A heap of withered boughs was piled,
Of juniper and rowan wild,
Mingled with shivers from the oak,
Rent by the lightning’s recent stroke.
Brian the Hermit by it stood,
Barefooted, in his frock and hood.
His grizzled beard and matted hair
Obscured a visage of despair;
His naked arms and legs, seamed o’er,
The scars of frantic penance bore.
That monk, of savage form and face
The impending danger of his race
Had drawn from deepest solitude
Far in Benharrow’s bosom rude.
Not his the mien of Christian priest,
But Druid’s, from the grave released
Whose hardened heart and eye might brook
On human sacrifice to look;
And much, ’t was said, of heathen lore
Mixed in the charms he muttered o’er.
The hallowed creed gave only worse
And deadlier emphasis of curse.
No peasant sought that Hermit’s prayer
His cave the pilgrim shunned with care,
The eager huntsman knew his bound
And in mid chase called off his hound;’
Or if, in lonely glen or strath,
The desert-dweller met his path
He prayed, and signed the cross between,
While terror took devotion’s mien.
Of Brian’s birth strange tales were told.
His mother watched a midnight fold,
Built deep within a dreary glen,
Where scattered lay the bones of men
In some forgotten battle slain,
And bleached by drifting wind and rain.
It might have tamed a warrior’s heart
To view such mockery of his art!
The knot-grass fettered there the hand
Which once could burst an iron band;
Beneath the broad and ample bone,
That bucklered heart to fear unknown,
A feeble and a timorous guest,
The fieldfare framed her lowly nest;
There the slow blindworm left his slime
On the fleet limbs that mocked at time;
And there, too, lay the leader’s skull
Still wreathed with chaplet, flushed and full,
For heath-bell with her purple bloom
Supplied the bonnet and the plume.
All night, in this sad glen the maid
Sat shrouded in her mantle’s shade:
She said no shepherd sought her side,
No hunter’s hand her snood untied.
Yet ne’er again to braid her hair
The virgin snood did Alive wear;
Gone was her maiden glee and sport,
Her maiden girdle all too short,
Nor sought she, from that fatal night,
Or holy church or blessed rite
But locked her secret in her breast,
And died in travail, unconfessed.
Alone, among his young compeers,
Was Brian from his infant years;
A moody and heart-broken boy,
Estranged from sympathy and joy
Bearing each taunt which careless tongue
On his mysterious lineage flung.
Whole nights he spent by moonlight pale
To wood and stream his teal, to wail,
Till, frantic, he as truth received
What of his birth the crowd believed,