Helen Waddell: Irish Woman Poet

Helen Waddell (1898 – 1965) was born in Tokyo where her father was a Presbyterian missionary. She moved to Belfast aged 11 and went on to study at Queen’s and at Oxford. She is probably best known for her study of the medieval Latin goliards  The Wandering Scholars, and her translations of their poems published as Medieval Latin Lyrics and More Latin Lyrics. She also wrote plays, novels and poetry. Her first published work was Lyrics From the Chinese, from which these poems are taken.


THE gourd has still its bitter leaves,
And deep the crossing at the ford.
I wait my lord.

The ford is brimming to its banks;
The pheasant cries upon her mate.
My lord is late.

The boatman still keeps beckoning,
And others reach their journey’s end.
I wait my friend.


I WENT out at the Eastern Gate,
I saw the girls in clouds,
Like clouds they were, and soft and bright,
But in the crowds
I thought on the maid who is my light,
Down-drooping, soft as the grey twilight;
She is my mate.

I went out by the Tower on the Wall,
I saw the girls in flower,
Like flowering rushes they swayed and bent,
But in that hour
I thought on the maid who is my saint,
In her thin white robe and her colouring faint;
She is my all.


IF there are fish within the trap,
They’ll churn it as they leap.
If none, you’ll see the water black,
And stars in it asleep.

–The water in the trap is black,
The stars are shining still–
If some men get enough to eat,
There’s few can get their fill.


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