Tag Archives: Irish poetry

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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Essays in Prose and Verse by J. Clarence Mangan. The Prose Writings of James Clarence Mangan.

More library books in facsimile — vital to any store of Manganiana.

“Every scrap of writing from Mangan’s pen, or remotely relating to him, deserves to be rescued from the countless contingencies to which manuscripts are exposed.”  – Charles Patrick Meehan, C. C.

Essays in Prose and Verse by J. Clarence Mangan. Edited by C. P. Meehan, C. C. (Dublin, 1884)




“What was to be done ? Hastily to discuss the remainder of my wine, to order a fresh bottle, and to drink six or eight glasses in rapid succession, was the operation of a few minutes. And oh, what a change ! Cleverly, indeed, had I calculated upon a glorious reaction. Words I have none to reveal the quiescence of spirit that succeeded the interior balminess that steeped my faculties in blessed sweetness ; I felt renovated, created anew ! I had undergone an apotheosis ; I wore the cumbrous habiliments of flesh and blood no longer ; the shell, hitherto the circumscriber of my soul, was shivered ; I stood out in front of the universe a visible and tangible intellect, and beheld, with giant grasp, the key that had power to unlock the deep prison which enclosed the secrets of antiquity and futurity !”

(“An Extraordinary Adventure in the Shades”)


The Prose Writings of James Clarence Mangan (Centenary Edition) Edited by D. J. O’Donoghue





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Mangan editions edited by John O’Daly, C. P. Meehan, and John Mitchel

Library books in facsimile; edited and introduced by personal acquaintances of the poet Clarence Mangan.



“The English versions, by the ill-fated but lamented Clarence Mangan, are all in the same metre with the originals.”

Third Edition (edited by John O’Daly):



Third Edition (edited by C. P. Meehan):


Fourth Edition (edited by C. P. Meehan):





Copyright Edition, Dublin:


New York 1859 edition:






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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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Monuments to Mangan (The Irish Times)

A review article by the poet John Montague saluting Clarence Mangan in prospect of his bicentenary on May Day of 2003 ; published in The Irish Times on Saturday, April 26, 2003.


Another Veilèd Prophet utters a mystic speech,

To be translated only by a future age . . .

With his bicentenary on May Day, James Clarence Mangan rises up like some Gothic creature, glowing, from his grave. I am referring to the many volumes of The Collected Works, the four of poetry and the two of prose, which have been published by the Irish Academic Press, along with a fine biography, and bibliography. These are essential reading not only for departments of Irish literature, but also for Irish history as well, because Mangan was the most piercing voice of his epoch. Even the periodical publication of his poems and prose pieces, such as ‘The Woman of Three Cows’, published in an Irish Penny Journal of 1840, or the appearance of ‘Siberia’ and ‘Dark Rosaleen’ in The Nation, in the gloomy year of 1846, are testimonies to the survival of the creative spirit during the darkest days of our history.

Though sometimes he sounds like a voice from a shroud. His poems, especially in the 1840s, have an almost monotonous melancholy, which seems like the distillation from some weeping cloud crossing the stricken landscape of mid-19th-century Ireland. Or, to change the metaphor, a funeral bell knelling endlessly.

And towards the West at first they marched,

Then towards the South,

Those endless FUNERALS, till the sky o’erhead,

As one vast pall, seemed overarched

With blackness, and methought the mouth

Of Hades had cast up its Dead!

Published in the United Irishman in March 1849, ‘The Funerals’ might seem to sound some ultimate note of gloom, but Mangan haunts the same darkness in ‘The Famine’ a few months later, in the same periodical.

Despair? Yes! For a blight fell on the land –

The soil, heaven-blasted, yielded food no more –

The Irish serf became a Being banned –

Life-exiled as none ever was before.

But then this “piercing wail”, while indeed a lament for all Ireland, also has its source in Mangan’s own psyche. An early poem, composed in competition with other Dublin wags, begins: “Come get the black, the mourning pall . . .” And one of his few prose pieces of first intensity, his fragmentary Autobiography, reprinted by the Dolmen Press in 1968, describes a blighted childhood: “In my boyhood I was haunted by an indescribable feeling of something terrible”. This text was probably the germ for Tom Kinsella’s fine gloomy poem on Mangan: it is as if, as a child, Mangan had suffered the kind of “vastation” of the spirit to which Ted Hughes ascribes the genius of Emily Dickinson.

Mangan depicts his father terrorising his wife, and gleeful that his children try to flee like mice at his approach. This was a father who squeezed the life out of his entire family, “a human boa-constrictor”. Mangan sought refuge in books and solitude: “I isolated myself in such a manner from my own nearest relatives that with one voice they all proclaimed me mad.” Yet these early methods of escape – solace in books and a disdain for the outer world – were clearly not completely successful, for Mangan also describes a “feeling of impending calamity”.

It was in his boyhood “that the seeds of that moral insanity were developed within me which afterwards grew up into a tree of great altitude”. Convinced of his waywardness and eccentricity, but compelled to seek work as a scrivener, at which he laboured long hours for low pay, the coarseness of his colleagues afflicted him: “My nervous and hypochondriacal feelings almost verged upon insanity.”

Once again the serpents seethe: “I seemed . . . to be shut up in a cavern with serpents and scorpions . . . which . . . discharged their slime and venom over my person.”

Perhaps his greatest poetry came when his blasted psyche was mirrored by a blighted landscape, when political and personal suffering finally met in his verse.

From the sordid scrivener’s life, Mangan sought relief in scribbling. The buffoonery of his early constitutional satire, ‘Our Quackstitution’, with its gross word play – “the House of Hangover”, and “Longdulldreary” for Londonderry – seems tedious, like the whimsy of ‘A Treatise on a Pair of Tongs’. Such prose could be seen as an ancestor of the exuberant linguistic lunacy of writers like Myles. But it does not seem as natural to Mangan’s psyche as his ventures into the Gothic, especially The Man in the Cloak, which is already a version of a story of Balzac, intended as a sequel to Melmoth the Wanderer. And of course Mangan worshipped Maturin. As a child, he followed Maturin along the streets, and later would consider that haggard, solitary, oddly dressed figure an alter ego in eccentricity, and perhaps also in genius.

There is a curious moment in The Man in the Cloak where one of the bank secretaries is described as “a flippant litterateur, who translated German poetry and wrote German stories for the magazines . . .” How much German did Mangan really know, and where, indeed, had he learnt it? He certainly knew enough to act as tutor to some pretty Dublin ladies. And his voluminous Anthologia Germanica produced the only book published in his lifetime, German Anthology: A Series of Translations (1845).

When I was compiling my Faber Book of Irish Verse, I included poems which I then took to be original, but now discover were copied from the German. For instance, the wonderfully dolorous ‘Siberia’, which must be one of the great protest poems of the world –

In Siberia’s wastes

The Ice-wind’s breath

Woundeth like the toothèd steel . . .

– turns out to be based on an obscure German poem about Polish leaders sentenced to Siberia after the 1830 revolution.

An autobiographical aside here: the first poem of Mangan that I read was not one of his political/historical visions. I was, after all, brought up in the North of Ireland, so British war poetry was more likely to be on the syllabus; echoes of that early training can still be heard in much Northern Irish poetry. Whereas my Southern contemporaries were subjected to dirges like ‘O’Hussey’s Ode to the Maguire’ and, of course, ‘Dark Rosaleen’. Those visionary poems are extraordinary; a lurid light plays over an often arid landscape, and the language is infected with a hectic glitter, as if the poet were drunk or drugged. But I fell in love with a love poem, as I trudged through the woods of south Dublin, chanting to myself: “I saw her once, one little while, and then no more:/ ‘Twas Paradise on Earth awhile, and then no more./ Ah! what avail my vigils pale, my magic lore?”

This of course is from the original German of Rückert. In addition to gently purloining original German poems, Mangan sometimes signs his ostensible translations “Selber”, a variant of “Self”. As when he refers to his translations of the Persian poet, Hafiz, jokingly since he knew little or no Persian, as being “Half-His”. Mangan’s Oriental translations can be seen as part of the fascination with Arabia which led to Goethe’s Westöstlicher Divan and, of course, Moore’s ‘Lalla Rookh’. Of our living Irish poets, only Desmond O’Grady has inherited some of this scholarly passion for the East, translating some of the great Arabic odes. Mangan worked from the available scholars, yet his version of a poem by Jami, ‘The Hundred-Leafèd Rose’, has a gorgeous symmetry. But then this gaunt, golden-haired spectre had a thing about roses, as in his beautiful translation from the Turkish, ‘The Time of the Roses’. And also his haunting, nostalgic poems of youth lost and time passing: “Remember/ The days of roses but as a dream.”

Although the posthumous Poets and Poetry of Munster is a landmark in our literary history, there is the question as to how much Irish Mangan actually knew. Douglas Hyde tells how it was Mangan’s “custom to stretch his body halfway across the counter, while John [O’Daly] would translate the Irish song to him and [he] would versify it . . .” Some of his versions, or “perversions”, are quite beautiful, and again when I was looking for some O’Rahilly for my Faber anthology, I chose Mangan over even Austin Clarke.

Now that we have the mass of Mangan, nearly 1,000 poems, re-evaluation can begin. The more or less official Selected winnows these, with a thoughtful introduction by Terence Brown of Trinity College, whose Dublin University Magazine sustained the poet for years. Brown links the failing fortunes of post-Union Dublin to those of Mangan, his attraction “to the romantic trope of ruination”.

And the dirge still draws us, from Kinsella to Durcan, and beyond. Another, slimmer Selected has been edited and introduced by David Wheatley, a gifted young poet whose own volumes, Thirst and Misery Hill, surely entitle him to write with authority on Mangan’s “landscape of grandeur and desolation”. Brown and Wheatley sometimes see him as a Borges-like “shape-changer”. But while Mangan may lack the length and breadth of his fellow 19th-century Irish poets, Ferguson and Allingham, the nervous intensity of his best lyrics are unique mediumistic masterpieces.

The entire Irish Academic Press series, comprising nine volumes, is also a monument to the tireless general editorship of the late Augustine Martin.




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James Clarence Mangan: His Selected Poems (Miss Guiney’s book in facsimile)

“Ever yours faithfully, J. C. Mangan”





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