The aisling (Irish for ‘dream, vision’), or vision poem, is a poetic genre that developed during the late 17th and 18th centuries in Irish language poetry.
In the aisling, Ireland appears to the poet in a vision in the form of a woman: sometimes young and beautiful, sometimes old and haggard. This female figure is generally referred to in the poems as a Spéirbhean (heavenly woman; pronounced ‘spare van’). She laments the current state of the Irish people and predicts an imminent revival of their fortunes, usually linked to the return of the Roman Catholic House of Stuart to the thrones of Britain and Ireland.
The form developed out of an earlier, non-political genre akin to the French reverdie, in which the poet meets a beautiful, supernatural woman who symbolises the spring season, the bounty of nature, and love.
The first of the aisling poets was Aodhagán Ó Rathaille, “athair na haislinge” (‘father of the aisling’). In his hands, the aisling is a powerful mode of political writing. Also famed for his works in the genre is Eoghan Rua Ó Súilleabháin.
Among the most famous examples of Aisling poetry are Gile na gile by Ó Rathaille and Ceo draíochta i gcoim oíche by Ó Súilleabháin.^close