The Old Woman of Beare

Eleventh century (?)

Ebbtide to me!
My life drifts downward with the drifting sea;
Old age has caught and compassed me about,
The tides of time run out.
The "Hag of Beare!"
'Tis thus I hear the young girls jeer and mock;
Yet I, who in these cast-off clouts appear,
Once donned a queenly smock.
Ye love but self,
Ye churls! to-day ye worship pelf!
But in the days I lived we sought for men,
We loved our lovers then!
Ah! swiftly when
Their splendid chariots coursed upon the plain,
I checked their pace, for me they flew amain,
Held in by curb and rein.
I envy not the old,
Whom gold adorns, whom richest robes enfold,
But ah! the girls, who pass my cell at morn,
While I am shorn!
 On sweet May-morn
Their ringing laughter on the breeze is borne,
While I, who shake with ague and with age,
In Litanies engage.
Amen! and woe is me!
I lie here rotting like a broken tree;
Each acorn has its day and needs must fall,
Time makes an end of all!
I had my day with kings!
We drank the brimming mead, the ruddy wine,
Where now I drink whey-water; for company more fine
Than shrivelled hags, hag though I am, I pine.
The flood-tide thine!
Mine but the low down-curling ebb-tide's flow,
My youth, my hope, are carried from my hand,
Thy flood-tide foams to land.
My body drops
Slowly but sure towards the abode we know;
When God's High Son takes from me all my props
It will be time to go!
Bony my arms and bare
Could you but see them 'neath the mantle's flap,
Wizened and worn, that once were round and fair,
When kings lay in my lap.
 'Tis, "O my God" with me,
Many prayers said, yet more prayers left undone;
If I could spread my garment in the sun
I'd say them, every one.
The sea-wave talks,
Athwart the frozen earth grim winter stalks;
Young Fermod, son of Mugh, ne'er said me nay,
Yet he comes not to-day.
How still they row,
Oar dipped by oar the wavering reeds among,
To Alma's shore they press, a ghostly throng,
Deeply they sleep and long.
No lightsome laugh
Disturbs my fireside's stillness; shadows fall,
And quiet forms are gathering round my hearth,
Yet lies the hand of silence on them all.
I do not deem it ill
That a nun's veil should rest upon my head;
But finer far my feast-robe's various hue
To me, when all is said.
My very cloak grows old;
Grey is its tint, its woof is frayed and thin;
I seem to feel grey hairs within its fold,
Or are they on my skin?
 O happy Isle of Ocean,
Thy flood-tide leaps to meet the eddying wave
Lifting it up and onward. Till the grave
The sea-wave comes not after ebb for me.
I find them not
Those sunny sands I knew so well of yore;
Only the surf's sad roar sounds up to me,
My tide will turn no more.