Alice And Una. A Tale Of Ceim-An-Eich

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Ah! the pleasant time hath vanished, ere our wretched doubtings
All the graceful spirit-people, children of the earth and sea,
Whom in days now dim and olden, when the world was fresh and golden,
Every mortal could behold in haunted rath, and tower, and tree--
They have vanished, they are banished--ah! how sad the loss for thee,
Lonely Ceim-an-eich!

Still some scenes are yet enchanted by the charms that Nature granted,
Still are peopled, still are haunted, by a graceful spirit band.
Peace and beauty have their dwelling where the infant streams are
Where the mournful waves are knelling on Glengariff's coral strand;
Or where, on Killarney's mountains, Grace and Terror smiling stand,
Like sisters, hand in hand!

Still we have a new romance in fire-ships through the tamed sea
And the snorting and the prancing of the mighty engine steed;
Still, Astolpho-like, we wander through the boundless azure yonder,
Realizing what seemed fonder than the magic tales we read:
Tales of wild Arabian wonder, where the fancy all is freed--
Wilder far indeed!

Now that Earth once more hath woken, and the trance of Time is broken,
And the sweet word--Hope--is spoken, soft and sure, though none know
Could we, could we only see all these, the glories of the Real,
Blended with the lost Ideal, happy were the old world now--
Woman in its fond believing--man with iron arm and brow--
Faith and work its vow!

Yes! the Past shines clear and pleasant, and there's glory in the
And the Future, like a crescent, lights the deepening sky of Time;
And that sky will yet grow brighter, if the Worker and the Writer--
If the Sceptre and the Mitre join in sacred bonds sublime.
With two glories shining o'er them, up the coming years they'll climb,
Earth's great evening as its prime!

With a sigh for what is fading, but, O Earth! with no upbraiding,
For we feel that time is braiding newer, fresher flowers for thee,
We will speak, despite our grieving, words of loving and believing,
Tales we vowed when we were leaving awful Ceim-an-eich,
Where the sever'd rocks resemble fragments of a frozen sea,
And the wild deer flee!

'Tis the hour when flowers are shrinking, when the weary sun is sinking,
And his thirsty steeds are drinking in the cooling western sea;
When young Maurice lightly goeth, where the tiny streamlet floweth
And the struggling moonlight showeth where his path must be--
Path whereon the wild goats wander fearlessly and free
Through dark Ceim-an-eich.

As a hunter, danger daring, with his dogs the brown moss sharing,
Little thinking, little caring, long a wayward youth lived he;
But his bounding heart was regal, and he looked as looks the eagle,
And he flew as flies the beagle, who the panting stag doth see:
Love, who spares a fellow-archer, long had let him wander free
Through wild Ceim-an-eich!

But at length the hour drew nigher when his heart should feel that fire;
Up the mountain high and higher had he hunted from the dawn;
Till the weeping fawn descended, where the earth and ocean blended,
And with hope its slow way wended to a little grassy lawn;
It is safe, for gentle Alice to her saving breast hath drawn
Her almost sister fawn.

Alice was a chieftain's daughter, and, though many suitors sought her,
She so loved Glengariff's water that she let her lovers pine;
Her eye was beauty's palace, and her cheek an ivory chalice,
Through which the blood of Alice gleamed soft as rosiest wine,
And her lips like lusmore blossoms which the fairies intertwine,
And her heart a golden mine.

She was gentler and shyer than the light fawn that stood by her,
And her eyes emit a fire soft and tender as her soul;
Love's dewy light doth drown her, and the braided locks that crown her
Than autumn's trees are browner, when the golden shadows roll
Through the forests in the evening, when cathedral turrets toll,
And the purple sun advanceth to its goal.

Her cottage was a dwelling all regal homes excelling,
But, ah! beyond the telling was the beauty round it spread:
The wave and sunshine playing, like sisters each arraying,
Far down the sea-plants swaying upon their coral bed,
As languid as the tresses on a sleeping maiden's head,
When the summer breeze is dead.

Need we say that Maurice loved her, and that no blush reproved her
When her throbbing bosom moved her to give the heart she gave;
That by dawnlight and by twilight, and, O blessed moon! by thy light,
When the twinkling stars on high light the wanderer o'er the wave,
His steps unconscious led him where Glengariff's waters lave
Each mossy bank and cave.

He thitherward is wending, o'er the vale is night descending,
Quick his step, but quicker sending his herald thoughts before;
By rocks and streams before him, proud and hopeful on he bore him;
One star was shining o'er him--in his heart of hearts two more--
And two other eyes, far brighter than a human head e'er wore,
Unseen were shining o'er.

These eyes are not of woman, no brightness merely human
Could, planet-like, illumine the place in which they shone;
But Nature's bright works vary--there are beings light and airy,
Whom mortal lips call fairy, and Una she is one--
Sweet sisters of the moonbeams and daughters of the sun,
Who along the curling cool waves run.

As summer lightning dances amid the heavens' expanses,
Thus shone the burning glances of those flashing fairy eyes;
Three splendours there were shining, three passions intertwining,
Despair and hope combining their deep-contrasted dyes,
With jealousy's green lustre, as troubled ocean vies
With the blue of summer skies!

She was a fairy creature, of heavenly form and feature,
Not Venus' self could teach her a newer, sweeter grace,
Not Venus' self could lend her an eye so dark and tender,
Half softness and half splendour, as lit her lily face;
And as the choral planets move harmonious throughout space,
There was music in her pace.

But when at times she started, and her blushing lips were parted,
And a pearly lustre darted from her teeth so ivory white,
You'd think you saw the gliding of two rosy clouds dividing,
And the crescent they were hiding gleam forth upon your sight
Through these lips, as though the portals of a heaven pure and bright,
Came a breathing of delight!

Though many an elf-king loved her, and elf-dames grave reproved her,
The hunter's daring moved her more wildly every hour;
Unseen she roamed beside him, to guard him and to guide him,
But now she must divide him from her human rival's power.
Ah! Alice!--gentle Alice! the storm begins to lower
That may crush Glengariff's flower!

The moon, that late was gleaming, as calm as childhood's dreaming,
Is hid, and, wildly screaming, the stormy winds arise;
And the clouds flee quick and faster before their sullen master,
And the shadows of disaster are falling from the skies;
Strange sights and sounds are rising--but, Maurice, be thou wise,
Nor heed the tempting cries.

If ever mortal needed that council, surely he did;
But the wile has now succeeded--he wanders from his path;
The cloud its lightning sendeth, and its bolt the stout oak rendeth,
And the arbutus back bendeth in the whirlwind, as a lath!
Now and then the moon looks out, but, alas! its pale face hath
A dreadful look of wrath.

In vain his strength he squanders--at each step he wider wanders--
Now he pauses--now he ponders where his present path may lead;
And, as he round is gazing, he sees--a sight amazing--
Beneath him, calmly grazing, a noble jet-black steed.
"Now, heaven be praised!" cried Maurice, "for this succour in my need--
From this labyrinth I'm freed!"

Upon its back he leapeth, but a shudder through him creepeth,
As the mighty monster sweepeth like a torrent through the dell;
His mane, so softly flowing, is now a meteor blowing,
And his burning eyes are glowing with the light of an inward hell;
And the red breath of his nostrils, like steam where the lightning fell;
And his hoofs have a thunder knell!

What words have we for painting the momentary fainting
That the rider's heart is tainting, as decay doth taint a corse?
But who will stoop to chiding, in a fancied courage priding,
When we know that he is riding the fearful Phooka Horse?
Ah! his heart beats quick and faster than the smitings of remorse
As he sweepeth through the wild grass and gorse!

As the avalanche comes crashing, 'mid the scattered streamlets
Thus backward wildly dashing flew the horse through Ceim-an-eich--
Through that glen so wide and narrow back he darted like an arrow--
Round, round by Gougane Barra, and the fountains of the Lee;
O'er the Giant's Grave he leapeth, and he seems to own in fee
The mountains, and the rivers, and the sea!

From his flashing hoofs who shall lock the eagle homes of Malloc,
When he bounds, as bounds the Mialloch in its wild and murmuring
But as winter leadeth Flora, or the night leads on Aurora,
Or as shines green Glashenglora along the black hill's side,
Thus, beside that demon monster, white and gentle as a bride,
A tender fawn is seen to glide.

It is the fawn that fled him, and that late to Alice led him,
But now it does not dread him, as it feigned to do before,
When down the mountain gliding, in that sheltered meadow hiding,
It left his heart abiding by wild Glengariff's shore:
For it was a gentle fairy who the fawn's light form thus wore,
And who watched sweet Alice o'er.

But the steed is backward prancing where late it was advancing,
And his flashing eyes are glancing, like the sun upon Lough Foyle;
The hardest granite crushing, through the thickest brambles brushing,
Now like a shadow rushing up the sides of Slieve-na-goil!
And the fawn beside him gliding o'er the rough and broken soil,
Without fear and without toil.

Through woods, the sweet birds' leaf home, he rusheth to the sea foam,
Long, long the fairies' chief home, when the summer nights are cool,
And the blue sea, like a syren, with its waves the steed environ,
Which hiss like furnace iron when plunged within a pool,
Then along among the islands where the water nymphs bear rule,
Through the bay to Adragool.

Now he rises o'er Berehaven, where he hangeth like a raven--
Ah! Maurice, though no craven, how terrible for thee
To see the misty shading of the mighty mountains fading,
And thy winged fire-steed wading through the clouds as through a sea!
Now he feels the earth beneath him--he is loosen'd--he is free,
And asleep in Ceim-an-eich.

Away the wild steed leapeth, while his rider calmly sleepeth
Beneath a rock which keepeth the entrance to the glen,
Which standeth like a castle, where are dwelling lord and vassal,
Where within are wind and wassail, and without are warrior men;
But save the sleeping Maurice, this castle cliff had then
No mortal denizen!

Now Maurice is awaking, for the solid earth is shaking,
And a sunny light is breaking through the slowly opening stone
And a fair page at the portal crieth, "Welcome, welcome! mortal,
Leave thy world (at best a short ill), for the pleasant world we own:
There are joys by thee untasted, there are glories yet unknown--
Come kneel at Una's throne."

With a sullen sound of thunder, the great rock falls asunder,
He looks around in wonder, and with ravishment awhile,
For the air his sense is chaining, with as exquisite a paining
As when summer clouds are raining o'er a flowery Indian isle;
And the faces that surround him, oh! how exquisite their smile,
So free of mortal care and guile.

These forms, oh! they are finer--these faces are diviner
Than, Phidias, even thine are, with all thy magic art;
For beyond an artist's guessing, and beyond a bard's expressing,
Is the face that truth is dressing with the feelings of the heart;
Two worlds are there together--earth and heaven have each a part--
And of such, divinest Una, thou art!

And then the dazzling lustre of the hall in which they muster--
Where the brightest diamonds cluster on the flashing walls around;
And the flying and advancing, and the sighing and the glancing.
And the music and the dancing on the flower-inwoven ground,
And the laughing and the feasting, and the quaffing and the sound,
In which their voices all are drowned.

But the murmur now is hushing--there's a pushing and a rushing,
There's a crowding and a crushing, through that golden, fairy place,
Where a snowy veil is lifting, like the slow and silent shifting
Of a shining vapour drifting across the moon's pale face--
For there sits gentle Una, fairest queen of fairy race,
In her beauty, and her majesty, and grace.

The moon by stars attended, on her pearly throne ascended,
Is not more purely splendid than this fairy-girted queen;
And when her lips had spoken, 'mid the charmed silence broken,
You'd think you had awoken in some bright Elysian scene;
For her voice than the lark's was sweeter, that sings in joy between
The heavens and the meadows green.

But her cheeks--ah! what are roses?--what are clouds where eve
What are hues that dawn discloses?--to the blushes spreading there;
And what the sparkling motion of a star within the ocean,
To the crystal soft emotion that her lustrous dark eyes wear?
And the tresses of a moonless and a starless night are fair
To the blackness of her raven hair.

Ah! mortal hearts have panted for what to thee is granted--
To see the halls enchanted of the spirit world revealed;
And yet no glimpse assuages the feverish doubt that rages
In the hearts of bards and sages wherewith they may be healed;
For this have pilgrims wandered--for this have votaries kneeled--
For this, too, has blood bedewed the field.

"And now that thou beholdest what the wisest and the oldest,
What the bravest and the boldest, have never yet descried,
Wilt thou come and share our being, be a part of what thou'rt seeing,
And flee, as we are fleeing, through the boundless ether wide?
Or along the silver ocean, or down deep where pale pearls hide?
And I, who am a queen, will be thy bride.

"As an essence thou wilt enter the world's mysterious centre,"
And then the fairy bent her, imploring to the youth--
"Thou'lt be free of Death's cold ghastness, and, with a comet's
Thou canst wander through the vastness to the Paradise of Truth,
Each day a new joy bringing, which will never leave in sooth
The slightest stain of weariness and ruth."

As he listened to the speaker, his heart grew weak and weaker--
Ah! Memory, go seek her, that maiden by the wave,
Who with terror and amazement is looking from her casement,
Where the billows at the basement of her nestled cottage rave,
At the moon which struggles onward through the tempest, like the brave,
And which sinks within the clouds as in a grave.

All maidens will abhor us, and it's very painful for us
To tell how faithless Maurice forgot his plighted vow:
He thinks not of the breaking of the heart he late was seeking,
He but listens to her speaking, and but gazes on her brow;
And his heart has all consented, and his lips are ready now
With the awful and irrevocable vow.

While the word is there abiding, lo! the crowd is now dividing,
And, with sweet and gentle gliding, in before him came a fawn;
It was the same that fled him, and that seemed so much to dread him,
When it down in triumph led him to Glengariff's grassy lawn,
When, from rock to rock descending, to sweet Alice he was drawn,
As through Ceim-an-eich he hunted from the dawn.

The magic chain is broken--no fairy vow is spoken--
From his trance he hath awoken, and once again is free;
And gone is Una's palace, and vain the wild steed's malice,
And again to gentle Alice down he wends through Ceim-an-eich:
The moon is calmly shining over mountain, stream, and tree,
And the yellow sea-plants glisten through the sea.

The sun his gold is flinging, the happy birds are singing,
And bells are gaily ringing along Glengariff's sea;
And crowds in many a galley to the happy marriage rally
Of the maiden of the valley and the youth of Ceim-an-eich;
Old eyes with joy are weeping, as all ask on bended knee
A blessing, gentle Alice, upon thee!

© Denis Florence MacCarthy