CANADIAN BALLADS,

AND

OCCASIONAL VERSES.

By Thomas D’Arcy McGee


 

IONA.*



Would you visit the home St. Columbcille chose?
You must sail to the North when the West wind blows,
To the airt where grow nor flowers nor trees,
On the soil of the sea-spent Hebrides
There, over against the steep Ross shore,

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In hearing of Coryvrekan’s roar,
You will find the dwarfish holly growing,
And see the brave sea-buglos blowing
Around the roots of the Belladonna,
On the shore of the Island—holy Iona! [Page 92]

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In that far Isle the North star shines,
On tombless Kings, and Saints sans shrines—
The small sheep crop the grass that springs
Lineally up from the loins of Kings;
There Jarls from Orkney and Heligoland,

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And Thanes from York and from Cumberland,
And Maormors of Moray, and Lenox, and Levin,
Cruel in life, lie hoping for heaven;
There Magnus of Norway, and stern Macbeth,
Lie stretched at the feet of the democrat, Death;

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And Princes of Ulster and Lords of Lorn
Await the trump of All Souls’ morn.

“Here lived St. Columb,” the ferrymen say;
“He kept his boats in this shingly bay—
He fenced this glebe—he set up the stone,

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(The kirk it belonged to was overthrown):—
Up on this mound, at the close of day,
Facing towards Erin, he never would pray;
Thousands of blessings he gave to the Gael—
’Tis pity they were not of more avail!”

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Saint of the Seas! who first explored
The haunts of the Hyperborean horde—
Who spread God’s word, and reared His cross,
From Westra wild to the cliffs of Ross—
Whose sail was seen, whose voice was known,

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By dwellers without the Vikings’ zone— [Page 93]
Whose cunning hand hath left our age
Of Holy writ so many a page—
Whose days were passed in the teacher’s toil—
Whose evening song still fills the isle—

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Whose poet heart fed the wild bird’s brood—
Whose fervent arm upbore the rood—
Whose sacred song is scarce less sublime
Than the visions that typify all time—
Still, from thy rock, sea-worn and grey,

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Thou preachest to all who pass the way.

I hear they voice, oh holy Saint!
Of to-day, and its men, make dire complaint—
Thou speakest to us of that spell of power,
Thy rocky Iona’s royal dower—

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Of the light of love and love of light,
Which made it shine out a star o’ the night;
Thou pointest my eyes to the deep, deep waves—
Thou callest my heart to the mute, mute graves;
Thou wooest young Life, and her lover, Faith,

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As victors, to enter the Castle of Death,
To leave their beacons of being, to warn
The weak and wild, and the far unborn,
Off perilous straits and fair-false shoals,
Where myriads have lost their adventur’d souls. [Page 94]

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Saint of the seas! when the winds are out,
When, like hounds at fault, they quest about,
My soul from its mortal mooring slips,
And glides away through the midnight ships—
And all unheeding the face of Fear

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That darkens down on the mariner,
It rushes through sea, and space, and spray,
And through the birds that embank the bay,
And over the holly and Belladonna,
Its vigils to keep in thy holy Iona! [Page 95]

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* “We were now treading that illustrious island, which was once the luminary of the Caledonian regions, whence savage clans and roving barbarians derived the benefit of knowledge and the blessings of religion.  To abstract the mind from all local emotion would be impossible if it were endeavoured, and would be foolish if it were possible.  Whatever withdraws us from the power of our senses,—whatever makes the past, the distant or the future, predominate over the present,—advances us in the dignity of thinking beings.  Far from me and from my friends be such rigid philosophy, as may conduct us indifferent and unmoved over any ground which has been dignified by wisdom, bravery or virtue.  The man is little to be envied whose patriotism would not gain force on the plains of Marathon, or whose piety would not grow warmer among the ruins of Iona.” —JOHNSON’S Journey to the Hebrides, (Works,) vol. vii., p. 385. [back]