Friday, December 10, 2010

Thomas Moore - National Bard of Ireland

I blush to confess that I had never, until the past month, heard of Thomas Moore. I had heard of a poem 'Lalla Rookh' which was popular during the Regency, but I knew nothing of its creator. Then at a book sale last month, I picked up a lovely old (1880s) edition of the Poetical Works of Thomas Moore, because it contained the poem 'Lalla Rookh'. What a discovery!

Thomas Moore stands to Ireland as Robert Burns does to Scotland: a poet, a lyricist, a satirist, patriotic thinker and dreamer, a symbol for his nation. He was born in May of 1779, and died after a long life and a prolific career, in 1852. In 1803 he obtained an Admiralty position in Bermuda, and from there he visited Canada and the United States, writing all the while. He earned a good living from his writing but, nevertheless, through expensive tastes and the embezzlement of funds by his deputy in Bermuda, he fell into debt. In 1819 he had to leave England for several years. He was a friend of Lord John Russell, and of Lord Byron, whose memoirs he destroyed, along with publisher John Murray, on instructions from Byron's family. He has been much criticized for that action.

Moore's poetry is typical of the time. I found, in browsing my volume of his works, that I much preferred his spontaneous and often charming 'juvenile' works to the stately phrasing and considered classical terminology of his later epistles and odes.

From an early work - To Rosa:

"And are you then a thing of art,
Seducing all, and loving none;
And have I strove to gain a heart
Which every coxcomb thinks his own?"

His work in later years with the ancient music of Ireland, writing lyrics and composing songs, is remembered today with works like "Believe me if all those endearing young charms" and "'Tis the last rose of summer." He is still called Ireland's National Bard.

"Lalla Rookh"--an 'oriental romance'--I find difficult to appreciate but certainly, on its publication in 1817, the Regency world did not. I found a lovely website devoted to the poem here. I think the poem would reward closer study. This illustration, which I have not been able to identify, but to me, looks Regency in origin, is borrowed from the website. It is 'Lalla Rookh':

One of Moore's pieces of satirical writing particularly appealed to me. It is titled "Reinforcements for Lord Wellington" and was written in 1813. Things were not going well on the continent, and Moore offered these suggestions:

"As recruits in these times are not easily got,
And the Marshal must have them--pray, why should we not,
As the last and, I grant it, the worst of our loans to him,
Ship off the Ministry, body and bones to him."

I cannot reprint the entire piece, but here is another excerpt:

"Nay, I do not see why the great R-g--t himself
Should, in times such as these, stay at home on the shelf;--
Though through narrow defiles he's not fitted to pass,
Yet who could resist, if he bore down en masse?"
I giggle every time I read this!

I am grateful to have discovered Thomas Moore, and I regret my ignorance of one so important to Irish history. I have learned that he is remembered today even in the T-shirt industry. From his poem "The Meeting of Ships", the last lines
"And soon, too soon, we part with pain,
To sail o'er silent seas again."
have been paraphrased for a slogan!

And so his works live on--what more can a writer ask?

'Til next time,


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