Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
Laurence Bloomfield in Ireland (Author: William Allingham)
Jack Doran's cottage, from a bare hillside,
Look'd out across the bogland black and wide,
Where some few ridges broke the swarthy soil,
A patch of culture, won with patient toil.
5] The walls were mud, around an earthen floor,
Straw ropes held on the thatch, and by his door
A screen of wattles fenced the wind away,
For open wide from morn till dusk it lay,
A stool perhaps across, for barring out
10] The too familiar porker's greedy snout.
Thieves were undreamt-of, vagrants not repell'd,
The poor man's dole the pauper's budget swell' d,
A gift of five potatoes, gently given,
Or fist of meal, repaid with hopes of Heaven.
There Jack and Maureen, Neal their only son,
And daughter Bridget, saw the seasons run;
Poor but contented peasants, warm and kind,
Of hearty manners, and religious mind;
Busy to make their little corner good,
20] And full of health, upon the homeliest food.
They tasted flesh-meat hardly thrice a-year,
Crock-butter, when the times were not too dear,
Salt herring as a treat, as luxury
For Sunday mornings and cold weather, tea;
25] Content they were if milk the noggins crown' d,
What time their oatmeal-stirabout went round,
Or large potatoes, teeming from the pot,
Descended to the basket, smoking hot,
Milk of its precious butter duly strip't,
30] Wherewith to Lisnamoy young Biddy tripp'd.
Not poor they seem'd to neighbours poorer still,
As Doran's father was, ere bog and hill
Gave something for his frugal fight of years
'Gainst marsh and rock, and furze with all its spears,
35] And round the cottage an oasis green
Amidst the dreary wilderness was seen.
Two hardy cows the pail and churn supplied,
Short-legg'd, big-boned, with rugged horns and wide,
That each good spot among the heather knew,
40] And every blade that by the runnels grew,
Roved on the moor at large, but meekly came
With burden'd udders to delight the dame,
And in its turn the hoarded stocking swell'd
Which envious neighbours in their dreams beheld;
45] At thought whereof were bumpkins fain to cast
Sheep's eyes at comely Bridget as she pass'd
With napkin-shaded basket many a morn;
But every bumpkin Bridget laugh'd to scorn.
Who at an evening dance more blithe than she?
50] With steps and changes, modest in their glee,
So true she foots it, and so hard to tire,
Whilst Phil the Fiddler's elbow jerks like fire,
That courting couples turn their heads to look,
And elders praise her from the chimney-nook
55] Amidst their pipes, old stories, and fresh news.
From twenty decent boys might Bridget choose;
For, put the jigs aside, her skill was known
To help a neighbour's work, or speed her own,
And where at kemp or kayley could be found2
60] One face more welcome, all the country round
Mild oval face, a freckle here and there,
Clear eyes, broad forehead, dark abundant hair,
Pure placid look that show'd a gentle nature,
Firm, unperplex'd, were hers; the Maiden's stature
65] Graceful arose, and strong, to middle height,
With fair round arms, and footstep free and light;
She was not showy, she was always neat,
In every gesture native and complete,
Disliking noise, yet neither dull nor slack,
70] Could throw a rustic banter briskly back,
Reserved but ready, innocently shrewd,
In brief; a charming flower of Womanhood.
The girl was rich, in health, good temper, beauty,
Work to be done, amusement after duty,
75] Clear undistracted mind, and tranquil heart,
Well-wishers, in whose thoughts she had her part,
A decent father, a religious mother,
The pride of all the parish in a brother,
And Denis Coyle for sweetheart, where the voice
80] Of Jack and Maureen praised their daughter's choice.
More could she ask for? grief and care not yet,
Those old tax-gatherers, dunn'd her for their debt;
Youth's joyous landscape round her footsteps lay,
And her own sunshine made the whole world gay.
Jack and his wife, through earlier wedded years,
Untroubled with far-sighted hopes and fears,
Within their narrow circle not unskill'd ,
Their daily duties cautiously fulfill'd
Of house and farm, of bargain and of pray'r;
90] And gave the Church and gave the Poor a share;
Each separate gift by angels put in score
As plain as though 'twere chalk' d behind the door.
The two themselves could neither write nor read,
But of their children's lore were proud indeed,
95] And most of Neal, who step by step had pass'd
His mates, and trod the master's heels at last.
When manly, godly counsels took the rule,
And open'd to her young a freer school,
Poor Erin's good desire was quickly proved;
100] Learning she loves, as long ago she loved.
The peasant, sighing at his own defect,
Would snatch his children from the same neglect;
From house and hut, by hill and plain, they pour
In tens of thousands to the teacher's floor;
105] Across the general island seems to come
Their blended voice, a pleasing busy hum.
Our little Bridget, pretty child, was there,
And Neal, a quick-eyed boy with russet hair,
Brisk as the month of March, yet with a grace
110] Of meditative sweetness in his face;
To Learning's Temple, which made shift to stand
In cowhouse form on great Sir Ulick's land
(Who vex'd these schools with all his pompous might
Nor would, for love or money, grant a site),
115] Each morn with merry step they crossed the hill,
And soon could read with pleasure, write with skill,
Amaze from print their parents' simple wit,
Decypher New-world letters cramply writ;
But Neal, not long content with primers, read
120] Rings round him, as his mother aptly said;
Sought far for books, devour' d what e'er he found,
And peep'd through loopholes from his narrow bound.
Good Maureen gazed with awe on pen and ink,
On books with blindest reverence. Whilst we think
125] The Dark and Middle Ages flown away,
Their population crowds us round to-day;
So slowly moves the world. Our dame believed,
Firmly as saints and angels she received,
In witchcraft, lucky and unlucky times,
130] Omens and charms, and fairy-doctors' rhymes
To help a headache, or a cow fall'n dry;
Strong was the malice of an evil eye;
She fear'd those hags of dawn, who skirnm'd the well,
And robb'd the churning by their May-day spell;
135] The gentle race, whom youngsters now neglect,
From Mary never miss'd their due respect;
And when a little whirl of dust and straws
Rose in her pathway, she took care to pause
And cross herself; a twine of rowan-spray,
140] An ass's shoe, might keep much harm away;
Saint Bridget's candle, which the priest had blest,
Was stored to light a sick-bed. For the rest,
She led a simple and contented life,
Sweet-temper'd, dutiful, as maid and wife;
145] Her husband's wisdom from her heart admired,
And in her children's praises never tired.
Jack was a plodding man, who deem'd it best
To hide away the wisdom he possessed;
Of scanty words, avoiding all dispute;
150] But much experience in his mind had root;
Most deferential, yet you might surprise
A secret scanning in the small grey eyes;
Short, active, though with labour's trudge, his legs;
His knotted lingers, like rude wooden pegs,
155] Still firm of grip; his breath was slow and deep;
His hair unbleach'd with time, a rough black heap.
Fond, of a night, to calmly sit and smoke,
While neighbours plied their argument or joke,
To each he listened, seldom praised or blamed,
160] All party-spirit prudently disclaim' d,
Repeating, with his wise old wrinkled face,
I never knew it help a poor man's case;
And when they talk'd of tyrants, Doran said
Nothing, but suck'd his pipe and shook his head.
In patient combat with a barren soil,
Jack saw the gradual tilth reward his toil,
Where first his father as a cottier came
On patch too poor for other man to claim.
Jack's father kept the hut against the hill
170] With daily eightpence earned by sweat and skill;
Three sons grew up; one hasted over sea,
One married soon, fought hard with poverty,
Sunk, and died young; the eldest boy was Jack,
Young herd and spadesman at his father's back,
175] With every hardship sturdily he strove,
To fair or distant ship fat cattle drove,
(Not theirs, his father had a single cow),
And cross'd the narrow tides to reap and mow.
A fever burn'd away the old man's life;
180] Jack had the land, the hovel, and a wife;
And in the chimney's warmest comer sat
His good old mother, with her favourite cat.
Manus, now dead, (long since, on cottier-take
Allow' d cheap lodgment for his labour's sake)
185] Contriving days and odd half-days to snatch,
By slow degrees had tamed the savage patch
Beside his hut, driven back the stubborn gorse,
Whose pounded prickles meanwhile fed his horse,
And crown' d the cut-out bog with many a sheaf
190] Of speckled oats, and spread the dark-green leaf
Where plaited white or purple blooms unfold
To look on summer with an eye of gold,
Potato-blossoms, namely. Now, be sure,
A larger rent was paid; nor, if secure
195] Of footsole-place where painfully he wrought,
Would Manus grumble. Year by year he sought
A safeguard; but the Landlord still referr'd
Smoothly to Agent, Agent merely heard,
And answer'dWe'll arrange it by and by;
200] Meanwhile, you're well enough, man; let it lie;'
Resolved to grant no other petty lease,
The ills of petty farming to increase.
Old Manus gone, and Bloomfield's father gone,
Sir Ulick Harvey's guardian rule came on;
205] And so at last Jack found his little all
At Viceroy Pigot's mercy, which was small.
With more than passive discontent he look'd
On tenacies like Jack's, and ill had brook'd
The whisper of their gains. He stood one day,
210] Filling the petty household with dismay,
Within their hut, and saw that Paudeen Dhu,
The bailiff, when he call'd it snug, spoke true.
The patch' d, unpainted, but substantial door,
The well-fill'd dresser, and the level floor,
215] Clean chairs and stools, a gaily-quilted bed,
The weather-fast though grimy thatch o'erhead,
The fishing rods and reels above the fire,
Neal's books, and comely Bridget's neat attire,
Express'd a comfort which the rough neglect
220] That reign'd outside forbade him to expect.
Indeed, give shrewd old cautious Jack his way,
The house within had shown less neat array,
Who held the maxim that, in prosperous case,
'Tis wise to show a miserable face;
225] A decent hat, a wife's good shawl or gown
For higher rent may mark the farmer down;
Beside your window shun to plant a rose
Lest it should draw the prowling bailiff's nose,
Nor deal with whitewash, lest the cottage lie
230] A target for the bullet of his eye;
Rude be your fence and fieldif trig and trim
A cottier shows them, all the worse for him.
To scrape, beyond expenses, if he can,
A silent stealthy penny, is the plan
235] Of him who dares ita suspected man!
With tedious, endless, heavy-laden, toil,
Judged to have thieved a pittance from the soil.
But close in reach of Bridget's busy hand
Dirt and untidiness could scarcely stand;
240] And Neal, despite his father's sense of guilt,
A dairy and a gable-room had built,
And by degrees the common kitchen graced
With many a touch of his superior taste.
The peasant draws a low and toilsome lot;
245] Poorer than all above him? surely not.
Conscious of useful strength, untaught to care
For smiling masquerade and dainty fare,
With social pleasures, warmer if less bland,
Companionship and converse nigh at hand,
250] If sad, with genuine sorrows, well-defined,
His life brought closer to a simpler mind;
He's friends with earth and cloud, plant, beast and bird;
His glance, by oversubleties unblurr'd,
At human nature, flies not much astray;
255] Afoot he journeys, but enjoys the way.
Th' instinctive faith, perhaps, of such holds best
To that ideal truth, the power and zest
Of all appearance; limitation keeps
Their souls compact; light cares they have, sound sleeps;
260] Their day, within a settled course begun,
Brings wholesome task, advancing with the sun,
The sure result with satisfaction sees,
And fills with calm a well-earn'd hour of ease.
Nay, gold, whose mere possession less avails,
265] Far-glittering, decks the world with fairy-tales.
Who grasp at poison, trigger, cord, or knife?
Seldom the poorest peasant tires of life.
Mark the great evil of a low estate;
Not Poverty, but Slavery,one man's fate
270] Too much at mercy of another's will.
Doran has prosper'd, but is trembling still.
Our Agent's lightest word his heart can shake,
The Bailiff's bushy eyebrow bids him quake.
Jack had been urged, and thought the counsel good,
275] Go, delve the prairie, clear the Western wood;
There, with your little purse and vigorous arm,
Be king (for so you may) of house and farm.
But kindly to his native nook he clung,
Too old his mother, and his babes too young,
280] His wife too timid,till he found at last
His own brisk day for enterprise gone past,
And hoped with trembling, that, without a lease,
The LORD would let them pass their days in peace,
And leave the children settled well in life:
285] Such was the prayer of Doran and his wife.
School-teaching some, and some the Church advised
For Neal; but Jack, from lifelong habit, prized
His hard-won and uncertain bit o' ground,
And in his son's increasing vigour found
290] A welcome help, till soil and seasons claim'd
Neal's constant hand. But far too high it aim'd,
On house and field improvement bravely bent.
My boy, said Jack, you'll only rise the rent,
Or get us hunted from too good a place
295] And back'd his fears from many a well-known case.
He praised their added room, but shook his head,
The small new dairy fill'd his soul with dread,
To cut a drain might dig their own pitfall,
'Twas ostentation to rebuild a wall,
300] And did they further dare to stub the whins
The Great-Folk soon would visit all their sins.
We'll buy.But they won't sell.More rent we'll pay.
They'll charge three prices, or snap all away.
What could Neal do?his parents getting old,
305] Detain' d him; but his early hopes were cold.
Improve they must not; if permitted still
To merely stay, 'tis at their Agent's will.
They long have struggled, with some poor success,
But well they know, should harder fortunes press.
310] Their slow prosperity is thin and poor,
And may not even petty rubs endure.
From day to day th' unresting finger steals
Of Heaven's great clock, with all the stars for wheels,
Transmuting worlds, and every small thing too;
315] The boy to man, the girl to woman grew;
Jack stiffened; Maureen's hair was streak' d with white;
The good old grandame vanish' d from their sight.
And day by day, on both estates, Jack sees
Old tenants losing place by slow degrees;
320] No leases granted or renew'd; the serf
Hemm'd from his former space of moor and turf;
To grazing, here, the various tillage yields;
There wide-spread farms absorb the petty fields;
Gain, luxury, and love of power, inspire
325] New selfish schemes, that more and more require
All privilege and profit from the land
To rest completely in the Great-Folk's hand,
Accorded, changed, withheld, at their command.
Neal sometimes argues that, whilst yet in plight,
330] 'Twere well to dare at last the distant flight.
Let's go while go we may; if things get worse
They soon must leave us empty byre and purse.
You're fresh, thank God, and lively, mother dear;
Father, we'd work and prosper well, no fear;
335] And rise to something, anywhere but here.
There's Coyle, besides, in tiptoe haste to start;
One word, and Coyle is with us, hand and heart.
But age's caution, added to their own,
Still held the parents back from risks unknown.
One cool and grey autumnal nightthe same
That sees Sir Ulick's banquetround the flame
Of fragrant fir that branch'd a waving tree
Before the human form began to be,
And countless years lay sunk in black morass,
345] Are drawn this humble household. Slowly pass
Their quiet evening hours. If Maureen doze,
Her needles fail not, adding rows to rows
Of knitted wool; nor less untiring spins
Her daughter, who with skilful finger wins
350] The flowing yellow flax from rock to reel,
And chants a ditty to her murmuring wheel;
The son and father bask, as well they may
Who handle flails as these have done to-day,
The sweet-milk-and-potato supper done,
355] Their out-door creatures cared for, every one,
The cat and dog, too, comrades old and tried;
In drowsy warmth reposing side by side.
Jack thinks the times look bad. God help the poor!
Sighs Maureen; We're not cowld or hungry sure,
360] The Lord be praised! but rising rints, mavrone,
And failing crops, would soon scrape flesh from bone.
The girl had met a keeper, hung with grouse;
She talks of banquet at the Moy Big House:
They're at their dinner now,and so polite,
365] With lovely dresses,O to see the sight!
A glorious wish!arousing, mutters Neal,
Though envy's pang he could not choose but feel.
Our Landlord's on the start again, they say.
To us what matter, let him go or stay?
370] Well now, says Bridget, he's a fine young man.
Her thoughts on Bloomfield's recent visit ran.
A gintleman o' plain discoorse, in troth,
Good luck to him! says Maureen. Chips and froth!
Cries Neal: I half began to speak my mind,
375] But." All no use, no use, my son, you'd find.
'Twould only, Jack thinks, drive our Agent mad.
The young man sat fire-gazing, sullen-sad.
Maychance you'd read us something Nail asthore?
The less 'twas understood, believed the more,
380] Her son's vast learning made Maureen rejoice;
Her heart was aisy, listenin' to his voice.
Goin' out you are avic? You won't be late?
No, mother dear. They heard the garden gate
Clap loud behind him. He's across the hill
385] To Ballytullagh,which but pleased them ill;
This neighbouring hamlet being a noted place,
By Pigot, their Pashá, cast out from grace.
Jack lit his pipe; the mother deeply sigh'd;
The girl in thought her humming spindle plied;
390] Young Neal, the while, on glooming path, well-known,
That winds by clump of gorse and boulder-stone,
Mounted the ridge, and saw in shadowy skies
A red enormous moon begin to rise.