Thursday, March 2, 2023

The Ship from Tirnanoge


The Ship from Tirnanoge

We two were alone by the sea:
I and the man I loved with me.

Our eyes were glad and our hearts beat high,
As we sat by the sea, my love and I;

Till we looked afar, and saw a ship:
Then white, white grew his ruddy lip;

And strange, strange grew his eyes that saw
Into the heart of some deep awe.

His hand that held this hand of mine
Never a token gave, nor sign;

But lay as a babe's that is just dead:
And I sat still and wondered.

Nearer and nearer the white ship drew:
Who was her captain, whence her crew?

Her crew were men and women bright,
With fair eyes full of unknown light.

From far-off Tirnanoge they came,
Where they had heard my true-love's name:

The name the birds and waves had sung
Of one that must bide for ever young.

Strong white arms let down the boat;
Song rose up from many a throat.

Glad they were who soon had won
A lovely new companion.

They lowered the boat and they entered her;
And rowed to meet their passenger:

Rowed to the tune of a music strange,
That told of joy at the heart of change.

I heard her keel on the pebbles gride,
And she waited there till the turn o' the tide;

While they kept singing, singing clear
A song that was passing sweet to hear:

A song that bound me in a chain
Away from any thought of pain.

They paused at last in their sweet singing,
And I saw their hands were beckoning,

In a rhythm as sweet as the stilled songs,
That passed to the air from their silent tongues.

He rose and kissed me on the face,
And left me sitting in my place,

Quiet, quiet, life and limb,
I, who was not called like him.

Into the boat he entered grave,
And the tide turned, and she rode the wave;

And I saw him sitting at the prow,
With a rose-light about his brow.

The boat drew nigh the ship again,
With all its lovely women and men.

I saw him enter the ship and stand,
His hand held in the captain's hand.

The captain wonderful to see
With eyes a-change in depth and blee;

A-change, a-change for ever and aye,
Blue, and purple, and black, and gray;

And hair like the weed that finds a home
In the depth of a trail of white sea-foam.

I wist he was no mortal man,
But he whose name is Manannan.

They sailed away, they sailed away,
Out of the day, into the day.

-Emily Henrietta Hickey

Tirnanoge, more commonly spelled Tír-na-nÓg, is a name for the Celtic Otherworld. I lifted the image above from Wikipedia; it's Oisín and Niamh traveling there, from an illustrated edition. But the poem isn't entirely something out of Irish Celtic tradition.

Emily Henrietta Hickey (1845-1924) was an Irish poet, about whom I know next to nothing... 😉 I found the poem years ago at Carol Rumens' Poem of the Week in the Guardian. She had more information there.

It's Reading Ireland Month at


  1. I like the poem! I've heard mention of Tir-na-nog before in another context, but don't know much about Celtic mythology.

    1. It always reminds of Tolkien somehow, though I suspect that's because they were both reading Irish myth (which I also don't anything about...)

  2. A lovely lulling drives the story to its satisfying, if sad resolution. I like it, too.

    1. I've tried to find more of her poetry, but it's not easy.