INTRODUCTION IN VERSE
'Tis hard an audience now to win
For long the tales in silence slept; The ancient tomes by few were read; E'en those who still its knowledge kept Have thought the living music dead.
And some, to save the lore from death, With modern arts each tale would deck, Inflate its rhymes with magic breath, As if to buoy a sinking wreck.
They graft new morbid magic dreams
Yet, though with awe the grassy mound That fairies haunt, is marked to-day; And though in ancient tales are found Dim forms of gods, long passed away;
Though later men to magic turned,
No tale should need a magic dress
Think not a dull, a scribal pen
For when, in fear of warrior bands, Had Learning fled the western world, And, raised once more by Irish hands, Her banner stood again unfurled;
'Twas there, where men her laws revered,
That Learning aided Art's advance;
Her poets knew the Druid creeds;
Not as in Greece aspired their thought,
They joyed in battles wild and stern;
Yet pity once to men they taught
Their frequent theme was war: they sang The praise of chiefs of courage high; Yet, from their harps the accents rang That taught to knighthood chivalry.
Their heroes praise a conquered foe,
Oppose their friends for honour's sake,
To weaker chieftains mercy show,
Their nobles, loving fame, rejoice
They sang, to please a warlike age,
Of wars, and women's wild lament,
They loved on peaceful pomp to dwell, Rejoiced in music's magic strains,. All Nature's smiling face loved well, And "glowing hues of flowery plains."
Though oft of Fairy Land they spoke,
No eerie beings dwelled therein,
And sure those bards were truest knights Whose thoughts of women high were set, Nor deemed them prizes, won in fights, But minds like men's, and women yet.
With skilful touch they paint us each, Etain, whose beauty's type for all; Scathach, whose warriors skill could teach Emer, whose words in wisdom fall;
Deirdre the seer, by love made keen;
Flidais, whose bounty armies feeds
Finnabar, death for love who dared;
Revengeful Ferb, who died of grief
Not for the creeds their lines preserve Should Ireland's hero tales be known Their pictured pages praise deserve From all, not learned men alone.
Their works are here; though flawed by time,
To all the living verses speak
In forms like those men loved of old,
Naught added, nothing torn away,