Verse > Anthologies > Harriet Monroe, ed. > Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 1912–22
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Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936).  Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.  1912–22.
 
Swift’s Pastoral
By Padraic Colum
 
A Story That Has for its Background Saint Patrick’s Purgatory

  Characters: Jonathan Swift and Esther Vanhomrigh

Esther.    I know the answer: ’tis ingenious.
      I’m tired of your riddles, Doctor Swift.
 
Swift.    Faith, so am I.
 
Esther.    But that’s no reason why you’ll be splenetic.
 
Swift.    Then let us walk.        5
 
Esther.    But will you talk too? Oh, is there nothing
      For you to show your pupil on this highway?
 
Swift.    The road to Dublin, and the road that leads
      Out of this sunken country.
 
Esther.    I see a Harper:        10
      A Harper and a country lout, his fellow
      Upon the highway.
 
Swift.    I know the Harper.
 
Esther.    The Doctor knows so much, but what of that?
      He’ll stay splenetic.        15
 
Swift.    I have seen this Harper
      On many a road. I know his name too—
      I know a story that they tell about him.
 
Esther.    And will it take the pucker off his brow
      If Cadenus to Vanessa tell the tale?        20
 
Swift.    God knows it might! His name’s O’Carolan—
      Turlough O’Carolan; and there is a woman
      To make this story almost pastoral.
 
Esther.    Some Oonagh or some Sheelah, I’ll engage.
 
Swift.    Her name        25
      Was Bridget Cruise. She would not wed him,
      And he wed one who had another name,
      And made himself a Minstrel, but a Minstrel
      Of consequence. His playing on the harp
      Was the one glory that in Ireland stayed        30
      After lost battles and old pride cast down.
      Where he went men would say:
      “Horses we may not own, nor swords may carry;
      But Turlough O’Carolan plays upon the harp,
      And Turlough O’Carolan’s ten fingers bring us        35
      Horses and swords, gold, wine, and victory.”
 
Esther.    Oh, that is eloquence!
 
Swift.    I know their rhapsodies. But to O’Carolan:
      He played, and drank full cups; made proper songs
      In praise of banquets, wine-cups, and young maids—        40
      Things easily praised. And then when he was old—
 
Esther.    How old?
 
Swift.    Two score of years and ten.
 
Esther.    But that’s not old!
 
Swift.    And that’s not old! Good God, how soon we grow        45
      Into the Valley of the Shadow of Death!—
      Not into the Valley, Vanessa, mark, of Death,
      But into the Shadow! Two score of years and ten—
      Have we not three score and some more to live?
      So has that tree that’s withered at the top—        50
      Dead in the head! Aye, we, Vanessa, grow
      Into the Shadow, and in the Shadow stay
      So long!
 
Esther.    I thought the story would divert Cadenus.
 
Swift.    It will, it will, Vanessa. What was I        55
      Then saying?
 
Esther.    When he was old—
 
Swift.    When he was old
      And blind—did I say he was blind?
 
Esther.    You did not say it.        60
 
Swift.    He’s blind—not book-blind, but stone-blind.
      He cannot see
      The wen that makes two heads upon the fellow
      That goes beside him, hunched up with the harp;
      He cannot see        65
      The Justice to the assizes riding
      With soldiers all in red to give him state.
      He cannot see
      The beggar’s lice and sores.
 
      I tell a story:        70
      When this O’Carolan was old and blind,
      As I have said, he made the pilgrimage:
      ’Twas to … No, no, ’twas not the place
      That I’m proscribed to, but yet one that is called
      Saint Patrick’s Purgatory.        75
 
      ’Tis on an island in a lake, a low
      Island or islet. The water round
      Is dun, unsunned; there are no meadows near,
      No willows grow, no lark nor linnet sings.
      A fissure in the island leads down to        80
      The Purgatory of Souls, their fable says.
      And now the Harper is but one of those,
      The countless wretches, who have brought their sores
      To that low island, and brought darkened spirits—
      Such stream has flowed there for a thousand years.        85
      I do not know
      What length of time the Harper stays, while crowds
      Are shambling all around him, weeping, praying,
      Famishing themselves; or drinking the dun water
      Of the lake for wine; or kneeling, with their knees        90
      On sharpened stones; or crowded
      In narrow, stony cells.
 
Esther.    It is a place
      Papistical.
 
Swift.    It is a place        95
      Most universal. Do we not walk
      Upon a ground that’s drenched with tears, and breathe
      An air that’s thickened with men’s darkened spirits?
      Aye, and on an islet,
      Suffering pain and hearing cries of wretches;        100
      Cut-off, remote, banished, alone, tormented!
      Name the place as you will, or let it be
      Saint Patrick’s Purgatory.
 
      But comes a time the blind man rows to shore
      From that low island. He touches shore, and cries,        105
      “Hands for a blind man’s help!” and hands were held—
      He touched a hand.
      Here then’s the pastoral:
      The hand, the fingers of the hand, the clasp,
      The spirit flowing through—he knew them all.        110
      He knew all well, and in an instant knew them;
      And he cried out, “The hand of Bridget Cruise!”
 
      Oh, in the midmost of our darkened spirits
      To touch a hand, and know the truth within it—
      The truth that’s clasped, that holds, the truth that’s all        115
      For us—for every day we live, the truth!
      To touch that hand, and then once more to turn
      To turn around upon the world’s highway,
      And go alone—poor hand, poor hand!
 
      But she,        120
      This Bridget Cruise, was leaving that dull shore
      For that low island, and had cares beyond
      The memory of O’Carolan. Well, they passed,
      He going and she coming; well, and then
      He took his harp, and the country lout, his fellow,        125
      Went with him, as we see them going now.
 
Esther.    They’ve passed: there is no one now beside us.
      And will you take my hand? You used to call me
      A white witch, but there is no witchery
      In this plain hand of mine!        130
 
      You told a double story, Doctor Swift.
 
 
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