November 14, 2017

Moore's Moyle and More

        It’s time for some more fantasy poetry, and today I’m looking at Thomas Moore (1779-1852), Irish Romantic poet.  Like many of the Romantics, his work can be appallingly overwrought, as in this verse I discovered when researching my hercinia.  It’s an excerpt from a "Dream of Antiquity” (c. 1804).  You can note the reference to hercinias, if you can get that
far through the densely self-conscious poetickness.

And now the fairy pathway seemed
To lead us through enchanted ground,
Where all that bard has ever dreamed
Of love or luxury bloomed around.
Oh! 'twas a bright, bewildering scene--
Along the alley's deepening green
Soft lamps, that hung like burning flowers,
And scented and illumed the bowers,
Seemed, as to him, who darkling roves,
Amid the lone Hercynian groves,
Appear those countless birds of light,
That sparkle in the leaves at night,
And from their wings diffuse a ray
Along the traveller's weary way.

        Having read this I was wondering why on earth Moore was famous.  Then I saw that he was also the author of many of the classic sentimental Irish songs including “The Minstrel Boy,” “The Last Rose of Summer,” and “Believe Me if All those Endearing Young Charms.”  So that explained his fame, but didn’t qualify him for a blog post about fantasy poetry.  And then I saw that he was also the author of “The Song of Fionnuala,” (c. 1808) and here he is!  For the fantasy background, you need to know that this poem refers to Fionnuala, one of the four Children of Lir, a sea god of Irish mythology.  The mother of Lir’s children was a daughter of the king of the gods, and when she died her father sent Lir another of his daughters as a replacement.  Unfortunately, this second one was jealous of Lir and his children and cursed the four children into swans for 900 years.  For 300 of those years they had to live on the Sea of Moyle.  Here’s the first verse.

Silent, oh Moyle, be the roar of thy water, 
Break not, ye breezes, your chain of repose! 
While, murmuring mournfully, Lir's lonely daughter 
Tells to the night-star her tale of woes. 
When shall the swan, her death-note singing, 
Sleep with wings in darkness furl'd? 
When will heaven, its sweet bells ringing, 
Call my spirit from this stormy world? 

        Okay, you may still be wondering what’s so great about this, but I first encountered it at the impressionable age of 9.  I liked the tragic drama of the fairy tale, but I fell in love with the alliteration.  Read it aloud with a little emotion and see if all that smooth, wonderfully interlocked alliteration doesn’t thrill you!  Of course, Moore also has rhyme to add to the mix, making the words flow together even more voluptuously.  Quite simply, this was the sort of stuff that turned me into a life-long lover of poetry and fantasy both.

[Pictures: Swan Feather, wood engraving by Colin See-Paynton;
Quietude of Swans, wood engraving by See-Paynton (Image from Colin See-Paynton’s web site).]

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