to tame,
To force and guile alike implacably the same.

“They would not suffer me to weep or pray:
Upon the altar of my Saints they trod;
They banned my Faith, they took my Heaven away,
And tried to rob me of my very God!
And, when I sued them leave me where I lay,
And get them hence, still, still they would not go.
They reft the spindle from my famished hands,
My kith and kin they drove to other lands,
Widowed and orphaned me! And now you know
Why all my face is wet, and all my voice is woe!”

I crept a little nearer, and I laid
My hand on hers, and fondled it with mine;
And, “Listen, dear Sister Erin,” soft I said,
“Not to the moaning of the salt-sea brine,
Nor to the melancholy crooning made
By thoughts attuned to Sorrow’s ancient song,
But to the music of a mellower day.
Forgive! Forget! lest harsher lips should say,
Like your turf fire, your rancour smoulders long.
Now let Oblivion strew Time’s ashes o’er this wrong.

“The robber bands that filled the Isle with groans
Were long since clamped and prisoned in their graves:
The flesh hath dried and shrivelled from their bones,
Their wild war-standards rotted from their staves;
Their name is nought. ‘Tis thus that Time atones
For all the griefs man fastens on his kind.
The days were dire, his passions swift and fell:
His very Heaven was but a sterner Hell.
His love was thraldom, hatred black and blind,
As headstrong as the wave, as wayward as the wind.

“Nor did alone you suffer. You too dealt
Full many a stroke, too fierce to be subdued
Till you had made the fangs of vengeance felt.
Mercy and truce you spurned, and fed the feud
Of Celt with Saxon, Saxon against Celt,
Till lust enforced whatever law forbade.
Nay! do not linger on that painful dream,
But turn and smile! as when a silvery gleam
Dimples your loughs that whilom seemed so sad,
And runs along the wave, and glistens and is glad!

“We own our fault the greater, so we now
For balance of that wrong would make amends.
Lift the low wimple from your clouded brow,
Give me your gaze, and say that we are friends;
And be your mountains witness of that vow,
Your dewy dingles white with blossoming sloe,
Your tawny torrents tumbling to the sea:
For You are far the fairest of the Three,
And we can never, never, let you go,
Long as your warm heart beats, long as your bright eyes glow.

“The Triune Flag, none now save Tyrants dread,
That with Imperial peace protects the world,
Hath by the sinewy sons you bore and bred
Round the wide globe been carried and unfurled.
Where danger greatest, they it was who led,
And stormed death rather than be backward driven.
Now, gaze no more across the western main,
Whose barren furrows hope still ploughs in vain.
Turn Eastward, where, through clouds by sunrise riven,
England holds out her hand, and craves to be forgiven.

“Live your own life, but ever at our side!
Have your own Heaven, but blend your prayer with ours!
Remain your own fair self, to bridegroom bride,
Veiled in your mist and diamonded with showers,
We twain love-linked whom nothing can divide!
Look up! From Slievemore’s brow to Dingle’s shore,
From Inagh’s lake to Innisfallen’s Isle
And Garriffe’s glen, the land is one green smile!
The dolphins gambol and the laverocks soar:
Lift up your heart and live, enthralled to grief no more!”

 

– Alfred Austin

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The Haymakers’ Song

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Here’s to him that grows it,
Drink, lads, drink!
That lays it in and mows it,
Clink, jugs, clink!
To him that mows and makes it,
That scatters it and shakes it,
That turns, and teds, and rakes it,
Clink, jugs, clink!

Now here ’s to him that stacks it,
Drink, lads, drink!
That thrashes and that tacks it,
Clink, jugs, clink!
That cuts it out for eating,
When March-dropp’d lambs are bleating,
And the slate-blue clouds are sleeting,
Drink, lads, drink!

And here ’s to thane and yeoman,
Drink, lads, drink!
To horseman and to bowman,
Clink, jugs, clink!
To lofty and to low man,
Who bears a grudge to no man,
But flinches from no foeman,
Drink, lads, drink!

 

– Alfred Austin

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Church – Door Should Still Stand Open

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Church-doors should still stand open, night and day,
Open to all who come for praise or prayer,
Laden with gift of love or load of care,
Nimbused with gold, or flecked with locks of gray,
Mother, or snow-white bride, or pallid clay,
The blithe, the sad, the uncomely as the fair,
Each on his secret errand wending there,
Nor even the mighty and strong be turned away.
And so the poet’s heart should ever be
Portal of joy and welcomer of woe,
That makes the deaf to hear, the blind to see,
Open confessional for high and low,
An unshut shrine where all may come and go,
And by their tears an enriched sanctuary.

 

– Alfred Austin

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The Evening Light

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I
Angels their silvery trumpets blow,
At dawn, to greet the Morning Glow,
And mortals lift adoring eyes
To see the glorious sun arise.
Then, winged by Faith, and spurred by Hope
Youth scans the hill, youth scales the slope.
Its pulses bound, its thoughts exult,
It finds no danger difficult,
Quickens its pace, disdaining ease
Victor before it comes and sees,
Feeling the Universe its own,
The Sovereign of a Self-made Throne.

II
Each hope fulfilled, obtained each prayer,
We glory in the Noonday Glare.
Welcome the blinding heat of strife,
Deeming resistance part of life.
We deal the blow, return the stroke,
Fighting our way through dust and smoke,
Until, our battle-banner furled,
We tower above a conquered World;
Whether one leads mankind along
By gift of speech or grace of song,
Seizes by forceful hand the helm,
Or adds an Empire to the Realm,
Confronts the sun with forehead bare,
Exulting in the Noonday Glare.

III
But, as the lengthening shadows glide
Silent towards the eventide,
And dew baptizes leaf and flower
In twilight’s sanctuary hour,
A sacred Something haunts the air,
Tender as love, devout as prayer,
And in the lofty dome afar
Glimmers one bright outriding star,
Announcing to the watchful sight
Coming battalions of the Night.
Then Noonday Glare and Morning Glow
Fade into shadowy Long-ago.
One feels Earth’s vain ambitions fade
Into the vanished dust they made.

All that the glow of dawn foretold,
And all the glare of noon unrolled,
Seem nothing to the quiet joy
No clamour mars, no cares destroy,
‘Twixt restless day and restful night,
That cometh with the Evening Light.

 

– Alfred Austin

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To Robert Louis Stevenson

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I never saw you, never grasped your hand,
Nor wrote nor read lines absence loves to trace,
Ne’er with you sate in your accustomed place,
Nor waited for your coming on sea or land.
But this I know, if along unseen strand,
Or anywhere in God’s eternal space,
You heard my voice, or I beheld your face,
That we should greet, and both would understand.
So, till that hour, wherever you abide,
On circling star, or interstellar sea,
Or where, from man’s imagination free,
There moves no planet and there sounds no tide,
Welcome, as though from friend long known and tried,
This gift of loving fellowship from me.

– Alfred Austin

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A Twilight Song

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Why, rapturous bird, though shades of night
Muffle the leaves and swathe the lawn,
Singest thou still with all thy might,
As though ’twere noon, as though ’twere dawn?
Silence darkens on vale and hill,
But thou, unseen, art singing still.

‘Tis because, though in dusky bower,
With love delighted still thou art;
Nor hath the deepening twilight power
To lay a curfew on thy heart.
Thou lovest; and, loving, dost prolong
The sense of sunlight with thy song.

Thus may love’s rapture haunt me still
When life’s full radiance fadeth slow
Along the faltering west, and fill
With melody my afterglow,
And something of Song’s morning might
Linger, to make you doubt ’tis night.

 

– Alfred Austin

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The Lark Confined In His Cage

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The lark confinèd in his cage,
And captive in his wing,
Though fluttering with imprisoned rage,
Forbeareth not to sing.

But still the strain, though loud and long,
Is but the mock of mirth,
Not that dawn-dewy nuptial song
That weddeth Heaven with Earth.

Voice that in freedom seems so soft,
Fettered, sounds harsh and rough.
Listen! He shrilleth far too oft,
Nor faltereth half enough.

And I, still feebler it not free,
Do hourly more and more
Grow silent in captivity,
And, if I sing, must soar.

And as the lark’s free carol floats
High on a sea of sound,
So let me fling my random notes
To ripple round and round.

Hark! now he shakes the towering skies,
A carillon of light,
Then dwindleth to a faint surmise,
Still singing out of sight.

And, though in clearest light arrayed
The Poet’s song should shine,
Sometimes his far-off voice will fade
Into the dim divine.

Then we with following ear and heart
Should listen to the end,
Though we descry may but in part,
And dimly apprehend.

Lo! soon he quits his heavenly quest,
Slow-carolling into sight,
Then, quavering downward, strikes his nest,
Earthward aerolite.

So doubt not, dear, that if I soar
Where none longwhile may dwell,
Though Heaven at times may be my home,
Home is my Heaven as well.

 

– Alfred Austin

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A Shakespeare Memorial

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Why should we lodge in marble or in bronze
Spirits more vast than earth, or sea, or sky?
Wiser the silent worshipper that cons
Their words for wisdom that will never die.
Unto the favourite of the passing hour
Erect the statue and parade the bust;
Whereon decisive Time will slowly shower
Oblivion’s refuse and disdainful dust.
The Monarchs of the Mind, self-sceptred Kings,
Need no memento to transmit their name:
Throned on their thoughts and high imaginings,
They are the Lords, not sycophants of Fame.
Raise pedestals to perishable stuff:
Gods for themselves are monuments enough.

 

– Alfred Austin

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