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Aisling Verse


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Irish Verse

The Aisling (shāys-ling Gaelic for "dream") is a genre of verse of the late 17th and 18th centuries Ireland. It is a vision poem.

In the Aisling, Ireland appears to the poet in the form of a woman referred to as Spéirbhean (spair- van sky-woman). She can be young and fair or old and haggard at the discretion of the poet and the tone of the verse.

Although this genre grew out of an earlier non-political love verse form similar to the Reverdie, the Aisling was most often political in nature, the woman lamenting about the state of affairs of Ireland and looking forward to better times under the "Stuarts". Later in the 18th century the Aisling had run its course and became the target of jokes.

One of the most famous political poems from that era is Róisín Dubh from the 16th century and displays a kind of cross over from the earlier love verse to the political verse of the Aisling. I found this poem at Black Rose @ Wikipedia.org.

Black Rose or Róisín Dubh

Little Rose, be not sad for all that hath behapped thee:
The friars are coming across the sea, they march on the main.
From the Pope shall come thy pardon, and from Rome, from the East-
And stint not Spanish wine to my Little Dark Rose.

Long the journey that I made with her from yesterday till today,
Over mountains did I go with her, under the sails upon the sea,
The Erne I passed by leaping, though wide the flood,
And there was string music on each side of me and my Little Dark Rose!

Thou hast slain me, O my bride, and may it serve thee no whit,
For the soul within me loveth thee, not since yesterday nor today,
Thou has left me weak and broken in mien and in shape,
Betray me not who love thee, my Little Dark Rose!

I would walk the dew with thee and the meadowy wastes,
In hope of getting love from thee, or part of my will,
Frangrant branch, thou didst promise me that thou hadst for me love-
And sure the flower of all Munster is Little Dark Rose!

Had I a yoke of horses I would plough against the hills,
In middle-Mass I'd make a gospel of my Little Dark Rose,
I'd give a kiss to the young girl that would give her mouth to me,
And behind the liss would lie embracing my Little Dark Rose!

The Erne shall rise in rude torrents, hills shall be rent,
The sea shall roll in red waves, and blood be poured out,
Every mountain glen in Ireland, and the bogs shall quake
Some day ere shall perish my Little Dark Rose!
--- Antoine Ó Raifteiri 16th century Ireland, translated by Pádraig Pearse

Here is what I would call a modern day Aisling. Technically only the envoi would qualify but the entire poem connects to the intent of this genre and I believe this is how verse forms evolve and stay alive.

In a Free State (1988) by Brendon Lyons Audio Link


Greed for the gold of strangers
feeds on this ancient slant-lit land, obscures
hard truths, trades on illusions, lavishes
praise on the safely dead.
In our shared complicity lies our shame:
Poor Emmet, here's your epitaph.
A straggle of houses, a looming church,
an empty street with breeze-blown signs;
here in the rural heart of Ireland,
wild and wet and windswept,
see the locals dine on spuds and bacon,
take a last quick look at the form sheet,
and attack the cabbage.
By night, by God, in smoke-filled pubs,
they sing the old and wild songs yet,
still for themselves, and not for the tourists
the haunting airs of the crossroads.

And in other pubs, not a score of miles
across these dark and silent fields,
the same old songs rise up in the night
with the shots and sudden shouts of command
of an alien army in the streets.
There it's the old and cruel Ireland,
where weapons take the place of words,
where the past can still breed new fanatics,
new sorrows … new anger … new graves.
Are tales still told by the fireside,
merry eyes in weathered gentle faces,
the caps pulled down, the drinks on the hob,
the smell of the slowly burning turf?
No more, it seems, with the cars and the telly,
the satellite phones, the electric range;
but divil a change in the flow of the talk,
in the needling, cheerful banter,
and none in the love of the lilt of a song,
the expectant silence that greets a verse:
slaves are we still to the gods of language,
to the rush and the rhythm of eloquent words
that sweep all things before.

Flow over them with your waves and with your waters,
Mananaan, Mananaan MacLir!

Slipping out the door from Sunday Mass
as the priest begins his sermon:
a smoke on the steps, a chat with the lads,
then back to the mumble of responses,
to the blend of incense and damp clothing.
Faith of our fathers, thirsty work,
but soon the pubs will open.
(The pubs will always soon be open!)
And soft the same familiar rain
will fall on the fields of vivid green,
on the grey, untidy streets.
At the door of T.P Flanagan's
the smell of the porter would fell a horse:
'Sure, welcome home, and what'll ye have?'
says the man himself behind the bar,
when wrapped around the remains of a pint,
an oul' fella ups from the corner:
'This counthry's gone to hell in a handcart!
(smiles of delight run around the room)
'I'd leave meself only the age that's in it'.
From the bar: 'True for you, John Joe!
'Now hould yer whisht and have another'.

The pints, unbidden, line up on the bar.
If a man won't drink he should wear a badge,
in a decent, sensible Irish way;
for an offer spurned is a terrible thing,
where there's little forgiven, even less forgotten.
'God's curse on the IRA! '
(the oul' fella still in the corner)
'Tis well for them Yanks to be sending them money,
'Tis our lads do the dying'.
Our lads. Not me. And not these others,
gone silent now, musing
on the wreck of a tribal dream
defiled by murder.

On the cloud-touched cliffs of Dun Aengus,
see the woman old and lonely as she sits upon the lea,
white-haired, gazing on the great wide ocean.
O Cathleen, where is thy beauty now?
the ivory skin, the raven hair,
the lips like blood upon the snow?
Turn again those fine deep eyes,
turn once again those fearless eyes
and look upon this land!


Notes regarding this poem from the poet dedalus:

(I changed the original title --"Homecoming" aka "The Return" -- out of deference to JoelJosol.)

  • "Emmet" - Robert Emmet, the "Darling of Erin" who was publicly hung drawn and quartered after a failed uprising in Dublin in 1803. At his trial he declared, "When my country takes her rightful place among the nations of the world, then, and only then, let my epitaph be written."
  • Mananaan MacLir - the Celtic god of the sea.
  • "hould yer whisht" - hold your breath; stop talking.
  • Dun Aengus - a prehistoric stone fort perched on a cliff edge in the Aran Islands, a traditional Gaelic-speaking island group lying off the west coast.
  • Cathleen - Cathleen ni Houlihan, a traditional representation of the soul of Ireland as a very old (and sometimes young and beautiful) woman. The land is perceived as feminine and its name in Irish, Éire, is derived from the goddess Ériu.

~~ © ~~ Poems by Judi Van Gorder ~~

For permission to use this work you can write to Tinker1111@icloud.com

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