First Kingdoms: Poems from a Vanishing Landscape

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Is Dewart nostalgic about Ireland or nostalgic about his youth? The child accepts the world for what it is without the ability to be able to contrast it with an older historical time. The inability to observe this change through time gives the child a sense of the ever-present, a sense of spontaneous novelty that can only disappear with a consciousness of historical time.

In The Bush Garden , his classic work on Canadian literature, Northrop Frye underscored how the pastoral myth often associates childhood with some earlier form of rural society, a time and space before the here and now of adult life and its economic and material obligations. In later life reminiscences, childhood and the home associated with it are often remembered through a prism of comfort, security, and complete belonging. It is therefore not surprising that adulthood for many Irish emigrants has meant abandoning the security of the childhood home for an unknowable future in an unknowable land.

For the twentieth-century writer and intellectual Raymond Williams, the pastoral myth in the literature of England was part of a long and enduring history of political commentary; a critique of the prevailing social and economic order. Such retrospection in the search for foundational myths is a powerful comment on the cultural and social poverty of the present.

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In the Irish case, this myth of pre-historical unity was brought into sharp focus in reaction to the rapid global dispersion of Irish people during and after the Famine. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that in many of these poems there is a hope that Ireland can return to the grandeur of a pre-modern Celtic past when its cultural distinctiveness was at its greatest. When, standing in the empty womb of space, The Great I Am the silence first had broken, When light and darkness first met face to face, What then the sovereign language that was spoken, The words that ushered in the primal dawn?

McCarroll eulogizes a great Celtic past as a way of giving to Irish people a strong sense of a foundational culture that has endured across the centuries. Initially a proud Canadian, McCarroll would eventually become disillusioned with his adopted home and moved to upstate New York where he became a bona fide Fenian.

McCarroll recognizes that because the name Fenian was a name from remote antiquity, it was not tied up with the political and religious divisions of the recent past. He highlights the practical functionality of such ancient terms for the creation of national identity:.

The Project Gutenberg eBook of Poems, by Rainer Maria Rilke.

The rarity of the name [Fenian] led to newspaper expositions of it, and moved the inquiring patriot to look into Irish history in relation to it; and in this manner a knowledge of much of the ancient greatness of Ireland became the common property of those who were formerly but slightly acquainted with such lore. The result was, thousands of the Irish became interested in relation to the past of their race […]. Following the work of Russian literary formalist Mikhail Bakhtin, Gabrielle Spiegel has shown that medieval historical writing was obsessed with creating originary myths, myths of places so far away in time that they become resistant to relativization, thus providing a source of authority and privilege.

For aristocratic classes the greater the temporal depth of their relationship with their ancestors, the greater the social distance between them and their social inferiors. Unearthing and creating strong personal and communal ties to successful ancient societies is a sort of social capital; one that provides a sense of both social distinction and cultural distinctiveness.

Within British imperial thinking this type of Celtic primitivism became associated with what were understood as the finer feelings of poetic sentiment and national patriotism. But while the Celtic ideal became associated with feeling and emotion, it was also associated with a seeming lack of logic and violent irrationality. As the McGee biographer David Wilson points out, the malleability of ancient Celtic culture in the hands of writers and politicians such as McGee and others meant that any myth or traditional symbol could be easily adapted to validate their own political outlook.

Declan Kiberd has highlighted how many Irish writers of the Revival period sought to put this Celtic malleability to work by rebranding negative stereotypes of the Irish and using them as positive cultural traits. Religious devotion was a central aspect of Irish experience and the search for an Ireland before history had strong religious overtones. Many Irish-Canadian poets sought to eulogize a distant land outside of time; one that was not overburdened with the demands of the Canadian future or the tragedy of the recent Irish past.

As theologians have reminded us, in confronting the existential despair generated by the unrelenting passage of time, religion can provide the certainty of the soul at rest in an eternity outside time. Ireland is pictured as an imprisoning space where the people are helpless to save themselves. In the midst of wealth and plenty. The rise of the Land League in Ireland in the late s and the subsequent land war that endured until were widely covered in the Canadian press. Potato crop failure would once again hit Ireland in , although this time it was more localized to the west.

As well as authorizing aid provisions to Ireland during this period, politicians in the Canadian House of Commons thought that this was the perfect moment to encourage Irish people to come to Canada to settle the Northwest, a place crying out for new settlers. With fresh fears of violence surrounding the actions of the Irish National Land League, the Canadian political establishment believed that Canada could offer everything to the Irish they desired but could not achieve in their own country—in other words, home rule, land ownership, and safety from political violence and religious bigotry.

Burdened by the weight of an intractable political history and perennial economic mismanagement, the Irish could only hope to fulfill their ambitions outside of Ireland.

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In the last third of the nineteenth century, this theme of decline in Ireland and rebirth in Canada in the wake of the Famine was perennially evoked through the image of Ireland as a dying old woman. The vision of Ireland as female or as a mother is a symbolic identification that goes back a long way in Irish cultural history. The Quebec-born poet Joseph Kearney Foran was especially taken by this maternal image of nation, and he expressed his double consciousness of nationality as being the child of two mothers.

In an address given at the Quebec Music Hall on St. But out of the length of a whole year placed at her disposal and employed for her advancement honour and glory, is it naught but just that one day should be taken to go back to the grave of the old mother Erin? She is dying—ah! For the questioner Ireland is a mythical place where the land itself has an anthropomorphic presence. The Canadian makes it known that in Canada there is no history of sorrow and weeping, and that political rights are recognized and defended.

From a nationalist standpoint God is pointing the Irish toward national independence that will let them take their place among the nations of the world. In this sense, it is a religious journey through space rather than a political journey through time. That I could fly from such charming attractions Was the silliest far of my silliest actions. The lovely eyes of violet blue, The beauteous cheeks of rosy hue, The hands so like white lilies too,— All these still sweetly blossom and bloom, The heart alone is cold as the tomb. The earth is so fair, and the heavens so bright, The breezes are breathing with soothing might The blooming fields with flowers are dight, In the morning dew all radiant with light, All men are rejoicing that meet my sight— My bed in the grave I fain would be pressing, The corpse of my mistress dear caressing.

When in the tomb, my mistress fair, The chilly tomb, thou must hide thee. I wildly will press thee, embrace thee, and kiss My pale, cold, fearful-to-see love! The dead will arise, when midnight is nigh, And dance in airy troops lightly; But we in the tomb will quietly lie, Thine arms embracing me tightly. A lonely fir tree is standing On a northern barren height; It sleeps, and the ice and snow-drift Cast round it a garment of white.

It dreams of a slender palm-tree, Which far in the Eastern land Beside a precipice scorching In silent sorrow doth stand. The head speaks. Since my darling one has left me, Power of laughing is bereft me; Blockheads fain would raise a joke, But no laughter can provoke. The blockheads, their holidays keeping, Are walking through forest and plain; They shout, and like kittens are leaping, And hail sweet Nature again.

They gaze, with glances that glisten, On each romantic thing; With ears like asses they listen To hear the sparrows sing. My chamber window to darken, With black cloth I hang it by day; To the signal my spirits straight hearken, Day-visits they hasten to pay. My olden love also draws nigh me, From the realms of the dead she appears; She, weeping, sits gently close by me, And softens my bosom to tears.

The night-time suited me better, Deserted the streets were then, And I and my shadow together We wandered in silence again.


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I stood in front of thy dwelling, And fondly gazed up on high; I gazed up towards thy window, My heart breathed many a sigh. A youth once loved a maiden, Who loved another instead; The other himself loved another, And with the latter did wed. I, too, valued and sought them ever, But, alas, discovered them never. On hearing the strains enthralling That my loved one sang to me erst, With torments fierce and appalling My heart is ready to burst. On danced they with merrier motion, And sweeter still sounded the song; But over the boundless ocean We mournfully floated along.

From older legends springing, Appears a snow-white band With joyous strains, and singing, From some far magic-land,. Where flowers in glowing splendour Pine in the evening sun, And bridal glances tender Cast sweetly every one;. Where all the trees, uniting In chorus, shout below, And bubbling brooks delighting The ear, like music flow;. And love-songs fierce and burning Unheard of bliss impart, Till sweet and wondrous yearning Befools the throbbing heart.

Ah, could I thither travel, And ease my aching breast, And all my grief unravel, And there be free and blest! When two fond lovers are parted, They give each other the hand, To weep and to sigh beginning, And losing all self-command. But not one single tear wept we, No Ah! My songs with poison are tainted, But how could it otherwise be?

In my heart many serpents I carry, And thee too, my dearest love, thee. O sweetest love, with the eyes so bright, O sweet one, so fair and so biteful! The swearing was doubtless all proper and right But the biting was rather too spiteful! I stand on the brow of the mountain, And sentimentally sigh. O were I only a swallow, My darling, to thee would I fly, And soon a nest would I build me, Thy lattice window hard by. They skip and they make wry grimaces, So scoffing and yet so shy; And twirling mist-like together, They titter and haste swiftly by.

In vision I lately was weeping, I dreamt thou wert laid in thy grave; I awoke, and the tears unceasing My cheeks continued to lave. In vision I lately was weeping, I dreamt I was left, love, by thee; I awoke, and weeping continued Both long and bitterly.

Seamus Heaney

In vision I lately was weeping, I dreamt thou wert kind as of yore; I awoke, and my tears in torrents Continued to flow as before. All night in vision behold I thee, And see thee greeting me kindly; And loudly weeping then throw I me Before thy sweet feet blindly.

By the window I see her reclining, In her chamber lonely and drear, And out in the night, sadly pining, She looks with many a tear. The trees in the autumn wind rustle, The night is humid and cold; I ride all alone in the forest, And round me my grey cloak I fold.

The dogs are barking, the servants With glittering torches appear; I climb up the winding staircase, My spurs ring loudly and clear. In her bright-lighted tapestry chamber, So full of magical charms, My own sweet darling awaits me, I hasten into her arms. The blossoms and leaves in plenty From the apple tree fall each day; The merry breezes approach them, And with them merrily play.