Oisín’s Lament

Apparently it’s National Poetry Month. …For the next 6 hours. And as Steve Guttenberg says, “No risk, no reward.” Blame the following on a diet of too much Yeats and Tolkien. Also, shut up.

Days of sorrow I have known
And nights of melancholy too,
The fire within me flown
To shores immortal, hewn
From stone at all’s beginning,
‘Fore aught took breath or wing,
Or drank from flowing burn.

There below the stars I lay
And watched the mighty Herne
Fleetly fly along the moonlit way,
And all the while played upon
A horn of brass and bone
A song of sadness drawn
From countless days alone.

Here the music of the hartling swells
‘Cross darkling dale and heathered hill;
Head tossing, branches felled
By season’s turn; promise unfullfilled.
By Tara’s starry mirrormeres they sing
Of Éthur’s death: The last unearthly king
On bloodsoaked plain by Éber smote.

Here the champing Embarr runs,
Soft of mane and bright of coat,
Spied by mortals never under sun.
Fair maid upon his back agleam,
Made of gold, beauty without reprieve:
Immortal seed of the inconstant sea,
Clear and sweet, my belovéd Niamh.

She took me by the trembling hand
And laid to rest all fear;
We wandered through the Other Land,
Innocent of doom so near.
We slept atop a windswept heath
With glistening grass beneath
And infinite stars above, brightly cold.

One day I heard my clan a-calling:
My brothers, they who’d tholed
A thousand years, all now falling.
Her horse she lent me without thought
And warning gave with all her heart:
That touch the earth must I not,
Lest forever we be torn apart.

Over hardwood hills we coursed,
Far beyond the reach of day,
Whereupon we found sea’s source,
The deathless tide attacking stony bay.
Swift and tireless, the gloaming steed
Bore me to my brother’s need,
While I boldly drew my godly sword.

There on bitter bloody sand I lost
The golden maid by all adored;
A true ill-fated love the cost
Of earthly things I still held dear.
To me they came with spear and sword;
My faithful mount unfaithful reared–
And thus was cut immortal chord.

Steel and foes and brothers vanished,
Whispering clouds before a gale,
Leaving me alone and banishéd,
The keening gulls’ echoing wail;
Cursed to wander far and out of time,
Earth-weary, afoot, caked with mortal grime.
My roving led to Emain Macha,

Where once the Ulaid proudly bode,
Where at the hands of mac Mágach
Conor met his end, relieved of earthly load.
Nature has again seized field and ford,
The trees taken back their rightful place,
Wild hornéd Herne their rightful lord,
And all throughout the flighty fauna race.

Still my mind will walk at times
With Niamh beside the frosty tarn
And watch the shoals beneath the rime;
Or ride solemn by the Dagda’s cairn
To Silverhand Nuada’s firelit hall,
Where no dark strays beyond the wall,
Day and night mingling in effulgent sheen.

Long then were the years ere Finn,
Yet longer now they seem,
Sundered from belovéd kin,
Far beyond the golden eyes aglow
Of fair folk lost, and ghostly maiden’s gleam;
Of worlds and paths none can know,
Naught now but an old man’s bitter dream.


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