Tag Archives: Irish Famine poems

Like a wail from the tomb … But of world-waking power

In that spectralest hour,
.     In that Valley of Gloom,
.          Fell a Voice on mine ear,
Like a wail from the tomb,
.     Or that dread cry which Fear
Gives our Angels of Doom,
But of world-waking power.
.     What it spake ye shall hear.
– Mangan (from “A Vision : A. D. 1848”)

A Voice of Encouragement.



Youths ! Compatriots ! Friends ! Men for the time that is nearing !
Spirits appointed by Heaven to front the storm and the trouble !
You, who in seasons of peril, unfaltering still and unfearing,
Calmly have held on your course, the course of the Just and the Noble !
You, young men, would a man unworthy to rank in your number,
Yet with a heart that bleeds for his country’s wrongs and affliction,
Fain raise a voice to in Song, albeit his music and diction
Rather be fitted, alas ! to lull to, than startle from, slumber.

Friends ! the gloom in our land, in our once bright land, grows deeper.
Suffering, even to Death, in its horriblest forms, aboundeth ;
Thro’ our black harvestless fields the peasant’s faint wail resoundeth.
Hark to it, even now ! . . . The nightmare oppressèd sleeper
Gasping and struggling for life beneath his hideous bestrider,
Sëeth not, drëeth not, sight or terror more fearful or ghastly
Than that poor paralysed slave ! Want—Houselessness—Famine, and lastly
Death in a thousand-corpsed grave, that momently waxeth wider.

Worse ! The great heart of the country is chilled, and throbbeth but faintly !
Apathy palsieth here—and there, a panic misgiving :
Even the Trustful and Firm, even the Sage and the Saintly,
Seem to believe that the Dead but foreshow the doom of the Living.
Men of the faithfullest souls all but brokenhearted
O’er the dishonoured tombs of the glorious dreams that have perished—
Dreams that almost outshone Realities while they were cherished—
All, they exclaim, is gone ! The Vision and Hope have departed !

Worst and saddest ! As under Milton’s lowermost Tophet
Yawned another yet lower, so for the mourning Million
Still is there deeper woe ! Patriot, Orator, Prophet,
Some who a few years agone stood proudly in the Pavilion
Of their land’s rights and liberties, gazing abroad thro’ its casement
On the fair Future they fondly deemed at hand for their nation,
Now not alone succumb to the Change and the Degradation,
But have ceased even to feel them ! God ! this indeed is abasement !

Is the last hope then gone ? Must we lie down despairing ?
No ! there is always hope for all who will dare and suffer ;
Hope for all who surmount the Hill of Exertion, uncaring
Whether their path be brighter or darker, smoother or rougher ;
No ! there is always hope for those who, relying with earnest
Souls on God and themselves, take for their motto, ‘‘LABOUR’’.
Such see the rainbow’s glory where Heaven looms darkest and sternest ;
Such in the storm-wind hear but the music of pipe and tabor.

Follow your destiny up ! Work ! Write ! Preach to arouse and
Warn, and watch, and encourage ! Dangers, no doubt, surround you—
But for Ten threatening you now, you will soon be appalled by a Thousand
If you forsake the course to which Virtue and Honour have bound you !
Oh, persevere ! persevere ! Falter not !—faint not !—shrink not !
Hate and Hostility serve but as spurs to the will of the Zealous—
Tho’ your foes flourish awhile, and you seem to decline, be not jealous,
Help from ‘‘the Son of Man cometh in such an hour as you think not !’’

Slavery debases the soul ; yea ! reverses its primal nature ;
Long were our fathers bowed to the earth with fetters of iron—
And, alas ! we inherit the failings and ills that environ
Slaves like a dungeon wall and dwarf their original stature.
Look on your countrymen’s failings with less of anger than pity ;
Even with the faults of the Evil deal in a manner half-tender ;
And like an army encamped before a beleaguered city,
Earlier or later you must compel your foes to surrender !

Lo, a New Year ! A year into whose bosom Time gathers
All the past lessons of ages—a mournful but truth-teaching muster ;
All the rich thoughts, and deeds, and the marvellous lore of our fathers ;
All the sun-light experience that makes men wiser and juster.
Hail it with steadfast resolve—thankfully if it befriend you ;
Guardedly lest it betray—without either Despair or Elation,
Panoplied inly against the sharpest ills it may send you,
But with a high hope still for yourselves and the RISE OF YOUR NATION.

Omen-full, archèd with gloom and laden with many a presage,
Many a portent of woe, looms the Impending Era.
Not, as of old, by Comet-sword, Gorgon, or ghastly Chimera,
Scarcely by Lightning and Thunder, Heaven to-day sends its message.
Into the secret heart—down thro’ the caves of the spirit,
Pierces the silent Shaft—sinks the invisible Token—
Cloaked in the Hall the Envoy stands, his mission unspoken,
While the pale banquetless guests await in trembling to hear it.

[J. C. Mangan in The Nation, 1 January, 1848]


“Like a wail from the tomb,/ […] / But of world-waking power”: James Clarence Mangan’s “A Vision: A. D. 1848”, The Great Famine and the Young Ireland Rising

A second essay by the Mangan scholar Melissa Fegan


It would be difficult to imagine a less encouraging poem, or indeed one less like a lay. The second stanza outlines the horrors of the present:

Friends ! the gloom in the land, in our once bright land, grows deeper.

Suffering, even to Death in its horriblest form, aboundeth ;

Through our black harvestless fields the peasant’s faint wail resoundeth.

Hark to it even now !… The nightmare-oppressèd sleeper

Gasping and struggling for life beneath his hideous bestrider,

Seeth not, dreeth not, sight or terror more fearful or ghastly

Than that poor paralysed slave !

Even so, things are about to get worse…





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The Life and Writings of James Clarence Mangan (O’Donoghue, 1897). Hours With Eminent Irishmen (McCarthy, 1886)

David James O’Donoghue, a renowned editor of Irish literature circa 1900, penned a thoroughgoing biography, interwoven with verse, prose, reminiscences, and letters, of the “strangely neglected” poet Clarence Mangan.

“The purpose of the present work is not merely to do something to make the poet better known—or to clear up the more apparent than real mystery of his life—the writer’s aim is to also attempt a survey of Mangan’s wonderful genius—to point out its ramifications, to show all its heights and depths.”

The Life and Writings of James Clarence Mangan by D. J. O’Donoghue (Dublin, 1897)




“His comrades were strange shadows, the bodyless creations wherein his ecstasy was most cunning. Phantoms trooped to him from the twilight land, lured, as Ulysses lured the ghosts from Hades, by a libation of blood.”

Hours With Eminent Irishmen and A Glimpse of Irish History by Justin Huntly McCarthy (New York, 1886)






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The Artist and the Citizen

“What is striking about his famine poems is that despite being a devotee of John Mitchel, there is little revolutionary confidence in Mangan’s poems. Indeed, there is a deep foreboding that the damage done to Irish society might weaken rather than enable political resistance. Consider, for example, the dramatic geographical metaphor by which Mangan reads Ireland as Siberia…” – Gerry Kearns, Department of Geography, Maynooth University

Eye on the World

Limerick University’s Irish World Academy of Music and Dance celebrated its twentieth anniversary with three days of dance music and discussion, Academy20 Convocation. The event finished with a panel discussion on the Artist as Citizen, chaired by Vincent Wood and comprising director and author, Helena Enright, dancer and a PhD student in our own Department, Fearghus Ó Conchúir, curator Helen Carey, musician and composer, Nigel Osborne, poet, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, and myself. I spoke not about what artists should do but what artists can do and what some artists have done. There was also a radio discussion on this, again chaired by Vincent Wood, and for which Helen, Fearghus and I were joined by Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, the founding director of the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance. It will be aired on Monday 24 November as Arts Tonight, and will be available at their webpage thereafter…

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