Monday 24 December 2012

Patrons in Poetry: Saint Brigid's Lullabies

Below is a poem by Ethel Rolt-Wheeler (1869-1958) which draws on the legend that Saint Brigid assisted at the birth of Christ, an event made possible by her miraculous transport to Bethlehem. The author also wrote about Ireland's patroness in her 1913 work, Women of the Cell and Cloister, which is available to read through the Internet Archive here. There she examines Saint Brigid in relation to two themes - milk and fire. Rolt-Wheeler's work is representative of the various influences which went into the 'Celtic Revival' and she embraces the idea of Brigid goddess and saint, a concept which modern scholarship is starting to question.


(The Legend tells that Brigid was the Foster-Nurse of Jesus.)


FIRST I kiss the eyelids sweet
Little eyes that soon shall know
All the dark of human woe
Peace that comes when sorrows seize us
Fill the dreams of Baby Jesus.

Then I kiss the little feet
Hard your way, and sharp and fierce
Little feet the nails shall pierce.
Hope that lifts and Faith that frees us
Guide the feet of Baby Jesus.

Then the kisses I repeat
On the hands in slumber curled
Little hands that hold the world.
Love whose circling arms appease us,
Cradle softly Baby Jesus.


The burning blight of the midday might on meadow and city falls,
And shadow fails, and a Terror pales the dazzle of eyeless walls,
Fierce stifling gusts of the desert-dusts up lanes and up alleys beat
And all things gasp in the fever grasp of the merciless hands of Heat.

I chant the tune of a mountain rune to screen my Babe from the glare.
And spells I weave of the dews of eve and of Ireland's radiant air,
I loop a twist of her rainbow mist, and a film of her twilit skies,
And silver strains of her rills and rains through the liit of my lullabies.

As low I croon of the pale green noon and the long Atlantic roll,
It sometimes seems as if Ireland's dreams may slide into Baby's soul.
That in the prime of a future time, on my hills and my isles remote
His words of speech all hearts shall reach with a sweet familiar note.


The Dublin Review, Volume CLV, Quarterly No.310, 311; July-October 1914, 60-61.

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