The Ocean Of Mist

—As the light increased I discovered around me an ocean of mist, which by chance reached up exactly to the base of the tower, and shut out every vestige of the earth, while I was left floating on this fragment of the wreck of a world, on my carved plank, in cloudland; a situation which required no aid from the imagination to render it impressive. As the light in the east steadily increased, it revealed to me more clearly the new world into which I had risen in the night, the new terra firma perchance of my future life.

– Henry David Thoreau

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Three Irish Tales

Poetry: Henry David Thoreau




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Three Irish Tales…

The Poet’s Malediction

The imprecations of the poets had often also a mysterious and fatal effect.

King Breas, the pagan monarch, was a fierce, cruel, and niggardly man, who was therefore very unpopular with the people, who hate the cold heart and the grudging hand.

Amongst others who suffered by the king’s inhospitality, was the renowned Carbury the poet, son of Eodain, the great poetess of the Tuatha-de-Danann race; she who chanted the song of victory when her people conquered the Firbolgs, on the plains of Moytura; and the stone that she stood on, during the battle, in sight of all the warriors, is still existing, and is pointed out as the stone of Eodain the poetess, with great reverence, even to this day.

It was her son, Carburv the poet, who was held in such high honour by the nation, that King Breas invited him to his court, in order that he might pronounce a powerful malediction over the enemy with whom he was then at war.

Carbury came on the royal summons, but. in place of being treated with the distinction due to his high rank, he was lodged and fed so meanly that the soul of the poet raged with wrath for the king gave him for lodgement only a small stone cell with-out fire or a bed; and for food he had only three cakes of meal without any flesh meat or sauce, and no wine was given him, such wine as is fit to light up the poet’s soul before the divine mystic spirit of song can awake in its power within him. So very early the next morning, the poet rose up and departed, with much rage in his heart. But as he passed the king’s house he stopped, and in place of a blessing, pronounced a terrible malediction over Breas and his race, which can still be found in the ancient books of Ireland, commencing thus–

“Without fire, without bed, on the surface of the floor!

Without meat, without fowl, on the surface of the dish.

Three little dishes and no flesh thereon,

A cell without bed, a dish without meat, a cup without wine,

Are these fit offerings from a king to a poet?

May the king and his race be three times accursed for ever and for ever!”

Immediately three large blisters rose on the king’s forehead, and remained there as a sign and mark of the poet’s vengeance.

And from that day forth to his death, which happened not long after, the reign of Breas was a time of sore trouble and disaster, for he was three times defeated by his enemies, and from care and sorrow a grievous disease fell on him; for though hungry he could not swallow any food; and though all the meat and wine of the best was set before him, yet his throat seemed closed, and though raging with hunger yet not a morsel could pass his lips; and so he died miserably, starved in the midst of plenty, and accursed in all things by the power and malediction of the angry poet.


The Dance of the Dead

It is especially dangerous to be out late on the last, night of November, for it is the closing scene of the revels–the last night when the dead have leave to dance on the hill with the fairies, and after that they must all go back to their graves and lie in the chill, cold earth, without music or wine till the next November comes round, when they all spring up again in their shrouds and rush out into the moonlight with mad laughter.

One November night, a woman of Shark island, coming home late at the hour of the dead, grew tired and sat down to rest, when presently a young man came up and talked to her.

“Wait a bit,” he said, “and you will see the most beautiful dancing you ever looked on there by the side of the hill.”

And she looked at him steadily. He was very pale, and seemed sad.

“Why are you so sad?” she asked, “and as pale as if you were dead?”

“Look well at me,” he answered. “Do you not know me?”

“Yes, I know you now,” she said. “You are young Brien that was drowned last year when out fishing. What are you here for?”

“Look,” he said, “at the side of the hill and you will see why I am here.”

And she looked, and saw a great company dancing to sweet music; and amongst them were all the dead who had died as long as she could remember–men, women, and children, all in white, and their faces were pale as the moonlight.

“Now,” said the young man, “run for your life; for if once the fairies bring you into the dance you will never be able to leave them any more.”

But while they were talking, the fairies came up and danced round her in a circle, joining their hands. And she fell to the ground in a faint, and knew no more till she woke up in the morning in her own bed at home. And they all saw that her face was pale as the dead, and they knew that she had got the fairy-stroke. So the herb doctor was sent for, and every measure tried to save her, but without avail, for just as the moon rose that night, soft, low music was heard round the house, and when they looked at the woman she was dead.

It is a custom amongst the people, when throwing away water at night, to cry out in a loud voice, “Take care of the water;” or, literally from the Irish, “Away with yourself from the water “—for they say the spirits of the dead last buried are then wandering about, and it would be dangerous if the water fell on them.

One dark winter’s night a woman suddenly threw out a pail of boiling water without thinking of the warning words. Instantly a cry was heard as of a person in pain, but no one was seen. However, the next night a black lamb entered the house, having the back all fresh scalded, and it lay down moaning by time hearth and died. Then they all knew this was the spirit that had been scalded by the woman. And they carried the dead lamb out reverently and buried it deep in the earth. Yet every night at the same hour it walked again into the house and lay down and moaned and died. And after this had happened many times, the priest was sent for, and finally, by the strength of his exorcism, the spirit of the dead was laid to rest, and the black lamb appeared no more. Neither was the body of the dead lamb found in the grave when they searched for it, though it had been laid by their own hands deep in the earth and covered with the clay.

Before an accident happens to a boat, or a death by drowning, low music is often heard, as if under the water, along with harmonious lamentations, and then every one in the boat knows that some young man or beautiful young girl is wanted by the fairies, and is doomed to die. The best safeguard is to have music and singing in the boat, for the fairies are so enamoured of the mortal voices and music that they forget to weave the spell till the fatal moment has passed, and then all in the boat are safe from harm.

The Fairies as Fallen Angels

The islanders, like all the Irish, believe that the fairies are the fallen angels who were cast down by the Lord God out of heaven for their sinful pride. And some fell into the sea, and some on the dry land, and some fell deep down into hell, and the devil gives to these knowledge and power, and sends them on earth where they work much evil. But the fairies of the earth and the sea are mostly gentle and beautiful creatures, who will do no harm if they are let alone, and allowed to dance on the fairy raths in the moonlight to their own sweet music, undisturbed by the presence of mortals. As a rule, the people look on fire as the great preservative against witchcraft, for the devil has no power except in the dark. So they put a live coal under the churn, and they wave a lighted wisp of straw above the cow’s head if the beast seems sickly. But as to the pigs, they take no trouble, for they say the devil has no longer any power over them now. When they light a candle they cross themselves, because the evil spirits are then clearing out of the house in fear of the light. Fire and Holy Water they hold to be sacred, and are powerful; and the best safeguard against all things evil, and the surest test in case of suspected witchcraft.

Poetry: Henry David Thoreau

Pray to What Earth Does This Sweet Cold Belong

Pray to what earth does this sweet cold belong,

Which asks no duties and no conscience?

The moon goes up by leaps, her cheerful path

In some far summer stratum of the sky,

While stars with their cold shine bedot her way.

The fields gleam mildly back upon the sky,

And far and near upon the leafless shrubs

The snow dust still emits a silver light.

Under the hedge, where drift banks are their screen,

The titmice now pursue their downy dreams,

As often in the sweltering summer nights

The bee doth drop asleep in the flower cup,

When evening overtakes him with his load.

By the brooksides, in the still, genial night,

The more adventurous wanderer may hear

The crystals shoot and form, and winter slow

Increase his rule by gentlest summer means.

The Inward Morning

Packed in my mind lie all the clothes

Which outward nature wears,

And in its fashion’s hourly change

It all things else repairs.

In vain I look for change abroad,

And can no difference find,

Till some new ray of peace uncalled

Illumes my inmost mind.

What is it gilds the trees and clouds,

And paints the heavens so gay,

But yonder fast-abiding light

With its unchanging ray?

Lo, when the sun streams through the wood,

Upon a winter’s morn,

Where’er his silent beams intrude,

The murky night is gone.

How could the patient pine have known

The morning breeze would come,

Or humble flowers anticipate

The insect’s noonday hum–

Till the new light with morning cheer

From far streamed through the aisles,

And nimbly told the forest trees

For many stretching miles?

I’ve heard within my inmost soul

Such cheerful morning news,

In the horizon of my mind

Have seen such orient hues,

As in the twilight of the dawn,

When the first birds awake,

Are heard within some silent wood,

Where they the small twigs break,

Or in the eastern skies are seen,

Before the sun appears,

The harbingers of summer heats

Which from afar he bears.

Winter Memories

Within the circuit of this plodding life

There enter moments of an azure hue,

Untarnished fair as is the violet

Or anemone, when the spring stew them

By some meandering rivulet, which make

The best philosophy untrue that aims

But to console man for his grievences.

I have remembered when the winter came,

High in my chamber in the frosty nights,

When in the still light of the cheerful moon,

On the every twig and rail and jutting spout,

The icy spears were adding to their length

Against the arrows of the coming sun,

How in the shimmering noon of winter past

Some unrecorded beam slanted across

The upland pastures where the Johnwort grew;

Or heard, amid the verdure of my mind,

The bee’s long smothered hum, on the blue flag

Loitering amidst the mead; or busy rill,

Which now through all its course stands still and dumb

Its own memorial, – purling at its play

Along the slopes, and through the meadows next,

Until its youthful sound was hushed at last

In the staid current of the lowland stream;

Or seen the furrows shine but late upturned,

And where the fieldfare followed in the rear,

When all the fields around lay bound and hoar

Beneath a thick integument of snow.

So by God’s cheap economy made rich

To go upon my winter’s task again. <

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