Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/Limerick bells

LIMERICK BELLS.[1]

 

Yet one more peal,” the busy Founder said:
“One to out-master every former chime.”
That old Italian has been ages dead,
But then was in his prime.

Now days and nights the dainty moulds are laid,
And now the jolly casting-day is come;
The bells are born with shout of man and maid,
With trumpet and with drum.

At morn the Abbot crowned them, one by one,
With holy drops and benison of power;
At eve their golden melody begun
From the high convent tower.

The monks bethought them of a guerdon rare,
Well to reward who could so well create;
They gave him house and field, and vineyard fair,
Beside the convent gate.

O gentle ghosts of long departed bliss,
That float among us when the night-wind swells;
Say what a life of pleasant calm was his,
Beneath the murmuring bells.

These were the children of his own begetting—
The consecrated priests of his own soul;
The rooted joys of his own gracious setting;
And his delight was whole.

At prime they waked him with a dewy tale
Of heavenly meadows whence their echoes came,—
Of waving woods and seraphs gliding pale:
At vespers ’twas the same.

Their names he knew and every separate voice,
Discern’d in each sweet cheer or solemn signs;
And one would bid him “Weep,” and one “Rejoice,”
And bless his corn and vines.

And so he lived, and so to Eld he grew,
Until an armèd spoiler rack’d the dell,
And burn’d and robb’d, and fiercely overthrew;
And the grey convent fell.

The Founder stood alone—his music fled
For ever, and the holy brethren slain;
Alone upon the ruin, with bowed head,
Spent eye, and wither’d brain.


He stood like one forlorn and weary grown,
Who listens alway, but who never hears;
And yet he weeps not, lest the precious tone
Be quench’d in drowning tears.

The Bellmaker (Millais).png

At last came one from a far northern sea,
Who said, “O dreamer, listen to my word;
At Limerick, on the Shannon, tarried we,
And there thy bells are heard.”

Sadly he lifted up his head of snow,
And looked across the sea and on the sky;
To Limerick, on the Shannon, did they go;
Then thitherward will I.”

 
*****
 

It was a springtide evening when his bark
On the broad river-bosom lay at rest:
One latest cloud, half golden and half dark,
Was slumbering in the west.

Birds were at roost, and all stray winds asleep;
The busy uproar of the town was still;
Scarcely they heard the distant feeding sheep
Upon the shaded hill.

The kindly-thoughted mariners did not wait,
But manned a little boat with rowers four:
Therein the silent Founding-master sate,
And gazed towards the shore.

Anon the dreaming quiet everywhere
So wrought upon the men that, with one will,
They rested, and amid the tranquil air
The little boat stood still.

With that there came a music from the shore,—
It was the tolling of the minster bells:
It stirr’d each musing rower’s lazy oar
And broke their sleepy spells.

Onward they rowed; but even as they moved,
The ancient Founder’s spirit loos’d its band
Upborne upon the music which he loved,
And passed to his own land;

His own, and yet another; for he knew
The very heaven of the bells’ old tale;
The happy meadows and the woods he knew,
And seraphs gliding pale.

And lo! the rowers turn’d; and on his seat
They found him, while as yet the bells were tolled;
His face toward the minster; but his feet,
And hands, and heart were cold.

Horace Moule.

 

  1. See Bartlett’s “Ireland,” ii., 71, for the germ of the legend.