Ballads, and Other Poems

The Voyage of Maeldune

(Founded on an Irish Legend. A.D. 7OO)

Alfred Tennyson

I WAS the chief of the race—he had stricken my father dead—
But I gather’d my fellows together, I swore I would strike off his head.
Each of them look’d like a king, and was noble in birth as in worth,
And each of them boasted he sprang from the oldest race upon earth.
Each was as brave in the light as the bravest hero of song,
And each of them liefer had died than have done one another a wrong.
He lived on an isle in the ocean—we sail’d on a Friday morn—
He that had slain my father the day before I was born.

And we came to the isle in the ocean, and there on the shore was he.
But a sudden blast blew us out and away thro’ a boundless sea.

And we came to the Silent Isle that we never had touch’d at before,
Where a silent ocean always broke on a silent shore,
And the brooks glitter’d on in the light without sound, and the long waterfall,
Pour’d in a thunderless plunge to the base of the mountain walls,
And the poplar and cypress unshaken by storm flourish’d up beyond sight,
And the pine shot aloft from the crag to an unbelievable height,
And high in the heaven above it there flicker’d a songless lark,
And the cock couldn’t crow, and the bull couldn’t low, and the dog couldn’t bark.
And round it we went, and thro’ it, but never a murmur, a breath—
It was all of it fair as life, it was all of it quiet as death,
And we hated the beautiful Isle, for whenever we strove to speak
Our voices were thinner and fainter than any flittermouse-shriek;
And the men that were mighty of tongue and could raise such a battle-cry
That a hundred who heard it would rush on a thousand lances and die—
O they to be dumb’d by the charm!—so fluster’d with anger were they
They almost fell on each other; but after we sail’d away.

And we carne to the Isle of Shouting, we landed, a score of wild birds
Cried from the topmost summit with human voices and words;
Once in an hour they cried, and whenever their voices peal’d
The steer fell down at the plow and the harvest died from the field,
And the men dropt dead in the valleys and half of the cattle went lame,
And the roof sank in on the hearth, and the dwelling broke into flame;
And the shouting of these wild birds ran into the hearts of my crew,
Till they shouted along with the shouting and seized one another and slew;
But I drew them the one from the other; I saw that we could not stay,
And we left the dead to the birds and we sail’d with our wounded away.

And we came to the Isle of Flowers: their breath met us out on the seas,
For the Spring and the middle Summer sat each on the lap of the breeze;
And the red passion-flower to the cliffs and the dark-blue clematis, clung,
And starr’d with a myriad blossom the long convolvulus hung;
And the topmost spire of the mountain was lilies in lieu of snow,
And the lilies like glaciers winded down, running out below
Thro’ the fire of the tulip and poppy, the blaze of gorse, and the blush
Of millions of roses that sprang without leaf or a thorn from the bush;
And the whole isle-side flashing down from the peak without ever a tree
Swept like a torrent of gems from the sky to the blue of the sea;
And we roll’d upon capes of crocus and vaunted our kith and our kin,
And we wallow’d in beds of lilies, and chanted the triumph of Finn,
Till each like a golden image was pollen’d from head to feet
And each was as dry as a cricket, with thirst in the middle-day heat.
Blossom and blossom, and promise of blossom, but never a fruit!
And we hated the Flowering Isle, as we hated the isle that was mute,
And we tore up the flowers by the million and flung them in bight and bay,
And we left but a naked rock, and in anger we sail’d away.

And we came to the Isle of Fruits: all round from the cliffs and the capes,
Purple or amber, dangled a hundred fathom of grapes,
And the warm melon lay like a little sun on the tawny sand,
And the fig ran up from the beach and rioted over the land,
And the mountain arose like a jewell’d throne thro’ the fragrant air,
Glowing with all-colour’d plums and with golden masses of pear,
And the crimson and scarlet of berries that flamed upon bine and vine,
But in every berry and fruit was the poisonous pleasure of wine;
And the peak of the mountain was apples, the hugest that ever were seen,
And they prest, as they grew, on each other, with hardly a leaflet between,
And all of them redder than rosiest health or than utterest shame,
And setting, when Even descended, the very sunset aflame;
And we stay’d three days, and we gorged and we madden’d, till every one drew
His sword on his fellow to slay him, and ever they struck and they slew;
And myself, I had eaten but sparely, and fought till I sunder’d the fray,
Then I bad them remember my father’s death, and we sail’d away.

And we came to the Isle of Fire: we were lured by the light from afar,
For the peak sent up one league of fire to the Northern Star;
Lured by the glare and the blare, but scarcely could stand upright,
For the whole isle shudder’d and shook like a man in a mortal affright;
We were giddy besides with the fruits we had gorged, and so crazed that at last
There were some leap’d into the fire; and away we sail’d, and we past
Over that undersea isle, where the water is clearer than air:
Down we look’d: what a garden! O bliss, what a Paradise there!
Towers of a happier time, low down in a rainbow deep
Silent palaces, quiet fields of eternal sleep!
And three of the gentlest and best of my people, whate’er I could say,
Plunged head down in the sea, and the Paradise trembled away.

And we came to the Bounteous Isle, where the heavens lean low on the land,
And ever at dawn from the cloud glitter’d o’er us a sunbright hand,
Then it open’d and dropt at the side of each man, as he rose from his rest,
Bread enough for his need till the labourless day dipt under the West;
And we wander’d about it and thro’ it. O never was time so good!
And we sang of the triumphs of Finn, and the boast of our ancient blood,
And we gazed at the wandering wave as we sat by the gurgle of springs,
And we chanted the songs of the Bards and the glories of fairy kings;
But at length we began to be weary, to sigh, and to stretch and yawn,
Till we hated the Bounteous Isle and the sunbright hand of the dawn,
For there was not an enemy near, but the whole green Isle was our own,
And we took to playing at ball, and we took to throwing the stone,
And we took to playing at battle, but that was a perilous play,
For the passion of battle was in us, we slew and we sail’d away.

And we past to the Isle of Witches and heard their musical cry—
‘Come to us, O come, come’ in the stormy red of a sky
Dashing the fires and the shadows of dawn on the beautiful shapes,
For a wild witch naked as heaven stood on each of the loftiest capes,
And a hundred ranged on the rock like white sea-birds in a row,
And a hundred gamboll’d and pranced on the wrecks in the sand below,
And a hundred splash’d from the ledges, and bosom’d the burst of the spray,
But I knew we should fall on each other, and hastily sail’d away.

And we came in an evil time to the Isle of the Double Towers,
One was of smooth-cut stone, one carved all over with flowers,
But an earthquake always moved in the hollows under the dells,
And they shock’d on each other and butted each other with clashing of bells,
And the daws flew out of the Towers and jangled and wrangled in vain,
And the clash and boom of the bells rang into the heart and the brain,
Till the passion of battle was on us, and all took sides with the Towers,
There were some for the clean-cut stone, there were more for the careen flowers,
And the wrathful thunder of God peal’d over us all the day,
For the one half slew the other, and after we sail’d away.

And we came to the Isle of a Saint who had sail’d with St. Brendan of yore,
He had lived ever since on the Isle and his winters were fifteen score,
And his voice was low as from other worlds, and his eyes were sweet,
And his white hair sank to his heels and his white beard fell to his feet,
And he spake to me, ‘O Maeldune, let be this purpose of thine!
Remember the words of the Lord when he told us “Vengeance is mine!”
His fathers have slain thy fathers in war or in single strife,
Thy fathers have slain his fathers, each taken a life for a life,
Thy father had slain his father, how long shall the murder last?
Go back to the Isle of Finn and suffer the Past to be Past.’
And we kiss’d the fringe of his beard and we pray’d as we heard him pray,
And the Holy man he assoil’d us, and sadly we sail’d away.

And we came to the Isle we were blown from, and thereon the shore was he,
The man that had slain my father. I saw him and let him be.
O weary was I of the travel, the trouble, the strife and the sin,
When I landed again, with a tithe of my men, on the Isle of Finn.

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