1824 Poem, George Dugall, ‘The Wake’

Author: George Dugall

Date: 1824

Source: Poem: ‘The Wake’, from The Northern Cottage and other poems; written partly in the Dialect of the North of Ireland by George Dugall (Londonderry: William McCorkell, 1824)

Comments: George Dugall (c.1790-1855) was the son of Rev. George Dugall, Presbyterian minister of Magherafelt from 1786-1810, and lived most of his life near Newtowncunningham in Donegal. He was a schoolteacher in north Donegal, and his only book of poems The Northern Cottage contains an extensive glossary of Ulster-Scots words. The vocabulary and cultural context of his poems are rich in Ulster-Scots reference.

Doc. ref. no.: USLS/TB/Poetry/1800-1899/046


Each moment has its sickle, emulous

Of Time’s enormous scythe, whose ample sweep

Strikes empires from the root; each moment plays

His little weapon in the narrower sphere

Of sweet domestic comfort, and cuts down

The fairest bloom of sublunary bliss. — Young.

Life’s transitory scene where’er we range,

By Nature’s law displays a ceaseless change:

Spring’s op’ning buds in tufted pride array’d,

Ere long expand, and swell the deep’ning shade:

Luxuriant Summer wreath’d with many a flow’r,

To rip’ning Autumn leaves the blossom’d bow’r:

Blooms fade and die, when nipping frosts appear,

And undistinguish’d ruin shrouds the year.

The quiv’ring leaf proclaims the lot of all,

And life, like verdure, rises but to fall:

Time’s hand pourtrays throughout our little span,

An awful lesson to the pride of man.

Protracted age works not the total woe;

A gust in spring oft lays the flow’ret low:

At ev’ry stage unnumber’d plants decay;

And leaves will fall ev’n on a summer day.

The forest oak, and herb on desert cast,

Alike are stripp’d before the wintry blast:

Their hues decay amid the tempest’s roar;

Their bloom, their beauty, and their pride no more:

In wisdom’s ear, a thousand tongues proclaim,

That “Life’s a flow’r, and pleasure but a dream.”

What time ye swains, (I speak to those who know,)

The fun’ral letter brings the tale of woe,

When death’s fell dart yet reeking in the core,

To his pale triumph adds one captive more.

This solemn night, (to some a night of glee;

For few have felt his ravages like me;)

The muse might soar to strains of true sublime —

Declaim, exhort, nay, even preach in rhyme;

Might shew how Heav’n by vain expedient tries,

To mend our morals, or to make us wise:

Whilst worthless whims our vagrant thoughts withdraw,

Its thunders strike but momentary awe:

The careless laugh bursts through the whelming gloom,

Heedless of death, familiar with the tomb:

Alike unmov’d by reason’s tongue or pen,

How weak, how trifling, and how vain are men!

Explore with me ye sages who aspire,

The simple area of a country fire;

Enjoy the scene, (a while research forsake,)

The bustle, grief, and humour of a wake.

Here might be told on faith of hoary age,

The various froots[2] that coming death presage;

How goblin death-watch,[3] dropping still, invades

And mars the vigils of the rural maids;

Or mystic dead-bell,[4] tinkling in the ear,

Proclaims a sudden dissolution near;

The fated sex is known by quick surmise —

In right or left it rings as either dies.

But chief the sad ben-shee[5] a credence gains,

Strange cause of terror to benighted swains;

To warn her fav’rite fam’ly of the blow,

She fills the hollow glen with shrieks of woe:

The hardy rake his purpos’d jaunt forsakes,

And echo starting wonders why she wakes.

Soon as the dusk of sober eve descends,

To the late-wake, the village concourse bends;

The glimm’ring tapers through the lattice spy’d,

To the dull scene through the dark path-way guide.

On ev’ry side are crouds advancing slow —

Whilst some to muse, and some to frolic go:

There to the right, the guest in fair attire

(Whilst rags and laughter throng the kitchen fire,)

Is plac’d, amid the parlour’s festive bound,

With rustic dignity encircl’d round;

Where speculation sits, in converse blithe,

Now raising markets, and now low’ring tithe.

The large mould candles, counterfeits of day,

And beauty’s brighter eyes reflect the ray:

The ample table where a score might dine;

Decanters stor’d with whiskey, rum, and wine:

The tarnish’d salver with full bumpers crown’d —

While glass and china sparkle round and round:

The corner-press, half shaded, half in light,

Displays its glitt’ring trinkets to the sight;

And grav’d on wood, the haughty tyrant’s fall,[6]

Adds two-pence splendour to the whiten’d wall.

With arms a-kimbow lolls the man of pence,

Whose haughty rudeness goes for solid sense;

Whose bulk unwieldy shrouds a pigmy soul,

As some sing’d mouse informs a pack of wool;

The lonely lodger of the dreary clime,

Whilst one small corner stirs but at a time.

Esteem’d, like whales of Zembla’s frozen coast,

He most is priz’d who yields of blubber most:

Yet why remark his awkward mien or size?

The fellow’s rich — of course, he must be wise.

The man who counts three grocers of his line;

The man, with whom the guager [sic] deigns to dine;

Who rises yearly in progressive state,

In just proportion as he cheats the weight:

Whose greedy purse the market never bounds;

An extra price must swell its dirty pounds.

The man, whose learning barely dares engage,

To spell of weekly news some simple page;

Who waddles forth, for nought but to preside,

To stare, to blunder, and to stink with pride.

Calm yet collected, cheerful yet serene,

Almost the only heart that feels the scene,

As if deputed to this world below,

From pity’s throne; the friend of cheerless woe,

Pleads to the widow smarting ‘neath the rod,

The wisdom, mercy, and the love of God:

Dwells on the virtues of the friend deceas’d,

And glows to hail him number’d with the bless’d:

Recounts the feats of years for ever flown,

Beguiling tears — yet scarcely hides his own:

Soothes by indulgence, and decoys relief;

Seems to commend a calm and pious grief;

Yet marks the folly thus to lavish care

On lifeless clay, when living claims a share.

To heal the wounded soul that inly burns,

Tries ev’ry art, entreats and chides by turns;

Arrests the bursting sighs and ravings wild,

By sacred maxims and persuasion mild;

Till dove-like comfort, breathing grace divine,

Inspires the hard-wrung effort, to resign.

Brutal and sly, like some insidious bear,

Old uncle Gripe there fills an easy chair,

In sable garb — his soul a darker shade;

The brightest saint by money ever made:

No unbecoming pangs his bosom fill;

His only errand is to hear the will,

And catch, perchance, some unsuspected flaw,

To rob the helpless orphan at the law.

So the voracious cat, with watchful eye,

Where new-fledg’d broods their feeble pinions try,

Alternate darts from the dark shade beneath,

Till one by one forfeits its little breath:

Caught in the savage monster’s murd’rous fangs,

Who purring wild enjoys the flutt’ring pangs;

See, whilst in streams the sanguine torrents boil,

Secure she feasts, and glories in the spoil.

There pedantry, with gestures not a few,

Pretends a thousand things he never knew;

Hard words, high looks, attract our ears and eyes,

Witless a wag, without discretion wise.

The man who fame and wonder both commands,

In the broad region of three great townlands,

Tells lengthen’d stories, huxters jests obscene,

Half forg’d, half conn’d, from some old magazine;

Talks of a host of authors never read,

And compliments himself upon his head;

Whilst sober sense, half madden’d on him stares,

This man of circles draws his lines and squares;

Should art obscure perplex the muddy brain,

A word or two of Latin makes it plain;

A world of science, were it real, he shows,

Proud to be heard and happy to impose.

Here too are clowns that mute enjoy the glee,

Who oft have shone in stable repartee;

Yet seem to mind this maxim wise of age,

The silent fool is always half a sage.

Apart, surrounded by a train in tears,

The shrouded couch in simple state appears,

Its snow-white folds depend above, around,

By decent bows of sable ribbon bound;

And plac’d in front the fam’ly Bible lies:

The candle-sticks with rocket-lights arise;

The earthen plate for smokers, well is stor’d —

Whilst whiff on whiff obscures the cover’d board.

There all the ties whose charms o’er life extend,

The master, guardian, husband, father, friend,

In shades of death have clos’d their little day,

And cold and silent lies the breathless clay:

A man of sterling worth, and lib’ral mind;

Gen’rous, yet prudent — though not proud, refin’d;

Of easy manners — affectation’s foe,

Esteem’d and honour’d by the high and low:

Just counterpoise — at home in either sphere,

Not abject there, nor supercilious here.

A self-approving mind his dearest boast,

And to do good was what he wish’d for most:

Though skill’d in true frugality to save,

Yet oft he gave and hardly knew he gave.

When ghastly famine’s desolating hand,

And fell disease alarm’d the lab’ring band;

For food on trust the coinless bind was found

To seek his aid — for far his fame went round:

Oft churls have chode his feeling as a fault,

For honest looks were all the bail he sought:

Hence sons of want and indigence deprav’d,

Grew willing converts to the worth that sav’d.

Rous’d by the punctual cock, alas! no more

In May’s mild dews, or chill December’s hoar,

To early scenes his cheerful steps repair,

True to the call of labour or of care;

Of bus’ness o’er, no more shall he reclin’d,

(His cheek yet glowing by the wintry wind,)

Whilst a fond wife each weary thought beguiles,

Bless the dear gift, and glory in her smiles:

Nor e’er again survey his children young,

Enjoy the smile, or tempt the artless tongue;

With fond endearment on its prattling pore,

And fancy all it means, and haply more.

No more, alas! beside the ev’ning fire,

Where labour’s sons from daily tasks retire;

Where sportive bands the kitchen glee encrease,

Tell winter tales, and sing the storm to peace;

His manly voice with salutary sway,

Shall cheer the grave, or check the rudely gay.

And now no more poor souls privation’s mark,

That homeless, hopeless, wander through the dark;

Spurn’d by a world of those who might relieve —

Receive his shelter and a meal at eve:

Nor ever more at hour of rest be found

On bended knees, with inmates kneel’d around,

To mercy’s throne those pious hands to raise,

And vend a grateful heart in pray’r and praise:

Recount the blessings of the morning past,

And claim Heav’n’s sure protection to the last.

Ah no! those scenes for ever, ever cease —

His life was goodness, and his end was peace;

The call was love — his Master and his Lord

Bestows the faithful servant’s high reward:

Faith’s firm assurance mann’d his breast the while —

The cheek of death yet wears the heavenly smile.

Thus the lone star, on night’s dim concave spy’d,

The sailor’s beacon, and the trav’ller’s guide,

Sheds cheering lustre through a length of way,

And sets in glories of the rising day.

Thine eagle eye, O muse! revert once more,

To airy heights, where pleasure loves to soar;

Pursue her flight — and while the scene’s pourtray’d,

With equal pencil, mark the sun and shade.

Glass after glass makes ev’ry guest a lord,

And still fresh bumpers sparkle round the board;

The madd’ning bliss but few incline to balk —

Thus fumes of whiskey kindle into talk:

The topics many — Church and state affairs —

Excisemen, robbers, bulls and breeding mares;

Manures that suit on soils of diff’rent mould;

Flax, barley, and potatoes, bought and sold:

On peace, on war, corn-bill, and townland fine,

Assert, reply, rejoin, but ne’er decline.

Now warm debate foments the muddy plea;

Now cronies differ, and now foes agree;

So far at length, through knotty points they scan,

That neither side can tell where they began.

There seldom woful, and as seldom wise,

Sly wakeful mischief each contrivance plies;

Annoys the kitchen with her tricks and wiles,

Till haply grief forgets herself and smiles.

Now crumbl’d turf, and cinders partly hot,

Half fill the dozing drunkard’s gaping throat,

Who strangling groans with suffocating pain,

Wakes, spits and curses, yawns and sleeps again.

To foster discord too she takes delight;

And now the dogs, and now the cow-boys fight:

Chalk, scissars, needle, all a tailor’s tools

Now whiten, clip, and stitch together fools;

Pipes fill’d with powder, scarce ignited fly,

And singe the eye-brow o’er the starting eye:

Now pending dish-cloths dangle from the beau —

His bushy curls consume with blazing tow;

The figures, flourishes, and tropes abound,

Nor knows the creature why the laugh goes round.

When time was young, ere rank ambition grew,

Virtue and vice the sole distinction drew;

But now let good Saint James[7] carp as he may,

Respect of persons bears forbidden sway:

And peasants poor who never knew a peer,

Serve poorer merit with her side-board cheer.

Whilst the swift hours in quick succession roll,

The tardy Plough[8] twice circumscribes the pole;

On wings of tea, sleep laughing takes his flight,

And still the concourse swells the live-long night.

Not so, where mis’ry pines forlorn and poor,

Beneath the shed of some unfeeling boor;

Who racks the inmates bare, ev’n to the skin,

Of double rent, for leave to starve within.

See, where the wisp the paneless window blinds,

That robs the bed in vain, to check the winds;

The perforated roof and rotten door,

But serve to swell the tempest’s awful roar:

Through many a chink the threat’ning gleam appals,

Whilst deaf’ning thunders stifle nature’s calls.

An in-bent stream the rotten thatch divides,

And round the cheerless hearth the torrent glides;

With feeble groan beneath the teeming scraw,

There shiv’ring want expires upon his straw.

Hung o’er the embers of a dying fire,

Are wife and children, in their rag attire;

The glimm’ring faggot scarcely serves to shew

The hapless matron to the couch of woe.

Rais’d on her lap, the dyeless lips receive

The last cold draught — ’tis all she has to give:

’Tis o’er — and doubly stung, alas! she weeps;

For lisping tongues rejoice that “father sleeps:”

O’erwhelm’d with fell despair and female fears,

(No cheering face the long dark night appears,)

The widow’d wretch bewails in solitary tears.


[1] A vigil, well known by this name among the country people of the North of Ireland. It is held on the two nights immediately subsequent to a person’s decease, and concludes on the morning of interment.

[2] Ominous remarks — a provincial term.

[3] A small noise, somewhat resembling that of a watch, occasioned according to some by an insect — but generally presumed to prognosticate sudden death.

[4] A ringing sensation of the ears.

[5] A woman, supposed by the peasantry to have been taken away by fairies, at the period of her accouchement, and afterwards said to haunt her family, for ages, as above described.

[6] The Battle of Waterloo.

[7] Chap. 2

[8] Ursa Major.

Other poems from ‘The Northern Cottage’


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