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A Cradle Song

O, men from the fields!
Come gently within.
Tread softly, softly,
O! men coming in.

Mavourneen is going
From me and from you,
Where Mary will fold him
With mantle of blue!

From reek of the smoke
And cold of the floor,
And the peering of things
Across the half-door.

O, men from the fields!
Soft, softly come thro’.
Mary puts round him
Her mantle of blue.

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Padraic Colum, 1881 – 1972, Irish poet, playwright, novelist, children’s author, biographer, collector of folklore and folksongs, editor. He was an important participant in the Irish Literary Revival (or Irish Literary Renaissance), a movement concerned with the revival of interest in Ireland’s Gaelic heritage (as well as with the growth of Irish nationalism) expressed in several decades of flourishing literary production in a large variety of genres, occurring on both sides of the turn of the 19th into the 20th centuries.
While living in the United States, Colum published several collections of stories for children; three of his books for young people were awarded retrospective citations for the Newbery Honor. The Catholic Library Association awarded him the Regina Medal in 1961.

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Originally I found this little lullaby in a collection of poems for children and copied it down without thinking to note the volume’s title; today I’m reading it in 1000 Years of Irish Poetry: The Gaelic and Anglo-Irish Poets from Pagan Times to the Present, a wondrously sweeping yet thorough sampling of a great quantity of rich and variegated material, published in 1947 (copyright renewed 1975), edited by Kathleen Hoagland (there is some annotation throughout the book, I must assume it is also Hoagland’s, as no other names appear).

I wonder whether this small song wasn’t one that was encountered by Colum, at least in embryonic form, in his folklore-gathering expeditions . . . perhaps his published volume of most of his poetry, Poems (1932), holds a clue. For me, an authentic reading of this verse begs for a simple pentatonic melody, with descending 3rds, 2nds, a bit chantlike but light, lilting; it would flow as easily as speech from the tuneful Irish psyche.

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