Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, WHAT MATTER?, by JANE BARLOW



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WHAT MATTER?, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Sure I'm sorry the crathur was scared, but I
Last Line: Ah what matter? Sure what should it matter? What matter, what matter at all?
Subject(s): Animals; Dogs; Fields; Pets; Pastures; Meadows; Leas


I

SURE I'm sorry the crathur was scared, but I meant it no harm all the while
If I peered in its face, and it stretchin' its legs down long steps in the
stile,
Where I'm resting this now. There was somethin'—the blue belike clear in
its eyes—
Set me thinkin' of one weeny sister I had very nigh the same size,
In the ould days a body remembers. 'Good evenin" I bid it, but straight
It took off wid itself, skytin' under the hedge at a wonderful rate,
Lookin' back till it seen would I follow. 'Twould bother me finely, no fear,
Limpin' lame, I'd ha' caught it as aisy if up it had flown in the air,
Like the birds that flirt up on their wings when you pass where they're pickin'
a bit:
'Tis a pity of frightenin' the birds and the childer—but sure they've no
wit.

II

Little Norah she never was frightened of me but that once. I'm nigh grown
Tired of hopin' she'd maybe forget, and come back like a robin that's flown
Wid a flutter at first, and then presently 'lights just to spy what you're at;
But I've seen her no more, late or early, than if she'd been grabbed by a cat.
And before that she'd mostly be after me every place, high ways and low—
Faix, where Norah took into her head to be goin', it's there she would go,
For the youngest she was of us all, and we made the great fool of her; yet,
Quare enough, ma'am, the one she liked best was meself that was nobody's pet.
It's herself was ould-fashioned and cute; well I mind how she'd sluther and
coax,
If she thought the rest had me annoyed any time wid their nonsense and jokes;
And it's often enough I'd be frettin' and cross; ay, the hairs on me head
Were no more, so to say, than me troubles; for you see they were blazin' red.

III

Whiles I've thought to meself 'tis contrary, a colleen's no chance whatsoe'er
To be choosin' the colour she's bound the best days of her lifetime to wear:
A skirt, to be sure, or a riband bow, or a scarf, that you'll soon throw by,
Blue, as it happens, or yellow, or puce, you can take them to please your eye;
But whethen now, what great good's in that, if the best you can do after all
Is cover your head up close, and hope they'll not notice it under your shawl?
I was foolish belike to be mindin', but many a time would I fret
At their callin' me 'Red-Nob,' and passin' the ould jokes that they'd never
forget.
And some people mistrusted their luck if they met me the road that they went;
Sure 'twas no fault of mine it come always agin me to thwart and torment.
So I'd envy the ones that was different. The never a poppy I'd pick,
Like those two by this bank, but I'd wish in me heart I'd the black of theirs
thick
On the head of me. Troth, I'd be grudgin' the blackbirds their glossy dark
wings,
I would so—and the crows in the field. But beyond all them wild livin'
things
Was I jealous of Maureen, me sister, come home from Saint Monica's school,
For you'd think every thread of her hair had been reeled off a silky black
spool;
The great armful, that scarcely her two hands 'ud hold when she took it to
twist,
Drawn out long as night's shadows, and soft round her bit of white face as the
mist;
And me own like naught better than ravellin's you'd get from a sodger's red
coat,
And me cheeks as thick dusted wid freckles as a foxglove's quare specklety
throat;
And no use to be wishin' and grievin', yet that I done times and agin,
Till it seemed to meself me fool's head was on fire both widout and widin.

IV

Howsoe'er, when I got past me patience, I'd up and I'd streel off me lone
To a place I knew down by the river, out of every one's road but its own.
Overlookin' the river our house was, and right at the bawn's end you'd step
On the little ould hand-bridge across it, where it whips round the turn wid a
lep
Through the tumble of stones; and then on by the bit of steep footpath you'd
land
At the water's edge down in the wood, and it runnin' so swift you must stand
And be watchin' awhile, to try listen what it said to itself as it went;
For 'twas strange how you'd seem to hear somethin', and ever just miss what it
meant,
And not ever be tired of the tryin'. So there I'd me long flat-topped stone,
Wid a tall one behind it stood shaggy in green fleeces of moss overgrown,
Like a settle folk draw to the front of the hearth on a cold winter's night;
But instead of a fire at me feet I'd the strame racin' by dark and bright,
And forenent me across it the height of the bank, wid the tree-stems and roots
Loopin' out 'twixt them wide wall-faced slabs, where the ivy trailed fine little
shoots,
And one big juttin' rock that the strame ran full tilt agin slashin' by;
People said in the corner beneath 'twould be deep as the bank rose high.
Quare and quiet, sure, and black-lookin' 'twas, and white circles sailed round
on it slow,
Caught in out of the lathers of froth that come down wid the wild river's flow;
And I loved to be watchin' that peltin' along, twistin' clear heavy strands
In and out through the rocks where 'twas weavin' and seethin' in streamers and
bands.
There was some boulders up-standin' tall; 'twould be only the maddest of floods
E'er set foot on their heads; more there was kep' ducked low under smooth-
foldin' hoods
Where the water just drowned them; and off of a ledge in a mane like of foam
'Twould drop now and agin white and straight like as if it was straked wid a
comb.
But the sound of it rested me heart, for it ever swep' on wid its rush,
That seemed hurryin' to find all the trouble of the world and be biddin' it
hush;
Deep and hollow, and full up of different voices, all dronin' in one;
If you set them to sayin' the thought you were thinkin', they'd never be done.
So I'd hear them far up on the strame, and fast by where the waters fall:
What matter? sez they, sure what matter? Ah sure what should it matter at
all?
Over and over: What matter? What matter? Ah sure what matter? they'd keep;
What matter? I'd listen, what matter at all? till me thoughts 'ud be
half asleep.
Then there'd somethin' cry: 'Oonah'; you'd say a lost chicken 'twas pipin' its
best,
But the same would be Norah come trottin' to find me away from the rest,
Climbin' over the boulders as big as herself was wid foot and wid hand,
By the strame's edge. And round me stone's corner I'd peep, and I'd see where
she'd stand
Wid her hair ruffled out in the sun, short and fine, like the yellowy fluff
On wee chickens—they'll niver be callin' 'Red-Nob' to her, that's sure
enough—
And the minyit she spied me: 'I've got her,' sez she, and runs headlong as quick
As the chickens themselves in delight when you've thrown them a handful to pick.
So she'd roost there beside me, and both of us hear how 'twould whisper and
call:
What matter? What matter? Sure what should it matter? Ah sure what matter at
all?

V

And contented I was, when me troubles 'ud vex me, wid only the strame
To console me, and Norah; between them me dark humour'd pass like a drame,
Oft and oft. Till that once I met Hughey Maclean, runnin' home through the wood.
'Twas a wild April day, and the wind in the trees stooped the straightest that
stood
All its own way; and if you laid hold of a bough, it 'ud strive and contend
Like some live thing you'd gripped. So I seen him along at the straight
footpath's end;
And I thought to meself, would he mind the quare show I was, just skytin' past,
Wid me hair all blown loose, and the shawl flutterin' off of me head in the
blast?
And I run like a rabbit. But right in a place wid no room to slip by,
Hughey met me and stopped, and: 'Fine evenin',' sez he, and: 'Fine evenin',' sez
I.
Then he lifted the end of a strand of me hair on two fingers, and drew
Out its length, soft as if he was handlin' moths' wings, and sez he: 'I ne'er
knew
They'd sell gold by the yard in this country,' sez he, wid the smile in his eyes
Lookin' into me own dark and kind, 'But for sure you're the colleen that buys.'
'It's the red gold,' sez I; and sez he: 'And the red gold was ever the
best———'
And wid that a long beam of the sun come aslant on us out of the west,
And, true for him, that lock of me hair was naught else but the colour of
gold—
'Faith, the red gold's the right gold,' sez he, and he lettin' it slip from his
hold.
I remember it well: 'The right gold,' he sez. 'Ay, and the prettiest to see.'
That was just and he turnin' to go: 'The red gold for me, Oonah machree.'

VI

And, whatever the raison was, after that day come the plisantest spring
In me life. Ne'er a minyit too soon of a mornin' I'd hear the birds sing,
But was glad to be wakin', and watchin' the light at grey chinks burnin'
through,
Till I'd run out of doors and I'd find it washed over the fields wid the dew.
And the cuckoo'd be callin' and callin' and callin' away like a bell
Ringin' nigh in some country far off, wid a road to it no one could tell.
And 'twas fine only feelin' the air. Sure, those days it's 'Red-Nob' they might
call,
Sorra bit would I fret, or go hearin' the river: What matter at all?
But I went pullin' flowers by the edge of it once, and as clear as could be,
Every step of the way it was sayin': The red gold for me, Oonah machree.

VII

So the time shone away till the laves, that were scarce but green mist on the
brown
Of the wood, settled thick as a cloud, and the meadows stood ripe to come down.
And one morn they were shakin' Long-Leg out of laps, heavy-wet in the rain,
That was teemin' all night, as you'd tell by the strame, for it boomed like a
train
Wid the great weight of water. But home I was run to be fetchin' a sup
Of fresh buttermilk-whey for the lads, and was fillin' me jug wid a cup
From the pan sittin' out on the front kitchen window-stool; that's how I heard
People spakin' widin; and a pane was black out—I could catch every word.
And I seen by a glimpse 'twas me father that spoke in the big elbow-chair,
And forenent him Matt Flynn of Cahirclone, who was great wid Macleans sittin'
there;
And behind Matt stood Hughey himself; and I knew well enough in me mind
They were match-makin'. 'Deed me first thought was to run from the words like
the wind;
But me feet wouldn't move; and I listened as if I was watchin' a door,
For it might be a Saint smilin' kind, or a Divil ragin' out wid a roar.
And me father was sayin': 'That's the long and short of it, Hughey, me lad:
'Twill be Oonah I'm wishful you'd take, and the bargain you'll find none too
bad.
For she's red-headed, ay, and no beauty, I know, but, praise goodness, she's
strong.
Just a stout working-lass; and by raison of that I'll be givin' you along
Them two heifers; and faix now the Kerry, she's pretty enough and to spare,
A rael dexter, lad. Musha,' sez he, 'Mister Flynn, sure that's spakin' him
fair?'
And sez Flynn: 'Man alive, I'd foreclose wid them bastes if they come in me way,
Though the girl's hair was greener than e'er an ould mermaid wrung out of the
say.'
And then Hughey sez, clear as the light: 'Sure what talk was of any such things?
'Tis a wife I come after,' sez he, 'and no thought of the fortune she brings.
Faith, I wouldn't be troubling a one of your bastes to step out of your shed;
All I want in the world's width is Maureen, herself and her little black head.'

VIII

So I crep' away quiet from the window, I dunnó rightly what way I came,
Seemin' dazed like; but after a while I was down on the path to the strame,
Racin' mad. For God knows 'twas the Divil had lep' through that door, and too
slow
And too late was me fastest of runnin'. But maybe I thought there below,
Where the river went tossin', and no one'd come by, and the shade round the
pool,
And the brawl of the water seemed shuttin' you in, was best place for a fool,
Who'd consaited the sun's shine scarce fit to be lightin' the world she was in,
Because Hughey Maclean would be spakin' a plisant word now and agin
To the sister of Maureen O'Connor, his sweetheart. To bide in it alone
Was me thought, if I thought. But I come—who was that had me seat on the
stone?
Ah mavrone, it was Maureen herself. For that day she'd been washin' her hair,
And she'd slipped down belike to be hidin', and lettin' it dry on the air.
Hangin' loose 'twas, me arm's length, all over her cape to her lilacky gown,
Wid the black ofthe poppy's heart in it, and as soft as the white thistle-down;
And the weeny faint wind hardly stirred e'er a tress; you might think it had
been
A hand liftin' a strand on two fingers—'twas that on a sudden I seen.
And it seemed like a wisp of me own ugly hair blowin' into me eyes,
Red and blindin'. 'What's happened you, Oonah?' sez she. Thinks I: 'Whist wid
your lies;
There's naught happened.' But nothin' I said. Ne'er a word bad or good did I
say,
And for sure I ne'er touched her: she stumbled there, standin' up out of me way.
I ne'er touched her. The stones would be treacherous and wet wid the rain in the
night,
And her foot slipped, and ere you could see, in the strame she was, out of me
sight.
For a great slidin' slab of brown water druv down on her, and passed wid one
sweep,
And she under it. What could I do? Sure she'd sink where 'twas terrible deep,
Out of raich, out of sight. In an instant it chanced. I done naught, only stand
Starin' round in a maze, thinkin'—was it her face there? or was that her
hand?
But the sorra a sign save the river leppin' on in its welters of foam.
Then above on the high bank I looked. There went Hughey Maclean goin' home.

IX

And I called him as near as could be. Twice I tried it, but never a sound
Would come out of me throat; somethin' choked me, and that set me head whirlin'
round
Like the wild water caught in the stones, wid the flurry of me thoughts fast and
thick.
For sez I to meself: 'If he heard me, it's sendin' him after her quick.
Down he'll lep in the smotherin' flood to his death. Ah, I'll let him walk on;
'Tis just takin' his life....Is it watchin' him drown I'd be, there, where she's
gone?
'Twas no doin' of mine; I ne'er touched her,' sez I. ''Tis me chance so
befell....
When the little black head he'll be seein' no more...sure you never can tell.
The red gold for me, Oonah machree. If we met in a shine of the sun—
I'll not drown him,' sez I. Yet I'm thinkin' the raison I done what I done
Was that spakin' to Hughey Maclean seemed like raichin' me hand out to burn
On an iron in sparks from the flame. So I let him go by past the turn.
And I crouched meself down on the stone, wid the shawl o'er me head, and me ears
Finger-stopped, to not see aught or hear; and the time might be minyits or
years;
I dunnó how it went. I kep' blinded and deaf, and the thoughts druv away
Wid: What matter? What matter? 'Twas holdin' a door agin the surge of the
say.

And then somethin' come callin' and cryin'; and the touch of a hand on me arm
Took me breath. Yet whate'er it might be, I must see it—between me and
harm.
It was only wee Norah had found me. But och, when I lifted me head,
'She's not Oonah,' sez she, and set off with a shriek that might waken the
dead.
So I rose up to follow her, and there glimpsed me face in a still pool below;
And I seen what had scared her, the crathur; for me hair was as white as snow.

X

So she's gone from me sight. Sure me head does be quare, and there's times I
forget,
But there's more I remember; and wonderin' I be they're all lost on me yet.
What's come over this country at all? When I'm goin' the lane or the street,
I may look in a dozen of faces, but never an ould one I meet.
And there's none calls 'Red-Nob' to me. Whiles when I'm passin', the spalpeens
about,
'Here's the cracked one,' are yellin'. I wouldn't be cross if 'twas 'Red-Nob'
they'd shout:
'Twas red gold, Hughey said. And sure, anyway, now it's as white as the frost.
But you see, all the while 'twas me sister Hugh wanted: and then she got lost
When our river run wild. I ne'er touched her; she tripped; and I knew he'd be
drowned
If I called him....But sometimes I think more than aught else I'm missin' the
sound
Of our river that used to be sayin': What matter? For many's the strame
I go by, but the sorra a one makes an offer at sayin' that same,
Only sighin' and moanin' so lonesome and dreary it puts me in dread....
'Tis the rest 'twould be now to me ould black heart, ochone, and me ould white
head,
If some night through the dark in the meadows I'd hear it beginning to call:
Ah what matter? Sure what should it matter? What matter, what matter at all?






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