Tuesday 27 November 2012

Sechnall's Praise of Saint Patrick

November 27 is the feast of Saint Seachnall (Sechnall) to whom tradition ascribes the authorship of the hymn in praise of Saint Patrick Audite omnes amantes. A translation of this text has already been archived at the blog here, but below is a tribute in poetry to its author, first published in the 1880 edition of the journal of the Paulist Fathers. The anonymous writer has added a couple of quotes from other Patrician sources for good measure at the end. His poem is a typically romantic nineteenth-century retelling of the story of the bard and the saint he praised:


SECHNALL, the sweet-voiced bard, at Patrick's feet
Steeping his heart in love of God and man,
At last the holy evening silence broke
Each soul had kept because of thoughtful love,
And, bending o'er his harp, he waked its chords,
That sighed as fearing, in their tremulous joy,
To give some note too harsh for hour so calm,
Yet feeling, 'neath that steadfast hand's control,
True must they give the message of the soul.
Then, lifting up his eyes to Patrick's face,
Out spoke the bard:

" Lo! Patrick, I would sing
The praises of a saint the earth still holds,
Whose feet still blessing to its blossoms give,
Whose eyes two holy mirrors still uplift
Wherein earth, smiling, sees her happy face
And men glad read the mysteries of Heaven."

Then unto Sechnall Patrick soft replied:
"Hasten thy song, for even now thou stand'st
Before the gates of death; upon thy face
Already lie the shadows and the light
Of thy last hour. So lift thy soul and sing,
And God's best blessing be upon thy song."

"O happy hour that wanes at Patrick's feet
And dies in song of Erin's greatest saint! "
Thus answered Sechnall, as his soul o'erfilled
And poured its last earth music from his lips.
"O happy Sechnall! whom his God accepts
When clasp his fingers his e'er faithful harp
And fade its sounds in consecrated song.

''All holy angels, draw ye nigh,
High-hearted seraphim;
Shade with your wings my earthly eyes
God's glory maketh dim:
Against my heart, that throbs with love,
Lay your strong hearts of fire,
That, kindled so, my words of flame
Shall but in Heaven expire.

"And thou, my harp, lift up thy voice,
Soon never more to wake,
And thrill the air with melody
Thou pour'st for Sechnall's sake.
Together thou and I this hour
A living saint must sing-
No more on earth our voices meet :
Thy soul be in each string!

"A living saint we sing, my harp,
Crowned even so on earth,
Who signed Ierne's maiden brow
With sign of heavenly birth.
O restless waves that seek our shore!
What blessing yours to bring
The holy life that spends itself
God's wide flocks shepherding.

"He spoke - the saint we sing, my harp-
And our green island lay
Bound to his feet with chains of love
Loosed not since that strange day;
Nor loosed to be through all the years-
Woe shall but stronger bind
As, in those Heaven-forged links, our land
True liberty shall find.

"God is his guide, God keepeth him,
God's wisdom makes him wise,
God ever lendeth him his ear,
His path before God lies.
So pure he walketh in God's sight
His love hath cast out fear :
The Holy Spirit rules his life,
Christ is his buckler here.

''And, as God shieldeth him, his hand
Guideth our earthly ways;
Our anchor amid stormy seas,
His strength the danger stays :
He is the sun that from our fields
Wins harvest rich for God,
And he the moistening dew that fresh
Shall keep our emerald sod.

''On his heart shall the history
Of our dear land be writ:
His life is like a holy book-
All honour brightening it.
He is the mirror where men find
The perfect image thrown-
No evil darkness dimming it,
God's shadow seen alone.

''And terrible his countenance
When kings their faith betray,
Oppress the poor through greed for gold,
And Erin's honour slay.
Not for himself his life is spent :
God and his people claim
His every thought, his every deed-
So wins he saintly fame.

"Within his heart rests Christ, the Lord,
And so his soul is meek;
He quencheth not the smoking flax,
The bruised reed doth not break.
He seeth Christ in each dear heart
That lifteth thought to God;
He bears the burdens of the weak,
As carrying Christ's own load.

"And as his heart is home for Christ,
The holy angels wait,
Unseen, on him whom God hath crowned
With super-earthly state:
They see the shining aureole
Hidden from mortal eyes,
The thoughts divine about his lips
Their grace doth recognize.

"Where'er he treads, beneath his feet
The virgin lilies spring,
Unto whose maiden purity
No earthly stain doth cling.
White as the foam that girds our shores
The holy garden gleams,
Filling tear-stained, earth-weary eyes
With light of heavenly dreams.

"Dim grow my eyes to earthly things,
And through the thickening mist
I see a golden glory stream
Down streets of amethyst;
I see tall lilies lift their bloom
Beside the jewelled ways;
I hear the voice of martyrs old
Their holy whiteness praise.

"'Lo!  see' so speak these saints of God,
The seed the Lord hath blessed,
Whose shining blossom, as he nears,
Lies softly on his breast.
O happy seed no storm shall blight,
O happy hand that sowed,
O soul beloved ! thy lilies e'er
Bestrew thy heavenly road !'

''Be still, my harp, my voice no more
Shall wake thy soul to song;
To mightier touch than Sechnall's hand
Thy strings henceforth belong.
We sought to praise a living saint-
Our song but does him wrong:
What need earth-poet's faltering voice
Where singing seraphs throng?

We sought to sing a living land,
A garden of the blest:
What words were meet to sing her grace
Whose home is Jesus' breast?
Yet shall a living people lift
Through years of countless days
To Patrick, 'mid his lilies crowned,
Unbroken songs of praise.

"No shadow shall make dim his name,
No sun its light efface;
Deep in his people's heart, no steel
Its graving shall erase.
Holy his prayers shall keep his isle,
Nor ever Erin's name
Shall be forgot, with Patrick's faith
Her dearest thought of fame."

Faint grew the singer's voice, and, lifting up
His misty eyes to Patrick's face, he smiled;
And laying down his harp at Patrick's feet,
He died content at heart that so his saint
Should speed his soul to Heaven with prayer;
Content that so his voice should die in song,
And that last thought of poet-heart should be
His Ireland's glory and his friend's true praise-
Her faithful fame that ever one should be
With that great saint his dying lips had sung.

NOTE. The bishop must be the hand which supports, the pilot who directs, the anchor that stays, the hammer that strikes, the sun that enlightens, the dew which moistens, the tablet to be written on, the book to be read, the mirror to be seen in, the terror that terries, the image of all that is good ; and let him be all for all. - ST.PATRICK.

May the wisdom of God instruct me, may the eye of God view me, may the ear of God hear me, may the way of God direct me, may the shield of God defend me. 

Christ be with me, Christ in me ; Christ be in the heart of each person whom I speak to. - ST. PATRICK.

The Catholic World, Volume 30 (1880), 737-741.

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