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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Ireland: Vol. V. 1876–79.


The Mourner’s Soliloquy in the Ruined Abbey of Timoleague

By John O’Cullane (c. 1751–1816)

Translated by Thomas Furlong

ABROAD one night in loneliness I strolled,

Along the wave-worn beach my footpath lay;

Struggling the while with sorrows yet untold,

Yielding to cares that wore my strength away:

On as I moved, my wayward musings ran

O’er the strange turns that mark the fleeting life of man.

The little stars shone sweetly in the sky;

Not one faint murmur rose from sea or shore;

The wind with silent wing went slowly by,

As though some secret on its path it bore:

All, all was calm,—tree, flower, and shrub stood still,

And the soft moonlight slept on valley and on hill.

Sadly and slowly on my path of pain

I wandered, idly brooding o’er my woes;

Till full before me on the far-stretched plain,

The ruined abbey’s mouldering walls arose;

Where far from crowds, from courts and courtly crimes,

The sons of virtue dwelt, the boast of better times.

I paused,—I stood beneath the lofty door,

Where once the friendless and the poor were fed;

That hallowed entrance, that in days of yore

Still opened wide to shield the wanderer’s head,—

The saint, the pilgrim, and the book-learned sage,

The knight, the travelling one, and the worn man of age.

I sat me down in melancholy mood,

My furrowed cheek was resting on my hand;

I gazed upon that scene of solitude,

The wreck of all that piety had planned:

To my aged eyes the tears unbidden came,

Tracing in that sad spot our glory and our shame.

“And O,” cried I, as from my breast the while

The struggling sigh of soul-felt anguish broke,

“A time there was, when through this storm-touched pile

In other tones the voice of echo spoke

Here other sounds and sights were heard and seen,—

How altered is the place from what it once hath been!

“Here in soft strains the solemn mass was sung;

Through these long aisles the brethren bent their way;

Here the deep bell its wonted warning rung,

To prompt the lukewarm loitering one to pray;

Here the full choir sent forth its stream of sound,

And the raised censer flung rich fragrance far around.”

How changed the scene!—how lonely now appears

The wasted aisle, wide arch, and lofty wall;

The sculptured shape,—the pride of other years,

Now darkened, shaded, sunk and broken all:

The hail, the rain, the sea-blown gales have done

Their worst, to crown the wreck by impious man begun.

Through the rent roof the aged ivy creeps;

Stretched on the floor the skulking fox is found;

The drowsy owl beneath the altar sleeps,

And the pert daws keep chattering all around;

The hissing weasel lurks apart unseen,

And slimy reptiles crawl where holy heads have been.

In the refectory now no food remains;

The dormitory boasts not of a bed;

Here rite or sacrifice no longer reigns;

Prior, brethren, prayers, and fasts and forms are fled:

Of each, of all, here rests not now a trace,

Save in these time-bleached bones that whiten o’er the place.

O that such power to baseness was decreed;

O that mischance such triumphs should supply;

That righteous Heaven should let the vile succeed,

And leave the lonely virtuous one to die!

O Justice, in the struggle where wert thou?

Thy foes have left this scene changed as we see it now.

I too have changed,—my days of joy are done,

My limbs grow weak, and dimness shades mine eye;

Friends, kindred, children, dropping one by one,

Beneath these walls now mouldering round me lie.

My look is sad, my heart has shrunk in grief,—

O Death, when wilt thou come and lend a wretch relief?