Critical Edition of "Reilly," by Al Purdy

Ricki Elder
English Master's Student, University of Saskatchewan

Back to the A. W. Purdy Digital Archive

   
          Reilly

                by Alfred Purdy
           December10th 1939
Reilly


1           In the white capped Rocky Mountains
2           I was workin' like to diedlike to died: A colloquial hyperbole, "so that I nearly died."
3           On a landslide for the railwaylandslide for the railway: Probably caused by the land's prolonged exposure to "the pourin drippin rain" (10). Landslides, which buried track and derailed trains, were a common problem in the early days of the railway. The Atlas of Canada website describes the conditions for landslides, as well as much historical data: "In the historical period (taken to be post-1840), landslides in Canada have resulted in more than 600 fatalities, including the destruction of several communities, and caused billions of dollars in damage" (The Atlas of Canada).
4           It was west of the divide.the divide: "A ridge or line of high ground forming the division between two river valleys or systems; a watershed; the Great (Continental) Divide, that of the Rocky Mountains; fig. a dividing or boundary line; spec. the boundary between life and death" (OED).
5           I was leanin on my shovel
6           And a tryin' hard to rest
7           To the hawk eyed section foreman
8           I was doin' of my best.
9           I was watchin all my buddies
10          In the pourin drippin rain
11          There was Eyetalians and dagosdago: Slang for "a man of Spanish parentage" (OED).
12          And a Chinaman and Dane.
13          Then a feller stopped beside me
14          Its a puzzle where he came
15          But he said my name is ReillyReilly: An Irish surname that refers to an ancestor. Ancestry.com gives the meaning of this name: "Irish: reduced form of O'Reilly, an Anglicized form of Gaelic O Raghailligh 'descendant of Raghailleach', Old Irish Roghallach, of unexplained origin."
16          And I hope you are the same.And I hope you are the same: That is, I hope you are also of Irish descent.
17          He was just a barrel of butter
18          With a nose like CyranoCyrano: That is, Cyrano de Bergerac, the "French satirist and duelist whose works include the spirited drama The Pedant Imitated (1654). He is the subject of Edmond Rostand's play Cyrano de Bergerac (1897), which depicts him as a chivalric duelist with a comically long nose" (American Heritage Dictionary).
19          But his eyes were blue as ErinErin: An "ancient name of Ireland, from O.E. Erinn, dat. of Eriu" (Online Etymology Dictionary).
20          On a sea the Irish know.
21          Though his hair was like a beacon
22          Of his homeland by the seahair... sea: That is, his hair was red, as is stereotypical of people of Irish descent.
23          There was something in his laughter
24          Stirred the Irish blood in me.
25          Then he said I'll tell my story
26          And its few the tale may hear
27          That can keep their eyes from brimmin
28          Or the sheddin of a tear.
29          I was once a happy farmer
30          Where the Shannon RiverShannon River: "a river flowing SW from N Ireland to the Atlantic: the principal river of Ireland" (Dictionary.com). flows
31          And I knew an Irish maiden
32          Like the dew within a rose.
33          In the peat bogs there are fairies
34          And the little people wise
35          But they had no use for Reilly
36          When they darkened Moira'sMoira: the Scottish or Irish equivalent of "Mary," meaning "bitter;" however, the name classically has the Greek meaning of "doom" or "destiny" (WikiName.com). Both meanings are relevant to Moira's becoming blind. eyes.
37          In the swampland by the twilight
38          That forever came to stay
39          It sealed her lips of laughter
40          When the light was gone away.
41          Sure the fairies are forgetful
42          Of their own, for she is one
43          Just a little frightened fairy
44          At the setting of the sun.
45          In the home land in my own land
46          Shannon valley growing green
47          And my heart is still with anguish
48          For the sight of my colleen.colleen: Anglo-Irish, a girl (OED).
49          Like a ghost I had to leave her
50          With the moon upon the sea
51          And my little farm is lonely
52          For the bride it will not see.
53          For I went to seek my fortune
54          And perhaps the sight of gold
55          Will spur on some proud physician
56          To a wonder yet untold.
57          Far across the western ocean
58          Where the sunset is in flower
59          And the spring wind woos the pine trees
60          For the sweetness of their dower.
61          And perhaps an Irish farmer
62          Will go back before he dies
63          To the homeland of St. Patrick
64          With the light for Moira's eyes.
65          By the winds that circle heaven
66          Chart my course where they are whirled
67          I will ever follow fortune
68          To the ending of the world.
69          To the land of Greece and Athens
70          And the Arctic tundra bare
71          I will even enter England
72          If my heart's desire is there.
73          Though the years are not unkindly
74          They are passing by the score
75          And I find I can't remember
76          Of the dress that Moira wore.
77          Sure I may not be as handsome
78          But the little people know
79          That my heart is true and youthful
80          As it was so long ago.
81          In the homeland in my own land
82          Shannon valley growing green
83          And my heart is still with anguish
84          For the sight of my colleen.
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85          And he said his name was Reilly
86          I was Irish so I sighed
87          In that little mountain eyrie
88          And just west of the divide.
89          And my dreams were all of Erin
90          Where the River Shannon flows
91          Of a maiden sweet reclining
92          Like the dew within a rose.
93          Though I can't be called a softy
94          For I've roamed around the sea
95          And I've viewed the world in passing
96          And the world has branded me.
97          But my heart is not yet hardened
98          As old Pharaoh's must have beenheart... been: Alludes to Exodus 7-10, when the Pharaoh refuses to listen to the plight of the Israelites and set them free from Egypt.
99          And I surely hope that Reilly
100         He will find his love again.


Notes