Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE ABBOT OF INISFALEN, by WILLIAM ALLINGHAM



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THE ABBOT OF INISFALEN, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: The abbot of inisfalen / awoke ere dawn of day
Last Line: From ancient woods arise.
Alternate Author Name(s): Pollex, D.; Walker, Patricius
Subject(s): Legends, Irish


The Abbot of Inisfalen
Awoke ere dawn of day;
Under the dewy green leaves
Went he forth to pray.
The lake around his island
Lay smooth and dark and deep,
And, wrapped in a misty stillness,
The mountains were all asleep.
Low kneeled the Abbot Cormac,
When the dawn was dim and gray;
The prayers of his holy office
He faithfully 'gan say.
Low kneeled the Abbot Cormac,
When the dawn was waxing red,
And for his sins' forgiveness
A solemn prayer he said.
Low kneeled that holy Abbot
When the dawn was waxing clear;
And he prayed with loving-kindness
For his convent brethren dear.
Low kneeled that blessed Abbot,
When the dawn was waxing bright;
He prayed a great prayer for Ireland,
He prayed with all his might.
Low kneeled that good old father,
While the sun began to dart;
He prayed a prayer for all mankind,
He prayed it from his heart.
The Abbot of Inisfalen
Arose upon his feet;
He heard a small bird singing,
And, oh, but it sung sweet!
He heard a white bird singing well
Within a holly-tree;
A song so sweet and happy
Never before heard he.
It sung upon a hazel,
It sung upon a thorn;
He had never heard such music
Since the hour that he was born.
It sung upon a sycamore,
It sung upon a briar;
To follow the song and hearken
This Abbot could never tire.
Till at last he well bethought him
He might no longer stay;
So he blessed the little white singing-bird,
And gladly went his way.
But when he came to his Abbey walls,
He found a wondrous change;
He saw no friendly faces there,
For every face was strange.
The strangers spoke unto him;
And he heard from all and each
The foreign tone of the Sassenach,
Not wholesome Irish speech.
Then the oldest monk came forward,
In Irish tongue spake he:
"Thou wearest the holy Augustine's dress,
And who hath given it thee?"
"I wear the holy Augustine's dress,
And Cormac is my name,
The Abbot of this good Abbey
By grace of God I am.
"I went forth to pray, at the dawn of day;
And when my prayers were said,
I hearkened awhile to a little bird
That sung above my head."
The monks to him made answer,
"Two hundred years have gone o'er,
Since our Abbot Cormac went through the gate,
And never was heard of more.
"Matthias now is our Abbot,
And twenty have passed away.
The stranger is lord of Ireland;
We live in an evil day."
"Now give me absolution;
For my time is come," said he.
And they gave him absolution
As speedily as might be.
Then, close outside the window,
The sweetest song they heard
That ever yet since the world began
Was uttered by any bird.
The monks looked out and saw the bird,
Its feathers all white and clean;
And there in a moment, beside it,
Another white bird was seen.
Those two they sang together,
Waved their white wings, and fled;
Flew aloft, and vanished;
But the good old man was dead.
They buried his blessed body
Where lake and greensward meet;
A carven cross above his head,
A holly-bush at his feet;
Where spreads the beautiful water
To gay or cloudy skies,
And the purple peaks of Killarney
From ancient woods arise.






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