Lest We Forget Alice Furlong

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<ul><li><p>Irish Jesuit Province</p><p>Lest We Forget Alice FurlongAuthor(s): Arthur LittleSource: The Irish Monthly, Vol. 75, No. 886 (Apr., 1947), pp. 137-143Published by: Irish Jesuit ProvinceStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20515632 .Accessed: 10/06/2014 12:13</p><p>Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms &amp; Conditions of Use, available at .http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p><p> .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.</p><p> .</p><p>Irish Jesuit Province is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The Irish Monthly.</p><p>http://www.jstor.org </p><p>This content downloaded from on Tue, 10 Jun 2014 12:13:47 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=ijphttp://www.jstor.org/stable/20515632?origin=JSTOR-pdfhttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsphttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p></li><li><p>Lest We Forget Alice Furlong By Arthur Little, S.J. </p><p>ALICE </p><p>FURLONG'S death last year was almost unnoticed by the </p><p>general public except for a </p><p>memorable article by Miss Kathleen </p><p>O'Brennan in the Irish Press. Yet even that delightful article was more </p><p>of a tribute to her personality and her </p><p>family than to her work. And it is not too much to claim that between </p><p>the death of Yeatp and her own she </p><p>had a mastery of pure lyric song </p><p>unequalled by any other Irish poet. Seamus O'Sullivan, who resembles her </p><p>so much in one of his moods, may have </p><p>a wider range of sympathy, but has not equal consistency of quality ; and </p><p>for effortless singing no one else </p><p>springs to mind as her rival. </p><p>Undoubtedly a quality in her, that </p><p>is one sign of the authentic singer, had </p><p>something to do with her neglect. She was always content with a small </p><p>audience. She published her only </p><p>volume, Roses and Rue, in 1899 </p><p>before her powers had reached their </p><p>full development. Thereafter her </p><p>poems appeared, sometimes at long </p><p>intervals, chiefly in The Irish </p><p>Monthly and (later) in the Irish </p><p>Press. After 1916, when she devoted </p><p>herself to the study of Irish, her Eng lish poems became very few indeed. </p><p>Such occasional publication does not </p><p>make for wide and enduring recogni </p><p>tion, and I fear that Miss O'Brennan </p><p>exaggerates a little when she calls her one of the best-known writers of her </p><p>time, though most certainly she </p><p>deserved to be one. </p><p>But though she was content to lack </p><p>due recognition it is not for those who have cherished her work to acquiesce. </p><p>Especially ought this magazine to </p><p>express its appreciation of a con </p><p>tributor who, notwithstanding that Yeats and Wilde and Belioc and </p><p>Michael Field were also contributors, must be called one of its greatest. </p><p>And it would be fitting if the maga zine whose editor, Fr. Matt Russell, first introduced her genius to the </p><p>public should now do something to save her, or rather her country, from </p><p>the loss of acquaintance with her </p><p>inspiring mind. </p><p>There is also a personal reason </p><p>(there are two, but I need only men </p><p>tion one) why this article is being written. When, at the very end of </p><p>the first World War, I became a </p><p>young undergraduate and began to </p><p>form tentative standards of artistic </p><p>beauty she was almost the first poet whom I discovered for myself. Any </p><p>This content downloaded from on Tue, 10 Jun 2014 12:13:47 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p></li><li><p>138 THE IRISH MONTHLY </p><p>number of The Irish Monthly that </p><p>contained her work was worth reading from cover to cover ; those that did </p><p>not seemed to ask for the punishment of my indifference. Tp that extent </p><p>had hero-worship then warped my </p><p>judgement of others. But now that </p><p>the ardours consequent upon the dis </p><p>covery of an exceptional mind by a </p><p>very young person have passed, I still </p><p>find in her that strain of wild and </p><p>irrepressible melody that then awoke </p><p>my senses to the splendour of what </p><p>they perceived. And gratitude for </p><p>the music with which her poems then </p><p>filled my imagination for days at a </p><p>time now prompts me to defend them </p><p>from oblivion. </p><p>At that time I was living within the </p><p>local circle of her influence. Rath </p><p>far nham Castle, where I lived (then the headquarters of The Irish </p><p>Monthly), stood almost on the banks </p><p>of the Dodder ; and the waters that </p><p>passed our house had passed hers at </p><p>Tallaght only a couple of hours be </p><p>fore. The Furlong country was in </p><p>fact the hinterland to the suburb in </p><p>which I had spent my whole life until </p><p>then. And perhaps the sense of </p><p>kindred was helped by this nativity to </p><p>a common countryside as it certainly was helped by the undeviating piety that was discernible in her poems as </p><p>well as in the aspirations of my un </p><p>fledged ideals. I well remember the </p><p>thrill with which I read in The Monthly her prose description of </p><p>Ethna Carbery reciting her poems in </p><p>the family circle at Tallaght. That scene seemed a picture of the ideal of Irish culture, with her generous father </p><p>and his daughters keeping open house for the young enthusiasts of the new </p><p>National Literary Society. Enlighten ment there meant firm and clear-cut </p><p>convictions and loyalty to them ; it </p><p>meant vision. Now it means know </p><p>ledge of other people's convictions </p><p>and rejection of them all ; it means </p><p>groping. But if ever true enlighten ment existed it was in such people as </p><p>the Furlongs. Wrote Alice : </p><p>Why do I look for a house on the </p><p>shifting sands, </p><p>By the whirlpool9s eddy? On the Commons of God is my house, </p><p>beyond m caring-lands, </p><p>Strong-built and steady ; When the night falls my folks will </p><p>stretch out their hands ; </p><p>My hands are ready. </p><p>It is not suggested in this article </p><p>that Alice Furlong was the greatest Irish poet of her time. It is suggested that she was supreme in one essential </p><p>quality of a poet, in the spontaneous </p><p>impulse to sing, to celebrate her hopes and desires, her fortunes and mis </p><p>fortunes in arresting imagery and </p><p>rhythm. This impulse sprang from </p><p>her intense awareness of her ideals </p><p>and of the things around her. Her own simple aesthetic theory (that </p><p>prose is the language of intelligence, </p><p>This content downloaded from on Tue, 10 Jun 2014 12:13:47 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p></li><li><p>LEST WE FORGET ALICE FVRLONG 139 </p><p>poetry of emotion) must have served </p><p>particularly well to explain her great est gift to herself. For emotion de </p><p>mands expression as mere thought </p><p>does not. But her spontaneity, </p><p>though she may have paid for it by not allowing herself to think as deeply as she could, ensured that she wrote </p><p>directly from her heart, that in all her </p><p>work she was passionately sincere. </p><p>Add to that that she had a perfect command of the means of expressing </p><p>herself clearly in musical verse and we </p><p>can almost define her quality in terms of the lyric itself. For the spon taneous expression of experience in </p><p>musical verse can stand for a defini </p><p>tion of lyric, and when the spon </p><p>taneity is most unreflective, for a </p><p>definition of pure song. Always such work communicates to the reader the </p><p>poet's own vivid awareness of life. </p><p>And Alice Furlong's work does arouse </p><p>in her readers a magical revival of the </p><p>power to see vividly the things she saw. It procures for him the re </p><p>covery of his childhood's realisation of the beauty and excitement of ordin </p><p>ary things. The specific effect of </p><p>poetry, its magic, is well exemplified in her evocation in us of wonder at </p><p>ordinary things. She can even make </p><p>poetry out of a ditch, as in these lines from A March Song : </p><p>Rain water in the dykes h clear as amber glass ; It feedeth the tall spikes </p><p>Of the high, green grass. </p><p>However, all that is true of a hun </p><p>dred other poets with the gift of song, and it is the acid test of a critic to </p><p>distinguish and express the personal arid incommunicable characteristics of </p><p>the writer whom he is considering. This test I cannot here pass. Alice </p><p>Furlong, just because she could have </p><p>been held up as the ideal of an Irish woman of cultured sensibility, betrays no marked peculiarities in her poetry. </p><p>Yet she can be classified. Perhaps the words that I have already applied to her best distinguish her class. I have remarked on her undeviating </p><p>piety, meaning piety in the Roman sense as an observance of traditional </p><p>loyalties, not only to religion, but to </p><p>fatherland and family. Not many of </p><p>her poems are primarily religious, yet </p><p>in all her work the Catholic Faith </p><p>reveals itself as the background of all </p><p>her thoughts. On the other hand, she is constantly declaring with chival rous indignation the injustice of her </p><p>country's state. The Caoine for Owen Roe brings these two loyalties together. Technically this poem is a </p><p>great achievement for its metre and </p><p>its stripped, spare style. Especially to </p><p>be noted is her masterly use of the </p><p>internal rhyme, not like Rossetti's </p><p>(from whom, perhaps, she borrowed the device) to produce a haze of </p><p>sound, but to add impetus to a surg </p><p>ing metre. The last two stanzas are </p><p>enough for illustration : </p><p>This content downloaded from on Tue, 10 Jun 2014 12:13:47 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p></li><li><p>140 THE IRISH MONTHLY </p><p>Weird and wild is the wail of woman, </p><p>Humbled the head of the haughty Roman. </p><p>Dark the omen and dark the vision, In deep derision outlaughs the </p><p>foeman. </p><p>Chant the death-chant, O friars grey! House the Chief in the holy clay! </p><p>Moon, hide away! Be blind, 0 Sun! </p><p>Christ and country are slain to-day. </p><p>Some of her poems are about her </p><p>personal life. There are hints in </p><p>them of some tragic disappointment. It may have been some such acquaint </p><p>ance with sorrow that gave her so </p><p>virile an acceptance of the fact of suf </p><p>fering. For she was too truthful </p><p>ever to refuse to recognise what once </p><p>she liad found true. The happy end </p><p>ing was not for her inevitable. Arti </p><p>ficial mannerisms she employed, </p><p>though rarely, but she was far from </p><p>sentimental, and those mannerisms do </p><p>not offend when we realise that she </p><p>relied on them in no measure to gain </p><p>her effects. And at times she could </p><p>write as grimly as the old ballad </p><p>writers : </p><p>I was sleepless on my pillow when I </p><p>heard the dead man calling, The dead man that lies drowned </p><p>at the bottom of the sea. </p><p>Westward away, in glooms of grey, I </p><p>saw the dim moon falling; Now I must rise and go to him, </p><p>the dead who calls on me. </p><p>And thus she begins her poem on the same theme as Catullus's famous frag </p><p>ment : </p><p>Love of you and hate of you Tears my very heart in two; As you please me or displease So I burn and so 1 freeze. </p><p>All but two of these quotations have been taken from the volume that she published in 1899. In that vol </p><p>ume, charming as it is throughout, her touch is more hesitant than in her </p><p>later work and, where insight fails </p><p>her, she has recourse to fanciful ex </p><p>planations of things and wishful </p><p>thinking. At that time the poems contributed to The Irish Monthly </p><p>by her sister Mary (who died young, a martyr to charity) showed even </p><p>greater promise than hers. But </p><p>thereafter Alice's mind became clearer </p><p>and more resolute, and her poetry, </p><p>without losing any of its allure, took on a </p><p>passionate emphasis that was </p><p>moving in the literal sense of startling men into thought, perhaps into </p><p>action. Miss O'Brennan tells us </p><p>that she believed that her poetry had </p><p>helped to keep resistance alive after </p><p>1916. I cannot find any of these </p><p>gallant songs of defiance in The </p><p>Irish Monthly. But there are </p><p>occasional outbursts of their spirit, as in the Heine-like touch of unyield </p><p>ing mockery with which she concludes </p><p>Dusk in the Cornfield. This poem commemorates a conversation with a </p><p>This content downloaded from on Tue, 10 Jun 2014 12:13:47 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p></li><li><p>LEST WE FORGET ALICE FURLONG 141 </p><p>We will be merry till the moon goes </p><p>down, </p><p>Smother all awkward questions that </p><p>might smart us ; </p><p>Nothing shall part us?till we get to </p><p>town. </p><p>There is also a scathing poem on </p><p>the European War of 1914. It was </p><p>characteristic of her vigorous charity that that tragedy moved her to indig nation, not lamentation. The poem </p><p>ends with the denunciation : </p><p>God is not German nor English. The earth is the Lord's, </p><p>He sowed not for burnings, nor </p><p>planted His garden for staves, His breath on the clay was not </p><p>breathed for the triumph of </p><p>swords, </p><p>He made not His image to lie in the </p><p>young men's graves. </p><p>But when her subject was natural </p><p>bereavement, for which no one was to </p><p>blame, she could mourn with irresis </p><p>tible tenderness, as in these lines on </p><p>the death of Michael Breathnach : </p><p>Though wild and sweet </p><p>Is the wind of spring And wild and sweet </p><p>The wild birds sing, And the heart is music </p><p>In all things young? But my grief is the silence </p><p>Of the Golden Tongue. </p><p>I cannot resist adding to this an </p><p>young Englishman and shows what </p><p>she might have done in epistolary style. The following stanzas are not </p><p>consecutive in the original : </p><p>And here the dark, the wind, and the </p><p>hush?the sound </p><p>Of dead leaves dropping slowly to the </p><p>ground, </p><p>Whispering " </p><p>It once was Spring, but </p><p>now, alas. </p><p>We pass into the shadow, and are not </p><p>found ". </p><p>For we were all discoursing of that </p><p>tale </p><p>Of Omar Khayyam; and, in an Irish </p><p>vale, </p><p>Dreamed of the fragrance of the Rose </p><p>of Sharon, And heard in Erin the Persian </p><p>nightingale. </p><p>When all the days of all the worlds are told, </p><p>And we may bide together in one fold, Solving the secret of the rose's colour, And the moon9s pallor, and the sun9s </p><p>blinding gold; </p><p>And why were Jew and Scythian, bond and free? </p><p>And why were Gael and Saxon, you and me? </p><p>And why the blossom of every bough must wither, </p><p>And every river seek the bitter sea? </p><p>Now let us laugh, because we may not </p><p>frown ; </p><p>This content downloaded from on Tue, 10 Jun 2014 12:13:47 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p></li><li><p>142 THE IRISH MONTHLY </p><p>other quotation in an apparently light, almost flippant, manner reminis cent of Browning, that disguises a pro found emotion which unmasks itself at </p><p>the song's end. Note the effect of </p><p>vitality produced by the scheme of </p><p>interlinked rhymes. As in the flight of a goldfinch, the movement seems to </p><p>dip only to be whipped into another </p><p>upward swoop by the immanent </p><p>vigour of the poem. The internal </p><p>rhyme (of which I have quoted many </p><p>examples) was not her only original metrical device. </p><p>Herein is writ, In Runic characters mystic and </p><p>strange, </p><p>A life and the uttermost woe of it. </p><p>Beyond my range To read? That's the point. If I </p><p>state your case </p><p>What will you give me in exchange? </p><p>Let me read your face?...</p></li></ul>