TITLE 08 - Poems

In addition to his songs Percy French wrote poems, recitations and verse. Like his songs these usually related to his family, friends or acquaintances as well as his experiences and his moods. French was often at his most satirical with parodies of other poets as in the case of

Catalogue box number 23 – click here

“If I Should Die”
by Benjamin Franklin King (1857-1894)

This is French’s version :

If I should die tonight. And you should come, And stand beside me, Lying cold and dumb,
And, if while standing there, You whispered low, ‘Here’s the ten pounds You lent me years ago,’
I would arise, although they’d laid me flat, And say, ‘What’s that?’

If I should die tonight’ But rose to count’ With trembling fingers’ That long lost amount’
I might live on; But when You said’ Here’s your umbrella And your fountain pen,’
For one short space I’d gaze into thy face And then Drop dead again.

His delight in painting the Irish landscape together with his appreciation of great artists of the past is reflected in his poem

‘Celestial Painting (Sunset at Renvyle)

‘ When painters leave this world, we grieve For the hand that will work no more,
But who can say that they rest alway On that still celestial shore?
No! No! they choose from the rainbow hues, And winging from Paradise,
They come to paint, now bold now faint, The tones of our sunset skies.

When I see them there I can almost swear That grey is from Whistler’s brain!
That crimson flush was Turner’s brush! And the gold is Claude Lorraine.

Any understanding of Percy French, poet, philosopher and humorist would not be complete without a knowledge of those recitations (too long to include here) such as ‘Carmody’s Mare’ (the excitement of an Irish race meeting) and ‘The Four Farrelly’s’ (illustrating the diversity of human character in the four corners of Ireland) Likewise, French’s romantic respect for the heroic highwayman figure is reflected in the epic style poem

‘Galloping Hogan’ (An incident in the Siege of Limerick)

“They have sent for fresh artillery, The guns are on the way,
God help our hapless Limerick When dawns another day.”
Thus speaks the gallant Sarsfield, As sadly he recalls
The famine and despair that lurk Behind these crumbling walls.
“And yet one blow for freedom — One daring midnight ride!
And William may be humbled yet, For all his power and pride!

Go! Bring to me ‘The Galloper,’ To Highway Hogan say
‘Tis Ireland has need of him, And him alone to-day!”
The Soldier and the Highwayman Are standing face to face,
The fearless front, the eagle eye, In both of them we trace.

“Hogan! the night is dark and drear, Say, canst thou lead the way
To Keeper Mountain’s black ravines Ere dawn another day?”
“Can the eagle find his eyrie? Can the fox forget his den?
I can lead ye as none other Of the Slievecamatha men.

The black mare knows it blindfold, It’s not by stars she’ll steer,
Ye’ll be to-night on the Keeper’s height — And the dawn will find ye here.”
“Lead on!” and well, he led them, Though the Shannon ford ran deep,
And though the white-lipped flood ran deep, Around O’Brien’s Keep.

The sentinel on Killaloe Looked out, but failed to see
Five hundred silent horsemen ride Behind the rapparee.
That night by Balleneety’s towers The English gunners lay.
“King William’s Camp and safety lies But twelve short miles away.

What need of further caution? What Irish wolf would dare
To prowl around our camp to-night, So near the lion’s lair?”
An Irish wolf is near them now, And Irish ears have heard
The chosen watchword for the night, And “Sarsfield” was the word.

A tramp of horse – “Who’s there? The word!” “Sarsfield!” the answer ran
And then the sword smote downwards, “Ay, and Sarsfield is the man!”
“To arms! The foe!” Too late, too late, Though Villiers’ vengeful – blade
Is wet with Hogan’s life blood; As he leads the ambuscade.

Then foot to foot, and hand to hand, They battle round the guns,
Till victory declares itself For Erin’s daring sons.
“Oh for those guns in Limerick now Placed on the city walls!
We’d bid King William breakfast On his own black cannon balls!

It may not be – but trebly charged, And filled with shot and shell,
They’ll toll the robber’s requiem, And sound the soldier’s knell.”
Oh, sudden flash of blinding light! Oh, hollow-sounding roar!
Down history’s pages in Irish ears It echoes evermore.

And Balleneety’s blackened tower Still marks the famous place.
Where Sarsfield staked his all to win, And won that midnight race!

“An incident in the Siege of Limerick” — Author’s note. As a guest in the beautifully situated Glenveagh Castle in the centre of County Donegal, French once penned some lines akin to an epitaph: