Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  The Banshee

Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

John Todhunter b. 1839

The Banshee

GREEN, in the wizard arms

Of the foam-bearded Atlantic,

An isle of old enchantment,

A melancholy isle,

Enchanted and dreaming lies:

And there, by Shannon’s flowing,

In the moonlight, spectre-thin,

The spectre Erin sits.

An aged desolation,

She sits by old Shannon’s flowing,

A mother of many children,

Of children exil’d and dead,

In her home, with bent head, homeless,

Clasping her knees she sits,

Keening, keening!

And at her keene the fairy-grass

Trembles on dun and barrow;

Around the foot of her ancient crosses

The grave-grass shakes and the nettle swings;

In haunted glens the meadow-sweet

Flings to the night wind

Her mystic mournful perfume;

The sad spearmint by holy wells

Breathes melancholy balm.

Sometimes she lifts her head,

With blue eyes tearless,

And gazes athwart the reck of night

Upon things long past,

Upon things to come.

And sometimes, when the moon

Brings tempest upon the deep,

And rous’d Atlantic thunders from his caverns in the west,

The wolfhound at her feet

Springs up with a mighty bay,

And chords of mystery sound from the wild harp at her side,

Strung from the heart of poets;

And she flies on the wings of tempest

Around her shuddering isle,

With gray hair streaming:

A meteor of evil omen,

The spectre of hope forlorn,

Keening, keening!

She keenes, and the strings of her wild harp shiver

On the gusts of night:

O’er the four waters she keenes—over

Moyle she keenes,

O’er the sea of Milith, and the Strait of Strongbow,

And the Ocean of Columbus.

And the Fianna hear, and the ghost of her cloudy hovering heroes;

And the Swan, Fianoula, wails o’er the waters of Inisfail,

Chanting her song of destiny,

The rune of the weaving Fates.

And the nations hear in the void and quaking time of night,

Sad unto dawning, dirges,

Solemn dirges,

And snatches of bardic song;

Their souls quake in the void and quaking time of night,

And they dream of the weird of kings,

And tyrannies moulting, sick

In the dreadful wind of change.

Wail no more, lonely one, mother of exiles, wail no more,

Banshee of the world—no more!

Thy sorrows are the world’s, thou art no more alone;

Thy wrongs, the world’s.