Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE LITTLE BRETHREN, by KATHARINE TYNAN

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE LITTLE BRETHREN, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Brendan went to the greenwood
Last Line: Wept: and he heard their tears.
Alternate Author Name(s): Hinkson, Katharine Tynan
Subject(s): Birds; Brendan, Saint (484-578); Fairies; Flowers; God; Jesus Christ; Soul; Tears; Brendan Of Clonfert; Brandan, Saint; Brandon, Saint; Brennainn, Saint; Brendan The Voyager; Elves

BRENDAN went to the greenwood
On the Eve of good St. John.
He prayed for all God's creatures
Before his prayers were done.

The birds, the fish in the sea,
And the wild wood-folk,
He was their friend, their father,
Sheltered beneath his cloak.

The wood was full of whispers,
Magic and mystery;
He mused on the Love of God
Below a white-thorn tree.

The leaves stirred in the shadows,
The wind sank to its rest.
The little birds in the branches
Dreamed sweetly, breast to breast.

He had laid his breviary by,
His vespers were all said.
But who may be these little folk,
All in the white and red?

Oh, who are these small people,
These flowers all come alive,
Dancing the gayest measure,
As busy as a hive?

One like a sweet-pea rosy
Upon his shoulder lit.
His hand gathered another
And softly cradled it.

O little ones like roses
And poppies and heartsease,
Good luck to your gay dances
Beneath the forest trees!

They have turned about and heard him,
They rustle in soft flight,
Their wings are brushing his forehead,
Soft as the moths and light.

Like a pale flight of rose-leaves
They settle airily down;
As golden bees in a swarm
They cling to his hair, his gown.

Oh, who are ye, small brethren,
Sweeter than birds or flowers?
He heard a little laughter,
Footsteps of summer showers.

There is one like a humming-bird
Perched on his thinning curls.
Oh, who are ye, small people,
As milky white as pearls?

Like pearls and the opal's sheen
The little bodies show.
Ye are sweet as the girl-children
That light earth's shades below.

Then spoke the fairest one—
And all were still to hear:
I am the Queen of Faery,
I live a thousand year.

We are glad, we faery folk,
Unfretted by a soul.
We dance till the Day of Judgment
Shrivels us as a scroll.

We envy not folk human.
We know not cark nor care.
The cheek of a woman withers,
The dust is on her hair.

But there is trouble in Faery,
For some of us desire
A soul like the human people;
Desire burns as a fire.

There's blight on our faery laughter—
I know not why nor whence.
In the centuries gone over
We had but innocence.

But since a whisper reached us
Of a strange heavenly Birth,
A King that died in torment
To save the folk on earth,

We are troubled, we folk of Faery.
And wherefore who shall know?—
That a King for love's sake perished
Hundreds of years ago.

There is grief on the faery people,
The joy has canker and fret.
How can I get them souls, say,
Souls to be saved them yet?

Puck and Peasblossom, hasten,
Bring water from the spring!
And say the words, thou wise one,
The words of Christening.

Now like a myriad rose-leaves
Softly the children press,
Kissing his hands, his habit,
With many a shy caress.

Upon his palm he held her,
Soft as a golden bee:
Answer me, little sister,
Before I answer thee.

Answer me, little sister:
Do these small flowers o' the air
Love Him who lay all bloody
Upon the Cross and bare?

Not love, she answered, sighing.
How should we love this King,
Who love but youth and beauty—
Not any dreadful thing?

We are neither sick nor sorry,
We have neither hate nor scorn.
We fear the sickly body,
The soul of man forlorn.

Alack, then, sweetest sister.
His voice was kind and fine.
By that sign ye are soulless,
Yea, by that sign, that sign.

Only by tears and pity,
And by the blood-stained road,
We come to the heavenly city
And Jesus Christ our God.

He stretched his hands in blessing.
The forest sighed and sighed.
They are gone like moths of Faery,
Gold-winged and peacock-eyed.

The forest rustled and murmured:
Their voices at his ears
As ghosts of the unborn children
Wept: and he heard their tears.

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