"A Memoir of Ethna Carbery" by Seumus MacManus (1869-1960).
I HAVE wanted, and long waited, to write a biography of Ethna Carbery. But I have not yet got the personal detachment necessary for the right doing of such a work.
The hundreds who knew her personally have wanted to see her biography set down. Thousands who have come to know her in spirit are wishful to have her pictured to them. Some day I shall find the right person to do the work rightly. Meantime I want to set down some details which will partly satisfy the desires of her friends–and which will also be of use to a future biographer.
Ethna Carbery's most conspicuous qualities were her lovingness, her lovableness, and her intense patriotism.
The good Lord bestows on many people the gift of loving–on other many the gift of being loved. He crowns a rare few with the double gift. Ethna Carbery was one of the blessed few. And amongst these few, so marked was she by the lavishness of her blessing that not only those who knew her much and those who knew her slightly, but also many who merely saw her, still carry with them a wondering beautiful sense of her singular radiance–her singular bounteousness both in love-giving and love-taking.
A poor old woman from a back street in Donegal town said to me, "Ach! sure it was the oddest thing under the sun, how many of us who never had the luck to split lips to her, loved her after only seeing her walk the street!"
That remark, from a humble and hardship-ridden creature, illuminates Ethna Carbery's leading quality, just as much as does the following, from the letter of a woman of intellectual and literary gift–"What remains with me most regarding her is her exquisite womanliness–some kind of a soft sweetness that hovered round her like a halo. I can hardly explain what I mean to you–you know I've met, at one time or another, all the finest women in Ireland, but have not met one that could come near her as a woman. I think it was her sympathy that made her so lovable–to me, her loss was by far the very bitterest that my life has known, and that though I met her only half a dozen times."
The adjective exquisite here used to describe her womanliness, exactly defines it. Though, in a country of poets she was remarkable as a poet, yet, in a country of womanly women she was still more remarkable as a woman.
Events prove that she had the gift of imprisoning her love and her lovableness in the winged words which she gave to the world–from which words their fragrance now exhales and always will exhale. A woman in America, one of the thousands who came to know Ethna Carbery posthumously only, through her poems and prose, held in her closed hand, for some moments, an object that Ethna Carbery had used–and said, after a little tense silence, "I love Ethna Carbery as though I used to walk with her."
Ethna Carbery's mind was an enchanted garden filled with fragrance and the carolling of birds–where reigned joy-giving perpetual Spring–and whose blue-domed sky, knowing no cloud, blessed the mornings with manna and the nights with peace. She might well have been looking into her own soul when she wrote her poem, "My Dearest":–
"I think if angels took her hand
And led her where God's pastures are,
And knelt her at His feet, He swift
Would frame her in a splendid star,
And place her in a sea of light
To cheer and gladden all the night.
"Only, life grows more beautiful
While she walks with us unafraid,
Interpreting with saintly speech
The heaven in which her soul hath stayed;
Impressing still its finer sense
Upon our dull intelligence."
Ethna Carbery was of that nature which unreservedly drew woman's confidences. On the faintest pretext, and on the slightest acquaintance too, women would unburden to her their joys and their woes, their wrongs and their romances. But especially did they delight to sigh their sorrows into her sympathetic ear. Many a time I was forced to shield her from sisters who imagined they had great sorrows, and hungered to have her share these sorrows with them. She, herself, too keenly feeling, never objected. Because she knew that her hopeful heart could help, she never spared herself. Whether the litany of woes chanted in her patient ear was imaginary or real, always her golden optimism, and her unsounded wells of love did help. Hardly ever did we leave a house, even after a short visit, without Ethna Carbery's bearing away with her the confidences of the household's womankind. And often those who hungered to have her share their confidences were women who might have been her grandmother.
On a little tour, once, we stopped an hour for dinner at an inn–the melancholy landlady of which we never saw before, and it was probable, would never see again. Yet, on leaving, Ethna Carbery carried with her the whole sad history of a generation that was gone and of a generation that was coming on. She knew the landlady's worries, woes, debts, entanglements, and midnight prospects. As we went away she bantered me because I showed some irritation at the woman's unreasonable presumption upon the good-nature of an utter stranger, and pleasedly pointed out the fact that we had left behind us a cheery, smiling, human being, where we had met a woe-begone one.
It was a wise provision of Providence that endowed her so richly with joy that gushed eternally from an inexhaustible fountain, and with optimism that was intrepid–otherwise she surely would have bent under the burdens that were being constantly piled on her–burdens which, bravely, she seemed to welcome. To all weary, wandering souls, who carried a load and sought for a place to rest it, the gates of her love flew open. Every sorrow-stricken beggar for sympathy, and every leper, who limped down the way, was brought in, warmed and refreshed at her heart's glowing hearth, rested, and sent forward with the morning sun on his face. Hers were the thrice blessed riches which are acquired by giving instead of getting.
But it must be noted that the confidences showered upon her were by no means all sad. Her woman friends' romances were constantly rejoicing her. For there never lived one who more dearly loved romance than she. It was the savor of life to her. In her fancy, Romance was both crowned and haloed–one of the most joyful things in the world. She delighted in the romance of a friend–even of an acquaintance–as if it were her own. The ups and downs and intricacies of the courtship of her maid, she followed breathlessly. For of course the maid confided to her–like everyone else could not refrain from confiding to her–every little step in the progress of her love-story. The newest turn in Bettie's courting was one of the very first, most absorbingly interesting, bits of intelligence with which she could greet you, a favoured one, on your arrival to visit her. Romance, for her, was the world's food, drink, and lodging. And if every boy and girl on earth could have, and live in, their sweet romance, then earth were Heaven's threshold. For, in her great simplicity of heart–and it should be recorded that her simplicity of heart was royally magnificent–she considered that her own rare ideal of romance was the work-a-day romance which, pack-a-back, was perpetually knocking at the heart of youth, and clamouring for admission.
Romance was the flower-filled, bird-haunted, grove that surrounded the house of love. This grove was a place of play: but the house was a house of prayer. In the grove were sweet chanting, gay dancing, and merry calling. But in the house–which to enter one put off one's shoes–was a sacred hush–too sacred to be broken save by whispered syllables. Her ideal of love, its wonder, its awe, its joy, its holiness, was rarely and sacredly beautiful. And to sacrifice oneself for the one beloved was life's supreme privilege. To her intense feeling on this point she gives expression in several of her poems. In "Forsaken":–
"If it were mine to go
His comrade through the world,
I'd walk before, and meet
Each sorrow that is hurled
At his dear head. God pity me
Who bide at home while such things be."
"To the Comely Four of Aran," she prays:–
"His bright head be your care,–
O tender Saints and fair!
Be you his mantle in the dew and rain
His shelter from the cold,
The staff within his hold,
And mine the grieving be, the cold, the pain."
They who bring to Ethna Carbery's poems no knowledge of love will there discover knowledge of it; and they who bring to them a deep knowledge of love will there find deeps undreamt of.
With her, Love was life's resplendent crown.
Through all her span–childhood, girlhood, and what of womanhood was hers–Ireland was the dearest thing on earth to her. Of and for Ireland she always thought intensely, and wrought passionately. For her country's sake she would gladly sacrifice everything else that she prized–and joyously sacrifice herself. I have never known another in whom patriotism was such a sublime, such an absorbing and consuming passion. She loved all who worked for Ireland. She worshipped all who died for Ireland. How intensely her heart glowed with the white flame of patriotism I'll not try to tell. Her works show it.
She was admirably unconscious of the rareness of her patriotic passion. She only recognized it as a natural feeling. Her humility was such that she did not reckon herself among the patriots–only thought of herself as one of the crowd who tried to encourage the patriots with their earnest plaudits.
That same admirable humility of soul pervaded all her activities. She never thought of herself as a leader in any realm–only as an appreciator of the brave ones who led. She did not think of herself as a true poet–only as a lover, a far-off humble worshipper, of true poets. She did not crave to have people applaud her work, and call it fine. She ambitioned with it to win people to love Ireland, and to work for Ireland–with it to raise Ireland's drooping heart, and to sing away some of Ireland's sorrow. The woman who had best opportunity to know Ethna Carbery's soul, as laid bare in her work, day by day for years, her friend Alice Milligan, says: "The quality that struck me most was that none of her work was done with a view to achievement, so much as service to Ireland. She did not write with the view of becoming a noted person–her talents were dedicated–it was, therefore, that she had such a genuine delight in the work of others, and was so admiring and helpful to young writers entering on the same path."
Her greatest privilege, her highest ambition, was to encourage and to applaud real workers, those who had the courage and ability to achieve.
Ethna Carbery and Alice Milligan were leaders–leaders, too, (as the wise ones thought) of a forlorn hope.
It was just a few years after the death of Parnell, when Ireland had slipped into the Slough of Despond–when the nation's hopes seemed shattered–and all patriotic work for Ireland was completely arrested–that these two gallant young girls, seeing their duty, stepped into the breach. and founded the little magazine, the Shan Van Vocht, for the rallying of the scattered and disheartened few, who, in the wilderness, still had not entirely lost the faith.
For three and a half years these two girls edited the magazine, and managed it. They themselves wrote almost all of the magazine. From the world's four corners, wherever there was a faithful Irish exile, they compiled the subscription list. They read the proofs. They kept the books. They sent the bills. They wrote the letters. With their own hands they folded and addressed every copy that was to go out, and licked every stamp that was to carry it on its journey to Ireland's faithful soldiers, veterans and recruits. Many and many a weary day they spent drudging in the office–and on many and many a weary evening they trudged home to Ethna Carbery's father's house in Donegall Park (on the outskirts of Belfast), there to swallow their supper, and, if Ethna's Gaelic teacher was not that night due, sit down on opposite sides of the same table, turning out poem and story for the next issue, and writing long letters of help and hope and encouragement–these worn and wearied girls–to their subscribers, correspondents, and friends in Ireland, England, France, America, South Africa, India, Australia. And they rejuvenated and refreshed themselves in thus heartening and encouraging others.
They rallied to them the faithful in exile and the half-hopeless at home. They inspired patriotic writers to lift again the pen that had fallen from their despairing fingers. And they inspired new ones, young ones, to take up the pen and aid in the work for Ireland. The rallying call of these two girls was heard wherever, around the world, a patriotic Irishman had halted in his wanderings. And from the most out-of-the-way corners of the globe came the response to their call; and through the little Shan Van Vocht, in that dark hour for Ireland, they gathered to them a regiment of Ireland's truest lovers–the fruitful nucleus for the far greater army that was soon to follow. To-day, only the few remember that it was these two girls, with their wonderful little magazine, patriotic, poetic, firing, stimulating, who revived Ireland's spirit when it seemed dead, and turned the tide of Ireland's fortune when to many it seemed flown for ever. With this revival of Ireland's poetry and Ireland's patriotism came the beginning of the Great Revival. And when, to-day, I find foreigners–and even some of their Irish imitators–expatiating upon the great service of some remote ones, in reviving Ireland's literature, I smile amusedly. Almost all Irish writers of the day helped with their contributions the brave work which the brave girls were struggling to accomplish. And it is worth adding that, of the many notable or to-be-notable ones who enthusiastically aided, there were three who (God rest them), in the fair springtime of their life-work and the springtime of this national work, soon followed Ethna Carbery into the Land Beyond. They were, Norah Hopper, "Fear na Muintire," and poor Lionel Johnson. Another valued contributor was sterling James Connolly, who, later, nobly and happily fell with the first swath of the golden Harvest–and went to join the Joyful company. May they, one and all, bask eternal in the glad smile of God.
These girls, then, with their wonderful little magazine started the so-called Irish Revival. And with the earnest few men who were then devoting themselves to the Gaelic Revival, the two girls helped to plough the ground and sow the seed for the Gaelic Harvest that soon followed.
Ethna Carbery was the most singularly joyous-hearted mortal whom I ever knew. Every morning she woke in gladness to greet a glad day And each succeeding day was to her a new, joyous adventure. In her happy memory, every day that she had lived was a haloed and holy day. With bright thankfulness bubbling at her heart's brim she told me many a time that there was no day of all her past life that she would not gladly live again. The days that are, the days that were, and the days that will be, were alike to her. Past, present, and future blended in the mystical, magical, colorful Tír na nOg, in which all her days merged–wherein all her life she walked.
Hers was an inner radiant joy, shining through, which all who met her saw and felt. That inner joy it was which gave to her voice and to her manner the caressing quality that marked them–and gave her, her peculiar sweetness, softness, sympathy deep and wide and all-embracing as the ocean. That it was which created the rare atmosphere of peace and love, which she carried with her–an atmosphere that was balm to wounded ones, uplift to the oppressed, courage to the faltering. That inner joy it was which made Ethna Carbery the May-day of the poets' fancy, clothed in flesh, to fairy music walking abroad and scattering flowers wherever she went.
Her childhood and girlhood by Belfast Lough, where, with her brother and sister and a constant stream of visiting young friends from the city, she played, rambled, and read, yachted and bathed, was indeed happy–but not more so than was her young womanhood, passed upon the beautiful swelling slope of bold Cave Hill–four miles inland. It was in their Glencoe home here that she began seeking, with the pen, to express her soul. This longing to express herself upon paper was hastened, I am sure, by the literary stimulation she always got on her Dublin visits–to the home of the Tynans, usually.
Her literary work quickly drew attention–quickly, for the two reasons that, the true poetic flame burnt in her breast, and her fine taste and wide reading had given her easy power of expression.
Like every work to which her ready hand turned, she joyed in writing. She wrote with ease. She was prolific in ideas. They flowed fast as the pen could record them. Her fancy was rich and rainbow tinted. Her imagination seethed and bubbled and overflowed. She never could take enough time from her other activities to record all the fine thoughts that in her fertile brain jostled for expression.
In themes for poems she was wealthy. Poems were always singing themselves in her soul. And when she lifted the pen they wrote themselves. Sometimes a poem came to her in a flash, completed. With the wand the fairies gave her, she struck the gray rock on the hill-side and, lo! a beautiful poem!
The tinkling of the bell for tea in their home, on an afternoon when she had some girl friends visiting her, gave her a mysterious little revelation of fairyland. She let her friends go with her sister Maggie to the dining-room, while she wrote her beautiful "In Tír na nOg"–and then joined them. In our home on the Eske's estuary in Donegal, one evening, she quitted me in the middle of a discussion, that she might give an order to the maid. I had to wait ten minutes for her return–but when she came back she read to me, off a scrap of grocer's paper, "The Curse of Mora," lacking only two lines of being complete. As she had entered the twilit kitchen a flame, suddenly leaping in the fire, flicked her eyes and gave her the poem–which, at the kitchen table she had instantly scribbled out–complete save for the fifth and sixth lines of the fourth stanza, which I then supplied.
These inspirations were, in part at least, the result of her strange mystic power. For she was sacredly endowed with that gift which still lingers in our mountains, the old Celtic gift of second-sight. The unseen world was always close to her, and its gates for her were always ajar, giving her frequent glimpses of the land of beauty and wonder–which were denied to us, the less favoured.
Of course only few of her poems wrote themselves in the instantaneous way referred to. Yet even her more deliberate ones were written with pleasant ease. She could, and often did, write them (as when the printer pressed) in the same room in which her father, mother, and sister, and maybe some visitors, were talking–talking not merely to one another, but to her also. As she penned her poem or story she could take her mother's frequent banter, and, between lines, parry it–and in her quietly humorous and deft way, give back better than she got.
For, she had a refreshing sense of humour which, though always subordinated, was ever alert–and was constant source of provocation for mother and intimates to banter her–with purpose of drawing the delicious responses that were waiting. Her intimates loved to banter her–and because it gave them delight, she delighted to have them do so.
She never thought of herself as a literary woman. And her literary proclivities were always either utilized for practical purpose or at most times subordinated to her many other activities.
Her mother was a Donegal woman, filled with the traditions of Donegal. And in turn Ethna Carbery, through her childhood, became saturated with those traditions. So, Donegal was the beautiful land of romance to her. And Donegal's hero, Red Hugh, was her cherished hero. Donegal hunger had always held her. It was befitting, then, that she should eventually come to Donegal to live–should I say, to die.
Yet it was not till the harvest time of '98 that she had the joy of resting her eyes on the Hills of her Heart, and walking among them. She, her sister Maggie, Alice Milligan (always a victim of Donegal hunger too) and Tomás O'Concannon, came then to Donegal for the purpose of holding feiseanna which we organized, and for which they brought prizes. Tomás, pining in exile, had been fired and inspired by the work the girls were doing through the Shan Van Vocht –especially by the Gaelic propaganda with which they were stirring and heartening the scattered Gaels, and paving the way for the spread of the Gaelic League. In far away Mexico, he, wandering, had heard their call, and had enthusiastically responded–with both purse and pen. He had become one of their dearest, staunchest, friends. He had cut short his career, resigned golden prospects, and returned to Ireland, to throw himself into the revival work with all the extraordinary energy and ardour which was henceforth to signalize him among Irish workers.
That little tour, in Donegal of her heart's love, was a sojourn in Tír na nOg to Ethna Carbery. Barnes Mor, Lough Eske, Donegal, Inver Bay, Glenfin, Sliabh Liag–gave refreshment to her hungering soul. They were glad dreams come true!
Among glens that had always been gilded and hills that had always been haloed in her fancy, she walked entranced, absorbing joy and inspiration. That soul satisfying visit was to her a golden milestone on life's march.
Some of the poetic fruits of this tour are "Little Head of Curls," inspired by a pretty yellow-ringletted daughter of John Bonner, the sterling Gael who schoolmastered by beautiful Lough Eske–"Mary of Carrick" called forth by a casual meeting, on the street of Carrick, with the winsome young village schoolmistress, Mary Ward (daughter of another noted Gaelic worker)–and "The Cold Sleep of Brighideen," which came to her as she sat in a picturesque graveyard that, through all the year's rounds, contemplates its image in the glassed waters of lovely Lough Finn.
In the year just past there occurred to me a strange little incident, strikingly reminiscent of that visit of nineteen years ago.
As we crossed a lovely moor, on Ethna Carbery's first day in Donegal, she discovered at her foot a bush of white heather–something which I, in all my life's scampering over the moors, had never discovered. Last year, 1917, after lecturing in the city of Galveston, a lady in the audience, an American woman of one of the Southern States, brought up to me a book, upon the title-page of which was sewn a well-preserved sprig of the white heather plucked by Ethna Carbery on that bright day in Donegal! By various hands, over lands and seas, through leagues of space and years of time, it had journeyed and meandered, till the same sprig that Ethna Carbery had first shown me on the Donegal moor, now, in the hands of an unknown, greeted my eye again on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico!
I had met and made the acquaintance of Ethna Carbery and Alice Milligan, two years previous to their Donegal visit. I had contributed to the second and almost every succeeding number of the Shan Van Vocht. In their apportioning the work of corresponding with contributors and friends of the magazine, the young schoolmaster from the Donegal mountains was assigned to Ethna Carbery. At Easter the young Master was sent as delegate from his home association to the Teachers' Annual Congress in Belfast. On a morning of Easter week I met Alice Milligan, drudging like a charwoman in the office of the paper. On the afternoon of the same day I met Ethna Carbery at the house of the Milligans. And we spent the evening at Ethna Carbery's charming home under the Cave Hill–a home that was awe-inspiring to the raw, awkward, homespun-clad mountain boy. Yet with Ethna's Donegal mother dominating a Donegal hungry group, it was a Donegal evening which the mountain-boy should never forget–and an evening, too, which opened up to him the Eden of the great world, and the intellectual world.
I was their most constant contributor thenceforward–till I departed for America in the fall of '98. In the Spring of that year, I, both sadly, and gladly, turned the key in my little school for the last time–primarily because I thirsted to write entirely–and secondarily, because the good authorities were making my teaching career uncomfortable and were likely, any day, to do themselves the pleasure of locking me out, if I did not anticipate them by locking myself out. For, during the eight years (beginning in boyhood) of my teaching, when the Irish national schoolmaster dare not divulge to his pupils the dread secret that Ireland had a history, I had considered it the conscientious duty of an Irish schoolmaster to instil in the breasts of his pupils (and indeed of the adults of his district) undivided loyalty to their country, and undivided hostility to their country's spoliator. Consequently I ended my career as I began it, a Third Class Teacher–because there was no Fourth Class.
In the Shan Van Vocht, on the month after my sailing, Ethna Carbery's poem, "Paístín Fionn," published over the purposely misleading initials E. D. M. (and the authorship of which I did not learn till nearly three years later) expressed the regret and sympathy felt by a deeply sympathetic friend at the sudden and sad-hearted departure of the mountainy boy:–
"O, Paístín Fionn but it vexed her sore,
The day you turned from your mother's door
For the wide gray sea, and the strife and din
That lie beyond, where the ships go in."
None else of all his friends was so overjoyed as was Ethna Carbery when, within eight months, the mountain boy had got entrance to every leading magazine in America–had successfully published his first American book (dedicated to the friend whom he most esteemed, Ethna Carbery)–had established himself in the American writing world–and was sailing back to Donegal to prosecute his new career.
Two years afterward, Ethna Carbery came with him to his mountains–her mountains–the purpling hills that had from infancy been beckoning her poet soul. At Revelinn, on the estuary of the rolling Eske, just directly opposite the ruined Abbey of Donegal where the Four Masters had lovingly toiled for Ireland–and a bow-shot from the old castle in which her hero, Red Hugh, had held royal court–in a house and scene beautifully pictured by Alice Milligan in her "House of the Apple-trees"–Ethna Carbery settled down to her new life. "Oh, it is glorious here!" she wrote to a friend in Dublin. "Sea, and bay, and river, and dear beautiful shadowy hills! I live poetry."
In the little while that God left her on the Eske she penned many of the finest poems that flowed from her overflowing soul. She worked over, too, the stories, equally beautiful as the poems, which now form her rarely poetic book of stories, "The Passionate Hearts." And also, from the leading story in that book, she sketched out, and was elaborating, the plan for a novel, which, if it had been permitted her to write, would have given Ireland a new classic.
And thus, when she was elatedly congratulating herself that her work for Ireland was begun in earnest, she suddenly found the Noiseless One, leaning over her shoulder, take the pen from her eager hand and across the well-begun page write–FINIS.
Ethna Carbery was Ireland's singing handmaid. By both great and humble she has been taken to the Irish heart. As further years pass her place in the Irish heart will be even more firmly established. She was the Irish poet of what is known as the Revival period. In some qualities a few–a very few–of the Irish poets of the period surpass Ethna Carbery. But in the wide range and sum of poetic qualities she was not only unsurpassed but unequalled.
She was the Irish poet of the period, not, however, merely because of her higher poetic quality, but for the far larger reason that she reached the Irish heart as it had not been reached by any Irish poet in a century. One American poet-critic, considering her in a still wider aspect, rates her as "One of the few great poets of the last hundred years." Her books, "The Four Winds of Eirinn," and "The Passionate Hearts," and "In the Celtic Past," were bought up with an eagerness unknown in the Irish book world for a century. These books, but especially her book of poems, rapidly running through edition after edition, were to be found, well-thumbed and well-worn, in thousands of the little cottages, in the remotest mountains of Ireland. This is I think the supreme proof of her Irish greatness–her priority as Ireland's National poet.
While she lived she was a quiet strong nationalizing force. Since she passed she has been every year an infinitely stronger nationalizing force. She has won hosts of young Irishmen and women to nationality. She has strengthened and developed their nationality in other hosts that needed it. Even where it was unnoticed by the workers, the spirit of Ethna Carbery has been a leaven working in the mass of every National movement in the present century.
A few of our leading literary men have assumed that literature is literature only when it serves no useful end–above all, no national end. If literature aided Ireland it then ceased to be literature–and ceased to be noteworthy. Ethna Carbery's work was designedly national–and only incidently aimed at being literature. Yet I have little doubt that her work will, in Ireland, be prized as rare literature when the writings of the orthodox ones will be neglected.
Her spirit has travelled with her writings to the four ends of the earth, and won to her standard crusading enthusiasts. Out of the most unexpected quarters, from time to time, I get letters from grateful ones, telling their gratitude for having come to know Ethna Carbery–letters from people of diverse nationalities and in most diverse walks of life–proving the universality of the Irish poet's genius. A day-labourer on the streets of a Pacific Coast city wrote me a letter in the course of which he said: "'The Four Winds of Eirinn' is my companion going to work these days. When I am resting under a wall at lunch-time I am reading it. God bless the beautiful heart of her that left us these beautiful messages!" Brief though my space be here, I cannot resist quoting in full two of these letters from two individuals widely separated in time, place, nationality, and rank of life.
Of the sheaves of letters that Ethna Carbery's books have called forth, I thought that none would have more rejoiced Ethna Carbery's heart than this from a poor Scottish working girl, who, in a subsequent letter, told me "I have lived and worked all my life in mean streets, with never a glimpse nor a smell of the brown earth and the green fields I love. I never saw a robin nor heard the cuckoo until last year. I saw a bit of sky from our window":–
"NO. 5 — —,
"DEAR MR. MACMANUS,
"I write to tell you what I would have told dear Ethna Carbery had I known her beautiful poems sooner. She had a beautiful face and in her works her beautiful soul is revealed. I am not Irish, I am not even Celtic, but I love dear Ethna Carbery. I discovered 'The Four Winds of Erinn' on a bookstall, and Gill & Son sent me one or two since, because I never keep a good thing like that to myself. I know that two librarians in Glasgow have added 'The Passionate Hearts' and 'In the Celtic Past' to the library at my suggestion. But they need no advocate once the book is opened. If I were a great musician I would write music for her lovely songs, and deem it my greatest honour. I have two younger sisters who don't read much, but often when we are early abed on Sunday night and not too inclined for sleep they ask like children for a story of Ethna Carbery's. If Ethna Carbery left a child then I love it for its dead mother's sake. I am neither learned nor cultured and I am not able to offer any critical appreciation of her poems nor any intellectual review of her books. I can only say they have stirred my heart, which is not always accomplished by more ambitious writers who may often quicken the mind but seldom the pulse.
"I am only a blacksmith's daughter working for my living at uncongenial work, but I am of the class she wrote for, the class to which all poets and novelists must appeal for that love, which alone means true success.
"My sister said to me the other evening, when I had decked her for a dance, 'Why you are as pleased at me being nice, as if it was yourself?' I told her it was, at least the next best thing, to being nice myself. But I am sure that you know, as I know, that it is far, far nicer to hear someone we love, praised, than to be praised ourselves.
"Forgive me if I have taken a liberty, but I thought it might please you who love her so much, to know that she had won a place in hearts far removed from the land of her love.
"JESSIE J. SIBBALD."
In this little article, where I have not space for the laudatory opinions of people of widely-known name, I eagerly set down the letter of the working girl–both because it will gratify the spirit of the poet who has passed, and because its simple charm graces and adds value to my poor memoir.
By way of contrast to the letter from the Scottish working girl, I want to set down a letter, short and lovely, from a famed American poet–showing how Ethna Carbery's poems struck a literary-gifted one. It is from the picturesque Poet of the Sierras:–
"MY GENTLE POET,
"I read the little book through at once, and I thank you and thank you for the most delightful memories of my life. The music lives and lingers as some far faint song of the minstrels of old time, that I may never hear again; as perfume and memory blending in one; and indescribable.
"You know I live with open doors, and a friend carried off your dear wife's little book soon after I read it; and that is why it is sweet memory. I have been waiting for it, and it will come. One thing that most moved me is the loyalty, the love, the one wild cry of devotion to her land, her heroes–an atmosphere of a diviner age.
"With love to you and to her sweet memory,
I wish I could set down here–which I cannot–some of the beautiful laments, prose and poem, written by various ones upon the loss of Ethna Carbery. I shall only give space to one–selfishly, one of my own. Many laments were written, but the lament has never been heard. It lies deep in the hearts' depths of all who knew her–of all the many who loved her and lost her. For, in her passing, many lost. Ireland lost. The world lost.
Ethna Carbery's bones lie in the little graveyard of Inver. There, under the weeping trees, with the mournful brown mountains in the distance stretching their loving arms around her, sleeps Ethna Carbery–Ethna Carbery's body.
That her soul sleeps not, Ireland knows.
Lone is the house of my Love,
The house with the green door
That opened to let my Love in,
And opened never before.
It shut behind her that day;
In my face blew the bitter rain;
I cried aloud at the door,
Calling her name–in vain.
Oft I went back through the storm,
Strong the impulse that bore me,
Stinging the sleet in my face,
And chill the welcome before me.
It opened but once before,
Once it will open again,
The house with the green door,
And noiseless bolt and chain.
Many my fruitless journeys;
Yet, sometime the light will burn,
And friends watch late in my house,
And I shall not return.
I shall have found my welcome,
And a wide-thrown green door:
And I will tarry, in my Love's house
Shut close for evermore.
This Memoir was written for the 1918 edition of the Poems.