St. John's Eve (Kickham)

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Do you remember that St. John's live, three year ago, when we walked round by Ballycullen to see the bonfires?'
-Letter to Kickham in Woking Convict Prison.

YES, Gertrude, I remember well
That St. John's Eve, three years ago,
When, as the slanting sunbeams fell
Across the mountains all aglow,
Upon the lonely bridge we turned
To watch the roseate, russet hue,
Till faint and fainter still it burned
As if 'twere quenched by falling dew.

Then up the sloping hill we clomb,
And backward looked with pensive eyes,
Along the vale, our own sweet home,
The dearest spot beneath the skies ;
Dear for the golden hours that were
When life's glad morn all radiant shone,
Fondly dear for loved ones there,

The sun glides down behind the hill ;
The shadows deepen while we gaze ;
The chapel, the Old Home, the mill,
Are hidden in the twilight haze.
The wayside shepherd on the height
Waits our approach, nor seems to heed
His vagrant flock throng out of sight —
Adown the winding road they speed.

Deep learn'd was he in Gaelic lore,
And loved to talk of days gone by; (
A saddening theme, those days of yore !)
And still he turned with sparkling eye
From Druid rites and Christian fane,
From champion bold and monarch grand,
To tell of fray and foray when
His sires were princes in the land.

When to the Well-mile bridge we came,
You pointed where the moonbeams white
Silvered the stream ; when, lo ! a flame,
A wavy flame of ruddy light,
Leaped up, the farmyard fence above,
And, while his children's shout rang high,
His cows the farmer slowly drove
Across the blaze, he knew not why.[1]

Soon round the vale— above, below,
And high upon the blue hills' brows
The bonfires shine with steady glow,
Or blink through screening orchard boughs.
And now, in my lone dismal cell,
While I that starry scene recall —
The fields, the hills, the sheltered dell—
I close my eyes and see them all.

My dear-loved land must it be mine
No more, except in dreams, to see ?
Yet think not, friends, that I repine
At my sad fate — if sad it be.
Think not the captive weakly pines,
That from his soul all joy hath flown.
Oh, no ! the 'solemn starlight' shines
As brightly as it ever shone.

And though I've had my share of pain,
And sunken is my cheek and pale.
Yet, Gertrude, were it ours again
On St. John's Eve, in Compsey vale,
While loitering by the Anner stream
To view the mountain's purpled dome —
Waiting to see the bonfires gleam
All round our quiet hill-clasped home —

We'd talk of bygone blissful hours —
And oh ! what blissful hours I've known !
It was a world of smiles and flowers,
That little home-world of our own.
And happy thoughts each heart would fill —
What else but happy could we be,
While Hope stood smiling on the hill
And in the valley, Memory ?

Original footnotes[edit]

  1. A relic of ancient fire-worship practised on St John's Eve, and still lingering in some parts of Ireland.