The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero)/Poetry/Volume 4/The Irish Avatar
"And Ireland, like a bastinadoed elephant, kneeling to receive the paltry rider."—[Life of Curran, ii. 336.]
Ere the daughter of Brunswick is cold in her grave,
And her ashes still float to their home o'er the tide,
Lo! George the triumphant speeds over the wave,
To the long-cherished Isle which he loved like his—bride.
True, the great of her bright and brief Era are gone,
The rain-bow-like Epoch where Freedom could pause
For the few little years, out of centuries won,
Which betrayed not, or crushed not, or wept not her cause.
True, the chains of the Catholic clank o'er his rags,
The Castle still stands, and the Senate's no more,
And the Famine which dwelt on her freedomless crags
Is extending its steps to her desolate shore.
To her desolate shore—where the emigrant stands
For a moment to gaze ere he flies from his hearth;
Tears fall on his chain, though it drops from his hands,
For the dungeon he quits is the place of his birth.
He comes in the promise and bloom of threescore,
To perform in the pageant the Sovereign's part—
But long live the Shamrock, which shadows him o'er!
Could the Green in his hat be transferred to his heart!
Could that long-withered spot but be verdant again,
And a new spring of noble affections arise—
Then might Freedom forgive thee this dance in thy chain,
And this shout of thy slavery which saddens the skies.
Is it madness or meanness which clings to thee now?
Were he God—as he is but the commonest clay,
With scarce fewer wrinkles than sins on his brow—
Such servile devotion might shame him away.
Aye, roar in his train! let thine orators lash
Their fanciful spirits to pamper his pride—
Not thus did thy Grattan indignantly flash
His soul o'er the freedom implored and denied.
Ever glorious Grattan! the best of the good!
So simple in heart, so sublime in the rest!
With all which Demosthenes wanted endued,
And his rival, or victor, in all he possessed.
Ere Tully arose in the zenith of Rome,
Though unequalled, preceded, the task was begun—
But Grattan sprung up like a god from the tomb
Of ages, the first, last, the saviour, the one!
With the skill of an Orpheus to soften the brute;
With the fire of Prometheus to kindle mankind;
Even Tyranny, listening, sate melted or mute,
And Corruption shrunk scorched from the glance of his mind.
But back to our theme! Back to despots and slaves!
Feasts furnished by Famine! rejoicings by Pain!
True Freedom but welcomes, while Slavery still raves,
When a week's Saturnalia hath loosened her chain.
Let the poor squalid splendour thy wreck can afford,
(As the bankrupt's profusion his ruin would hide)
Gild over the palace, Lo! Erin, thy Lord!
Kiss his foot with thy blessing—his blessings denied!
Or if freedom past hope be extorted at last,
If the idol of brass find his feet are of clay,
Must what terror or policy wring forth be classed
With what monarchs ne'er give, but as wolves yield their prey?
Each brute hath its nature; a King's is to reign,—
To reign! in that word see, ye ages, comprised
The cause of the curses all annals contain,
From Cæsar the dreaded to George the despised!
Wear, Fingal, thy trapping! O'Connell, proclaim
His accomplishments! His!!! and thy country convince
Half an age's contempt was an error of fame,
And that "Hal is the rascaliest, sweetest young prince!"
Will thy yard of blue riband, poor Fingal, recall
The fetters from millions of Catholic limbs?
Or, has it not bound thee the fastest of all
The slaves, who now hail their betrayer with hymns?
Aye! "Build him a dwelling!" let each give his mite!
Till, like Babel, the new royal dome hath arisen!
Let thy beggars and helots their pittance unite—
And a palace bestow for a poor-house and prison!
Spread—spread for Vitellius, the royal repast,
Till the gluttonous despot be stuffed to the gorge!
And the roar of his drunkards proclaim him at last
The Fourth of the fools and oppressors called "George!"
Let the tables be loaded with feasts till they groan!
Till they groan like thy people, through ages of woe!
Let the wine flow around the old Bacchanal's throne,
Like their blood which has flowed, and which yet has to flow.
But let not his name be thine idol alone—
On his right hand behold a Sejanus appears!
Thine own Castlereagh! let him still be thine own!
A wretch never named but with curses and jeers!
Till now, when the Isle which should blush for his birth,
Deep, deep as the gore which he shed on her soil,
Seems proud of the reptile which crawled from her earth,
And for murder repays him with shouts and a smile.
Without one single ray of her genius,—without
The fancy, the manhood, the fire of her race—
The miscreant who well might plunge Erin in doubt
If she ever gave birth to a being so base.
If she did—let her long-boasted proverb be hushed,
Which proclaims that from Erin no reptile can spring—
See the cold-blooded Serpent, with venom full flushed,
Still warming its folds in the breast of a King!
Shout, drink, feast, and flatter! Oh! Erin, how low
Wert thou sunk by misfortune and tyranny, till
Thy welcome of tyrants hath plunged thee below
The depth of thy deep in a deeper gulf still.
My voice, though but humble, was raised for thy right;
My vote, as a freeman's, still voted thee free;
This hand, though but feeble, would arm in thy fight,
And this heart, though outworn, had a throb still for thee!
Yes, I loved thee and thine, though thou art not my land;
I have known noble hearts and great souls in thy sons,
And I wept with the world, o'er the patriot band
Who are gone, but I weep them no longer as once.
For happy are they now reposing afar,—
Thy Grattan, thy Curran, thy Sheridan, all
Who, for years, were the chiefs in the eloquent war,
And redeemed, if they have not retarded, thy fall.
Yes, happy are they in their cold English graves!
Their shades cannot start to thy shouts of to-day—
Nor the steps of enslavers and chain-kissing slaves
Be stamped in the turf o'er their fetterless clay.
Till now I had envied thy sons and their shore,
Though their virtues were hunted, their liberties fled;
There was something so warm and sublime in the core
Of an Irishman's heart, that I envy—thy dead.
Or, if aught in my bosom can quench for an hour
My contempt for a nation so servile, though sore,
Which though trod like the worm will not turn upon power,
'Tis the glory of Grattan, and genius of Moore!
Ra. September 16, 1821.
[First published, Paris, September 19, 1821.]
- The enclosed lines, as you will directly perceive, are written by the Rev. W. L. Bowles. Of course it is for him to deny them, if they are not.—[Letter to Moore, September 17, 1821, Letters, 1901, v. 364.]
- [A few days before Byron enclosed these lines in a letter to Moore (September 17, 1821) he had written to Murray (September 12): "If ever I do return to England ... I will write a poem to which English Bards, etc., shall be New Milk, in comparison. Your present literary world of mountebanks stands in need of such an Avatar." Hence the somewhat ambiguous title. The word "Avatar" is not only applied ironically to George IV. as the "Messiah of Royalty," but metaphorically to the poem, which would descend in the "Capacity of Preserver" (see Sir W. Jones, Asiatic Research, i. 234). The "fury" which sent Byron into this "lawless conscription of rhythmus," was inspired partly by an ungenerous attack on Moore, which appeared in the pages of John Bull ("Thomas Moore is not likely to fall in the way of knighthood ... being public defaulter in his office to a large amount.... [August 5]. It is true that we cannot from principle esteem the writer of the Twopenny Postbag.... It is equally true that we shrink from the profligacy," etc., August 12, 1821); and, partly, by the servility of the Irish, who had welcomed George IV. with an outburst of enthusiastic loyalty, when he entered Dublin in triumph within ten days of the death of Queen Caroline. The Morning Chronicle, August 8—August 18, 1821, prints effusive leading articles, edged with black borders, on the Queen's illness, death, funeral procession, etc., over against a column (in small type) headed "The King in Dublin." Byron's satire is a running comment on the pages of the Morning Chronicle. Moore was in Paris at the time, being, as John Bull said, "obliged to live out of England," and Byron gave him directions that twenty copies of the Irish Avatar "should be carefully and privately printed off." (see Bibliography, vol. vii. p. 260). In the first and second editions of his Conversations, Medwin, doubtless for prudential reasons, omitted twelve of the more libellous stanzas, but afterwards, in "another edition," published in 1824, reinstated them. Murray did not publish the Irish Avatar in any collected edition till 1831. According to Crabb Robinson (Diary, 1869, ii. 437), Goethe said that "Byron's verses on George IV. (Query? The Irish Avatar) were the sublime of hatred."]
- [The Queen died on the night (10.20 p.m.) of Tuesday, August 7. The King entered Dublin in state Friday, August 17. The vessel bearing the Queen's remains sailed from Harwich on the morning of Saturday, August 18, 1821.]
- —— such a hero becomes.—[MS. M.]
- ["Seven covered waggons arrived at the Castle (August 3). They were laden with plate.... Upwards of forty men cooks will be employed."—Morning Chronicle, August 8.]
- To enact in the pageant ——.—[MS. M.]
- ["Never did I witness such enthusiasm.... Cheer followed cheer—and shout followed shout ... accompanied by exclamation of 'God bless King George IV.!' 'Welome, welcome, ten thousand times to these shores!'"—Morning Chronicle, August 16.]
- ["After the stanza on Grattan,... will it please you to cause insert the following Addenda, which I dreamed of during to-day's Siesta."—Letter to Moore, September 20, 1821.]
- Aye! back to our theme ——.—[Medwin.]
- Kiss his foot, with thy blessing, for blessings denied!—[Medwin.]
- Or if freedom ——.—[Medwin.]
- ["The Earl of Fingall (Arthur James Plunkett, K.P., eighth earl, d. 1836), the leading Catholic nobleman, is to be created a Knight of St. Patrick."—Morning Chronicle, August 18.]
- Wear Fingal thy ribbon ——.—[MS. M.]
- And the King is no scoundrel—whatever the Prince.—[MS. M.]
- [There was talk of a testimonial being presented to the King. O'Connell suggested that if possible it should take the form of "a palace, to which not only the rank around him could contribute, but to the erection of which every peasant could from his cottage contribute his humble mite."—Morning Chronicle, August 18.]
- Till proudly the new ——.—[MS. M.]
- ["The Marquis of Londonderry was cheered in the Castle-yard." "He was," says the correspondent of the Morning Chronicle, "the instrument of Ireland's degradation—he broke down her spirit, and prostrated, I fear, for ever her independence. To see the author of this measure cheered near the very spot," etc.]
- —— might make Humanity doubt.—[MS. M.]
- —— in the heart of a king.—[Medwin. MS. M. erased.]
- [Byron spoke and voted in favour of the Earl of Donoughmore's motion for a Committee on the Roman Catholic claims, April 21, 1812. (See "Parliamentary Speeches," Appendix II., Letters, 1898, ii. 431-443.)]
- My arm, though but feeble ——.—[Medwin.]
- —— though thou wert not my land.—[Medwin.]
- [For Grattan and Curran, see letter to Moore, October 2, 1813, Letters, 1898, ii. 271, note 1; for Sheridan, see "Introduction to Monody," etc., ante, pp. 69, 70.]
Nor the steps of enslavers, and slave-hissing slaves
Be damp'd in the turf ——.—[Medwin.]
- Though their virtues are blunted ——.—[Medwin.]
- —— that I envy their dead.—[Medwin.]
- They're the heart—the free spirit—the genius of Moore.—[MS. M.]
- ["Signed W. L. B——, M.A., and written with a view to a Bishoprick."—Letters and Journals, 1830, ii. 527, note. Endorsed, "MS. Lord Byron. The King's visit to Ireland; a very seditious and horrible libel, which never was intended to be published, and which Lord B. called, himself, silly, being written in a moment of ill nature.—C. B."]