“And his wild harp slung behind him”: lyric poems of Thomas Moore for St. Patrick’s Day

Eileen Thompson the "Colleen"_Belfast, 1944

Eileen Thompson the “Colleen”_Belfast, 1944

Thomas Moore (1779-1852)
The Minstrel Boy (song composed around 1800)
The minstrel boy to the war is gone,
In the ranks of death you’ll find him;
His father’s sword he has girded on,
And his wild harp slung behind him;
“Land of Song!” said the warrior bard,
“Though all the world betrays thee,
One sword, at least, thy rights shall guard,
One faithful harp shall praise thee!”
The Minstrel fell! But the foeman’s chain
Could not bring his proud soul under;
The harp he loved ne’er spoke again,
For he tore its chords asunder;
And said “No chains shall sully thee,
Thou soul of love and bravery!
Thy songs were made for the pure and free
They shall never sound in slavery!”
. . .
Moore set his patriotic poem, The Minstrel Boy”, to the melody known as The Moreen, an old Irish air. It is believed that the poet composed the song in remembrance of friends he’d known while studying at Trinity College, Dublin, and who had taken part in / were killed during, the Irish Rebellion of 1798.
. . .
Thomas Moore
The Last Rose of Summer (written in 1805)
‘Tis the last rose of summer,
Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone;
No flower of her kindred,
No rosebud is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes,
Or give sigh for sigh.
I’ll not leave thee, thou lone one!
To pine on the stem;
Since the lovely are sleeping,
Go, sleep thou with them.
Thus kindly I scatter,
Thy leaves o’er the bed,
Where thy mates of the garden
Lie scentless and dead.
So soon may I follow,
When friendships decay,
And from Love’s shining circle
The gems drop away.
When true hearts lie withered,
And fond ones are flown,
Oh! who would inhabit
This bleak world alone?
. . .
Moore’s poem, The Last Rose of Summer, was composed in 1805 while he was visiting Jenkinstown Park in County Kilkenny.  It was later set to a traditional tune called “Aislean an Oigfear” or “The Young Man’s Dream”, which had been transcribed by Edward Bunting in 1792 based on a performance by harper Donnchadh Ó hÁmsaigh (Denis Hempson) at the Belfast Harp Festival.  The poem and the tune together were published in December 1813 in volume 5 of a collection of Moore’s work called A Section of Irish Melodies.
The Brian Boru Harp_a 15th century cláirseach

The Brian Boru Harp_a 15th century cláirseach

Thomas Moore
The Harp that once through Tara’s Halls…
The harp that once through Tara’s halls
The soul of music shed,
Now hangs as mute on Tara’s walls,
As if that soul were fled.
So sleeps the pride of former days,
So glory’s thrill is o’er,
And hearts, that once beat high for praise,
Now feel that pulse no more.
No more to chiefs and ladies bright
The harp of Tara swells;
The chord alone, that breaks at night,
Its tale of ruin tells.
Thus Freedom now so seldom wakes,
The only throb she gives,
Is when some heart indignant breaks,
To show that still she lives.
. . .
Zócalo Poets’ editor’s note:
The poems featured here were chosen by my mother, who was born Eileen Thompson, of Belfast, Northern Ireland.  Her remarks:
When I was about fourteen I went with a choir to Ulster Hall, a Victorian concert hall in the centre of Belfast. The occasion was a choral concert. I wore the “costume” of an Irish colleen. My cloak was green and my skirt had a satin horizontal stripe. My shoes I clearly remember: black oxfords – well polished. I stood alone, stage left, with a spotlight shining on me, and I sang The Rose of Tralee, not one by Thomas Moore, yet a popular old ballad just the same. And that was my singing début!  The Last Rose of Summer I learned several years earlier, at Mullaghdubh Primary School, when we were evacuated to Islandmagee after the first air raid on Belfast in April of 1941.
. . . . .