Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Ballad of the Fiddler

Photograph © Denise Sallee 2010

Found an old book on my shelf today that I think must have been my mother's. She went through a spell of collecting old children's books that reminded her of the ones she had owned as a child but lost in the Depression. This book is entitled My Poetry Book: An Anthology of Modern Verse for Boys and Girls and is copyrighted 1934. The poems are organized by themes and one of the themes is "Have You Ever Seen a Fairy?"  I was surprised and very pleased to see one of Ella Young's close friends has a poem in this section - Seumas O'Sullivan. He was born in 1879 as James Sullivan Starkey and became an editor for The Dublin Magazine. He and his wife, artist Estella Solomons, were nationalists and when I read Ella's letters to him (held at Trinity College Library) I realized they were written in some kind of code - or so it seemed to me at the time.  She called him "Comrade" a name she used for others - those who she felt were aligned with her in her battle for Ireland's  freedom (for Ireland's soul) and for her lifelong quest for Beauty. Ella wrote to Seumas about the High King's Daughter and I puzzled over to whom they might have been referring. Was it Maud Gonne? Or was it the personification of Ireland?

So here is Ella's friend and dear comrade evoking a world they both understood.

The Ballad of the Fiddler 
by Seumas O'Sullivan
He had played by the cottage fire
Till the dancing all was done,
But his heart kept up the music
When the last folk had gone.

So he came through the half-door softly
And wandered up the hill,
In the glow of his heart's desire
That was on the music still.

And he passed the blackthorn thicket,
And he heard the branches groan,
As they bowed beneath the burden
Of the white fruit of the moon.

And he came to the fairy circle
Where none but the wise may sit:
And blindness was on him surely
For he sat in the midst of it.

And maybe his heart went dreaming,
Or maybe his thoughts went wide,
But he took his battered old fiddle
And he took the bow from his side.

And he said, "I will play them such music
As never a fairy heard."
He said, "I will play them the music
I stole from the throat of a bird."

And the sound of his lilt went straying
By valley and stream and sedge
Till the little white stars went dancing
Along the mountain's edge.

And things came out of the bushes
And out of the grassy mound
And joined their hands in a circle
And danced to the fiddle's sound.

And quicker and sweeter and stranger
The notes came hurrying out
And joined with a shriek and a whistle
In the dance of the Goblin Rout.

And all night long on the green lands
They danced in a 'wildered ring.
And every note of the fiddle
Was the shriek of a godless thing.
And when the winter morning Came whitely up the glen, The Fiddler's soul fled whistling In the rout of the Fairy Men.

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