Legends of Saint Patrick – Saint Patrick and the Two Princesses, Fedelm “The Red Rose,” and Ethna “The Fair”

detail of stained glass window of Saint Patrick, date and artist unknown; Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Knoxville, Tennessee; photographed on 16 September 2016 by Nheyob; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsLike two sister fawns that leap,
  Borne, as though on viewless wings,
Down bosky glade and ferny steep
  To quench their thirst at silver springs,
From Cruachan palace through gorse and heather,
Raced the Royal Maids together.
Since childhood thus the twain had rushed
  Each morn to Clebach’s fountain-cell
Ere earliest dawn the East had flushed
  To bathe them in its well:
Each morn with joy their young hearts tingled;
  Each morn as, conquering cloud or mist,
The first beam with the wavelet mingled,
  Mouth to mouth they kissed!

They stand by the fount with their unlooped hair –
A hand each raises – what see they there?
A white Form seated on Clebach stone;
  A kinglike presence: the monks stood nigh:
Fronting the dawn he sat alone;
  On the star of morning he fixed his eye:
That crozier he grasped shone bright; but brighter
The sunrise flashed from Saint Patrick’s mitre!
They gazed without fear. To a kingdom dear
  From the day of their birth those Maids had been;
Of wrong they had heard; but it came not near;
  They hoped they were dear to the Power unseen.
They knelt when that Vision of Peace they saw;
Knelt, not in fear, but in loving awe:
The “Red Rose” bloomed like that East afar;
The “Fair One” shone like that morning star.

Then Patrick rose: no word he said,
  But thrice he made the sacred Sign:
At the first, men say that the demons fled;
  At the third flocked round them the Powers divine
Unseen. Like children devout and good,
Hands crossed on their bosoms, the maidens stood.

“Blessed and holy! This land is Eire:
Whence come ye to her, and the king our sire?”

“We come from a Kingdom far off yet near
Which the wise love well, and the wicked fear:
We come with blessing and come with ban,
We come from the Kingdom of God with man.”

“Whose is that Kingdom? And say, therein
  Are the chiefs all brave, and the maids all fair?
Is it clean from reptiles, and that thing, sin?
  Is it like this kingdom of King Laeghaire?”

“The chiefs of that kingdom wage war on wrong,
And the clash of their swords is sweet as song;
Fair are the maids, and so pure from taint
The flash of their eyes turns sinner to saint;
There reptile is none, nor the ravening beast;
There light has no shadow, no end the feast.”

“But say, at that feast hath the poor man place?
  Is reverence there for the old head hoar?
For the cripple that never might join the race?
  For the maimed that fought, and can fight no more?”

“Reverence is there for the poor and meek;
And the great King kisses the worn, pale cheek;
And the King’s Son waits on the pilgrim guest;
And the Queen takes the little blind child to her breast:
There with a crown is the just man crowned;
But the false and the vengeful are branded and bound
In knots of serpents, and flung without pity
From the bastions and walls of the saintly City.”

Then the eyes of the Maidens grew dark, as though
  That judgment of God had before them passed:
And the two sweet faces grew dim with woe;
  But the rose and the radiance returned at last.

“Are gardens there? Are there streams like ours?
  Is God white-headed, or youthful and strong?
Hang there the rainbows o’er happy bowers?
  Are there sun and moon and the thrush’s song?”

“They have gardens there without noise or strife,
And there is the Tree of immortal Life:
Four rivers circle that blissful bound;
And Spirits float o’er it, and Spirits go round:
There, set in the midst, is the golden throne;
And the Maker of all things sits thereon:
A rainbow o’er-hangs him; and lo! therein
The beams are His Holy Ones washed from sin.”

As he spake, the hearts of the Maids beat time
  To music in heaven of peace and love;
And the deeper sense of that lore sublime
  Came out from within them, and down from above;
By degrees came down; by degrees came out:
Who loveth, and hopeth, not long shall doubt.

“Who is your God? Is love on His brow?
Oh how shall we love Him and find Him? How?”
The pure cheek flamed like the dawn-touched dew:
There was silence: then Patrick began anew.
The princes who ride in your father’s train
Have courted your love, but sued in vain; –
Look up, O Maidens; make answer free:
What boon desire you, and what would you be?”

“Pure we would be as yon wreath of foam,
  Or the ripple which now yon sunbeams smite:
And joy we would have, and a songful home;
  And one to rule us, and Love’s delight.”

“In love God fashioned whatever is,
  The hills, and the seas, and the skiey fires;
For love He made them, and endless blis
  Sustains, enkindles, uplifts, inspires:
That God is Father, and Son, and Spirit;
And the true and spotless His peace inherit:
And God made man, with his great sad heart,
That hungers when held from God apart.
Your sire is a King on earth: but I
Would mate you to One who is Lord on high:
There bride is maid: and her joy shall stand,
For the King’s Son hath laid on her head His hand.”
As he spake, the eyes of that lovely twain
  Grew large with a tearful but glorious light,
Like skies of summer late cleared by rain,
  When the full-orbed moon will be soon in sight.

“That Son of the King – is He fairest of men?
  That mate whom He crowns – is she bright and blest?
Does she chase the red deer at His side through the glen?
  Does she charm Him with song to His noontide rest?”

“That King’s Son strove in a long, long war:
His people He freed; yet they wounded Him sore;
And still in His hands, and His feet, and His side,
The scars of His sorrow are ‘graved, deep-dyed.”

Then the breasts of the Maidens began to heave
  Like harbour waves when beyond the bar
The great waves gather, and wet winds grieve,
  And the roll of the tempest is heard afar.

“We will kiss, we will kiss those bleeding feet;
  On the bleeding hands our tears shall fall;
And whatever on earth is dear or sweet,
  For that wounded heart we renounce them all.

“Show us the way to His palace-gate:” –
“That way is thorny, and steep, and straight;
By none can His palace-gate be seen,
Save those who have washed in the waters clean.”

They knelt; on their heads the wave he poured
Thrice in the name of the Triune Lord:
And he signed their brows with the Sign adored.
On Fedelm the “Red Rose,” on Ethna “The Fair,”
God’s dew shone bright in that morning air:
Some say that Saint Agnes, ‘twixt sister and sister,
As the Cross touched each, bent over and kissed her.

Then sang God’s new-born Creatures, “Behold!
  We see God’s City from heaven draw nigh:
But we thirst for the fountains divine and cold:
  We must see the great King’s Son, or die!
Come, Thou that com’st! Our wish is this,
  That the body might die, and the soul, set free,
Swell out, like an infant’s lips, to the kiss
  Of the Lover who filleth infinity!”

“The City of God, by the water’s grace,
Ye see: alone, they behold His Face,
Who have washed in the baths of Death their eyes,
And tasted His Eucharist Sacrifice.”

“Give us the Sacrifice!” Each bright head
  Bent toward it as sunflowers bend to the sun:
They ate; and the blood from the warm cheek fled:
  The exile was over: the home was won:
A starry darkness o’erflowed their brain:
  Far waters beat on some heavenly shore:
Like the dying away of a low, sweet strain,
  The young life ebbed, and they breathed no more:
In death they smiled, as though on the breast
Of the Mother Maid they had found their rest.

The rumour spread: beside the bier
  The King stood mute, and his chiefs and court:
The Druids dark-robed drew surlily near,
  And the Bards storm-hearted, and humbler sort:
The “Staff of Jesus” Saint Patrick raised:
  Angelic anthems above them swept:
There were that muttered; there were that praised:
  But none who looked on that marvel wept.

For they lay on one bed, like Brides new-wed,
  By Clebach well; and, the dirge days over,
On their smiling faces a veil was spread,
  And a green mound raised that bed to cover.
Such were the ways of those ancient days –
  To Patrick for aye that grave was given;
And above it he built a church in their praise;
  For in them had Eire been spoused to heaven.