Home  »  The Poetical Works In Four Volumes  »  Kathleen

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892). The Poetical Works in Four Volumes. 1892.

Narrative and Legendary Poems


  • This ballad was originally published in my prose work, Leaves from Margaret Smith’s Journal, as the song of a wandering Milesian schoolmaster. In the seventeenth century, slavery in the New World was by no means confined to the natives of Africa. Political offenders and criminals were transported by the British government to the plantations of Barbadoes and Virginia, where they were sold like cattle in the market. Kidnapping of free and innocent white persons was practised to a considerable extent in the seaports of the United Kingdom.

  • O NORAH, lay your basket down,

    And rest your weary hand,

    And come and hear me sing a song

    Of our old Ireland.

    There was a lord of Galaway,

    A mighty lord was he;

    And he did wed a second wife,

    A maid of low degree.

    But he was old, and she was young,

    And so, in evil spite,

    She baked the black bread for his kin,

    And fed her own with white.

    She whipped the maids and starved the kern,

    And drove away the poor;

    “Ah, woe is me!” the old lord said,

    “I rue my bargain sore!”

    This lord he had a daughter fair,

    Beloved of old and young,

    And nightly round the shealing-fires

    Of her the gleeman sung.

    “As sweet and good is young Kathleen

    As Eve before her fall;”

    So sang the harper at the fair,

    So harped he in the hall.

    “Oh, come to me, my daughter dear!

    Come sit upon my knee,

    For looking in your face, Kathleen,

    Your mother’s own I see!”

    He smoothed and smoothed her hair away,

    He kissed her forehead fair;

    “It is my darling Mary’s brow,

    It is my darling’s hair!”

    Oh, then spake up the angry dame,

    “Get up, get up,” quoth she,

    “I ’ll sell ye over Ireland,

    I ’ll sell ye o’er the sea!”

    She clipped her glossy hair away,

    That none her rank might know,

    She took away her gown of silk,

    And gave her one of tow,

    And sent her down to Limerick town

    And to a seaman sold

    This daughter of an Irish lord

    For ten good pounds in gold.

    The lord he smote upon his breast,

    And tore his beard so gray;

    But he was old, and she was young,

    And so she had her way.

    Sure that same night the Banshee howled

    To fright the evil dame,

    And fairy folks, who loved Kathleen,

    With funeral torches came.

    She watched them glancing through the trees,

    And glimmering down the hill;

    They crept before the dead-vault door,

    And there they all stood still!

    “Get up, old man! the wake-lights shine!”

    “Ye murthering witch,” quoth he,

    “So I ’m rid of your tongue, I little care

    If they shine for you or me.”

    “Oh, whoso brings my daughter back,

    My gold and land shall have!”

    Oh, then spake up his handsome page,

    “No gold nor land I crave!

    “But give to me your daughter dear,

    Give sweet Kathleen to me,

    Be she on sea or be she on land,

    I ’ll bring her back to thee.”

    “My daughter is a lady born,

    And you of low degree,

    But she shall be your bride the day

    You bring her back to me.”

    He sailëd east, he sailëd west,

    And far and long sailed he,

    Until he came to Boston town,

    Across the great salt sea.

    “Oh, have ye seen the young Kathleen,

    The flower of Ireland?

    Ye ’ll know her by her eyes so blue,

    And by her snow-white hand!”

    Out spake an ancient man, “I know

    The maiden whom ye mean;

    I bought her of a Limerick man,

    And she is called Kathleen.

    “No skill hath she in household work,

    Her hands are soft and white,

    Yet well by loving looks and ways

    She doth her cost requite.”

    So up they walked through Boston town,

    And met a maiden fair,

    A little basket on her arm

    So snowy-white and bare.

    “Come hither, child, and say hast thou

    This young man ever seen?”

    They wept within each other’s arms,

    The page and young Kathleen.

    “Oh give to me this darling child,

    And take my purse of gold.”

    “Nay, not by me,” her master said,

    “Shall sweet Kathleen be sold.

    “We loved her in the place of one

    The Lord hath early ta’en;

    But, since her heart ’s in Ireland,

    We give her back again!”

    Oh, for that same the saints in heaven

    For his poor soul shall pray,

    And Mary Mother wash with tears

    His heresies away.

    Sure now they dwell in Ireland;

    As you go up Claremore

    Ye ’ll see their castle looking down

    The pleasant Galway shore.

    And the old lord’s wife is dead and gone,

    And a happy man is he,

    For he sits beside his own Kathleen,

    With her darling on his knee.