The Banshee by John Todhunter

John Todhunter was a playwright and a poet and was involved in the foundation of the Irish Literary Society in London. He was born in Dublin in 1839.

Ireland’s 100 favourite poems

Todhunter was a well-respected scholar of his day, and was a close friend and neighbour of WB Yeats. He wrote several plays, as well as numerous collections of poetry. Below is the poem The Banshee.

The Banshee by  John Todhunter  Image copyright Ireland Calling

Raglan Road by Patrick Kavanagh. Image copyright Ireland CallingThe Banshee

Green, in the wizard arms
Of the foam-bearded Atlantic,
An isle of old enchantment,
A melancholy isle,
Enchanted and dreaming lies;
And there, by Shannon’s flowing,
In the moonlight, spectre-thin,
The spectre Erin sits.

An aged desolation,
She sits by old Shannon’s flowing,
A mother of many children,
Of children exiled and dead,
In her home, with bent head, homeless,
Clasping her knees she sits,
Keening, keening!

And at her keen the fairy-grass
Trembles on dun and barrow;
Around the foot of her ancient crosses
The grave-grass shakes and the nettle swings;
In haunted glens the meadow-sweet
Flings to the night wind
Her mystic mournful perfume;
The sad spearmint by holy wells
Breathes melancholy balm.
Sometimes she lifts her head,
With blue eyes tearless,
And gazes athwart the reek of night
Upon things long past,
Upon things to come.

And sometimes, when the moon
Brings tempest upon the deep,
The roused Atlantic thunders from his caverns in the west,
The wolfhound at her feet
Springs up with a mighty bay,
And chords of mystery sound from the wild harp at her side,
Strung from the hearts of poets;
And she flies on the wings of tempest
With grey hair streaming:
A meteor of evil omen,
The spectre of hope forlorn,
Keening, keening!

She keens, and the strings of her wild harp shiver
On the gusts of night:
O’er the four waters she keens—over Moyle she keens,
O’er the Sea of Milith, and the Strait of Strongbow,
And the Ocean of Columbus.

And the Fianna hear, and the ghosts of her cloudy hovering heroes;
And the swan, Fianoula, wails o’er the waters of Inisfail,
Chanting her song of destiny,
The rune of weaving Fates.
And the nations hear in the void and quaking time of night,
Sad unto dawning, dirges,
Solemn dirges,
And snatches of bardic song;
Their souls quake in the void and quaking time of night,
And they dream of the weird of kings,
And tyrannies moulting, sick,
In the dreadful wind of change.

Wail no more, lonely one, mother of exiles, wail no more,
Banshee of the world—no more!
The sorrows are the world’s, though art no more alone;
Thy wrongs, the world’s.

Raglan Road by Patrick Kavanagh. Image copyright Ireland Calling

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