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Poetry

Rainy Day in the Galtee Mountains

Friday, 20 April, 2018 0 Comments

Regular reader and intermittent poet, Liam Murray, is so captivated by this blog’s title and header photo that he has combined the two in verse. The Galtee Mountains pictured above were the fons et origo of our great mother, God rest her soul, and they remain our spiritual home. The Golden Vale mentioned below was a tract of nearby pasture land that represented a form of earthly paradise for mother and father, who cultivated their own fields and gardens as if they, too, were golden. And they were.

Rainy Day in the Galtee Mountains

The gathering clouds announce a change
The Galtee Mountains turn a shadowed blue
Quieter birds in hedge rows sense the mood
Distant rolling thunder fills the ear.

Clouds carrying rivers of rain
Continue to flow across the plain
Bushes shake in windy salute,
In the moist filled air across the Golden Vale.

The deluge pours on expectant fields
Blades of grass glisten; laced with rain drops
Sails of cloud continue to unfurl,
Above it all the sun still shines.

Liam Murray

Cullane Garden


Done is a battell on the dragon blak

Wednesday, 28 March, 2018 0 Comments

Easter approacheth. Time for a preparatory poem and our choice is a masterpiece of Scottish medieval verse, Surrexit Dominus de sepulchro (Christ is risen from the grave), by William Dunbar (1460 – 1520). This is one of the greatest of early Easter poems in English and it has one of the greatest of all opening lines: “Done is a battell on the dragon blak” (The battle against the black dragon is done). The theme is the Resurrection and Christ is cast in the role of a noble knight.

Some of the language is easily decrypted but the gulf between our 21st global century and Dunbar’s early 16th-century Scotland is apparent. Here’s how he depicts evil:

The auld kene tegir, with his teith on char,
Whilk in a wait has lyne for us so lang,
Thinking to grip us in his clowis strang

In modern English, this can be rendered as, “The old sharp tiger with his teeth ajar / Which has lain in wait for us so long / Hoping to grip us in his strong claws.” Those “clowis” give bite to Dunbar’s language, which is a miscellany of elemental sounds and delightful alliteration: “Whilk in a wait” is wonderful. By the way, here’s a modern translation of the poem. And now, a snippet of the original:

Surrexit Dominus de sepulchro

Done is a battell on the dragon blak,
Our campion Chyrst confoundit has his force;
The yettis of hell are broken with a crak,
The signe triumphall raisit is of the cross,
The divillis trymmillis with hiddous voce,
The saulis are borrowit and to the bliss can go,
Chyrst with his bloud our ransonis dois indoce:
Surrexit Dominus de sepulchro.

Dungin is the deidly dragon Lucifer,
The crewall serpent with the mortall stang;
The auld kene tegir, with his teith on char,
Whilk in a wait has lyne for us so lang,
Thinking to grip us in his clowis strang;
The merciful Lord wald nocht that it were so,
He made him for to failye of that fang.
Surrexit Dominus de sepulchro.

The Dragon Blak


Synge Prelude

Saturday, 24 March, 2018 0 Comments

On this day in 1909, the playwright, poet and collector of folklore John Millington Synge died. He was just 37 years old. Synge was a key figure in the Irish Literary Revival and one of the co-founders of the Abbey Theatre, and it was in thanks to the Abbey Theatre that he entered history. The occasion was the 1907 Abbey premiere of his wonderful play, The Playboy of the Western World, and the surrounding events exposed the sordid absurdity that has powered so much of Irish nationalism.

One source of audience hostility to the play was that the plot combined an idealization of parricide with an unhappy ending, but what triggered the violence was Christy Mahon’s comment about “a drift of chosen females, standing in their shifts itself.” The very mention of an undergarment led The Freeman’s Journal of Monday, 28 January 1907 to condemn the play as an “unmitigated, protracted libel upon Irish peasant men and worse still upon peasant girlhood.” Rioting ensued and the police had to enforce security during each performance, making nightly arrests of outraged nationalists filled with hatred of an artistic expression that did not reflect their chosen insanity.

The Playboy of the Western World has survived time and terror and Synge’s poetry remains true to the landscape that gave him so much happiness during his short life.

Prelude

Still south I went and west and south again,
Through Wicklow from the morning till the night,
And far from cities, and the sights of men,
Lived with the sunshine, and the moon’s delight.

I knew the stars, the flowers, and the birds,
The grey and wintry sides of many glens,
And did but half remember human words,
In converse with the mountains, moors, and fens.

John Millington Synge (1871 – 1909)

Wicklow


Firelit, shuttered, slated and stone-walled

Tuesday, 13 March, 2018 0 Comments

Faber & Faber has announced the publication of Seamus Heaney: 100 Poems, a collection of the late Literature Laureate’s most treasured and celebrated verse. Publication on 28 June will coincide with the opening of a major new exhibition, Seamus Heaney: Listen Now Again, curated by the National Library of Ireland and presented in the Bank of Ireland Cultural and Heritage Centre, College Green, Dublin.

This snippet is from Heaney’s The Glanmore Sonnets and it conjures up memories of happy winter evenings spent beside the fire in the home of Denis and Mary Grogan.

Winter-evening cold.
Our backs might never warm up but our faces
Burned from the hearth-blaze and the hot whiskeys…
As green sticks hissed and spat into the ashes
And whatever rampaged out there couldn’t reach us,
Firelit, shuttered, slated and stone-walled.

The Grogan fireplace


Dublin Airport locked in frost

Saturday, 3 March, 2018 0 Comments

This is from Audenesque (in memory of Joseph Brodsky) by Seamus Heaney, Nobel Laureate in Literature. The great airport “unlocking” may take place later today.

“Repetition, too, of cold
In the poet and the world,
Dublin Airport locked in frost,
Rigor mortis in your breast.
Ice no axe or book will break,
No Horatian ode unlock”

Dublin Airport


The soft silence of a Winter’s Day

Friday, 2 March, 2018 0 Comments

Victor Hugo once said: “Winter changes into stone the water of heaven and the heart of man.” And while that may be true, all that is wintry is not necessarily cold and those wintertide winds often evoke warmth and memories of kindness. In this newly-composed poem, published exclusively on Rainy Day, Liam Murray of Lucan reflects on what lies beneath the drifts and beyond the icicles.

Musings on a Winter Day

Occasionally there is a soft silence,
On a Winter’s Day
Nature’s elements agree a moment’s truce
Unwanted sounds harmonise in silence
Tranquillity becomes the overriding presence

Nature stands still
We embrace the serenity of the moment
Like soundless snow flakes
Descending from the heavens
The landscape embracing each one.

Is there is such a thing as time?
We remember our yesterdays
So it’s not an illusion of nature
Yet closed eyes can feel an eternal presence
If the beating heart is ignored.

We see the flowers come and go
The flow of time seems real
Does all this happen in the eternal now?
That apparent change can occur within
A never changing present.

Liam Murray

Lucan Village


Kit Marlowe loved at first sight

Monday, 26 February, 2018 0 Comments

We don’t know exactly when the rock-star English playwright, poet and translator of the Elizabethan era Kit (Christopher) Marlowe was born, but he was baptised in Canterbury on this day in 1564. It was a notable year for letters because William Shakespeare was baptised on 26 April in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon.

In his brief life, Marlowe was described variously as a spy, a magician, a counterfeiter, a tobacco-user and a heretic. A warrant was issued for his arrest on 18 May 1593, possibly on charges of blasphemy, and ten days he was stabbed to death in London by one Ingram Frizer. Christopher Marlowe was just 30.

Why was he killed? Theories abound:

  • Jealous of her husband’s homosexual relationship with Marlowe, Lady Audrey Walsingham arranged for the playwright to be murdered.
  • He was killed on the instructions of Lord Burghley and Sir Robert Cecil, who believed that his plays contained Catholic propaganda.
  • Queen Elizabeth ordered his assassination because of his scandalous conduct.

The ultimate theory, of course, is that Marlowe didn’t die, and went on to write for Shakespeare. And there’s no doubt that Christopher Marlowe could do the business. Some 500 years later, this remains as true as it is sublime.

Who Ever Loved That Loved Not At First Sight?

It lies not in our power to love or hate,
For will in us is overruled by fate.
When two are stripped, long ere the course begin,
We wish that one should love, the other win;

And one especially do we affect
Of two gold ingots, like in each respect:
The reason no man knows; let it suffice
What we behold is censured by our eyes.
Where both deliberate, the love is slight:
Who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?

Christopher Marlowe

Kit  Marlowe


A day for shriving, for making shrift

Tuesday, 13 February, 2018 0 Comments

It’s Shrove Tuesday. It’s the day when many people get ready to sacrifice something they enjoy for the next 40 days and nights so that their lives will be filled, perhaps, with something different. The extravagant Mardi Gras feasting of today will be replaced tomorrow by Ash Wednesday’s cold embers, a reminder that so much of what we treasure is momentary, that the things we want to keep forever cannot be kept forever. T. S. Eliot addressed this, and much more, in his poem The Four Quartets, specifically in the fourth section, “Little Gidding“, from which this passage is taken:

The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre—
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.


So. Farewell Then. The Awl

Thursday, 1 February, 2018 0 Comments

The recent demise of the high-brow digital magazine, The Awl, and its sister publication (especially for the sisterhood) The Hairpin, brings to mind the work of the Private Eye spoof teenage poet E. J. Thribb (17), notorious for his “So. Farewell Then…” poems. For those unfamiliar with his work, an example: This particular verse was composed on the occasion of the death of Magnus Magnusson, an Icelandic journalist celebrated for his hosting of the BBC’s Mastermind programme.

So. Farewell
Then Magnus
Magnusson.

Famed inquisitor of
Mastermind.

Your catchphrase was
“I’ve started so I’ll
Finish.”

And now
you have.

And how would E. J. Thribb (17) have reacted to the news that the fickle masses have rejected the thoughts of those “smart-as-a-whip” scribblers, with their fine Creative Writing qualifications, for cat videos and selfies? With mercy and tenderness, of course.

So. Farewell
Then The Awl
It’s all over.
It’s over, Awl.


Waking At 3 A.M.

Wednesday, 17 January, 2018 0 Comments

The American poet William Stafford was born on this day in 1913 in Hutchinson, Kansas, and he died at his home in Lake Oswego, Oregon on 28 August 1993, having written a poem that morning containing the lines, “‘You don’t have to / prove anything,’ my mother said. ‘Just be ready / for what God sends.'”

Stafford’s poetry career is remarkable in that he was 46 years old when his first major collection, Traveling Through the Dark, appeared. It went on to win the 1963 National Book Award for Poetry. Stafford is said to have written a daily journal for 50 years, and he composed nearly 22,000 poems, of which some 3,000 were published. For all those who have trouble sleeping, this offers comfort.

Waking At 3 A.M.

Even in the cave of the night when you
wake and are free and lonely,
neglected by others, discarded, loved only
by what doesn’t matter — even in that
big room no one can see,
you push with your eyes till forever
comes in its twisted figure eight
and lies down in your head.

You think water in the river;
you think slower than the tide in
the grain of the wood; you become
a secret storehouse that saves the country,
so open and foolish and empty.

You look over all that the darkness
ripples across. More than has ever
been found comforts you. You open your
eyes in a vault that unlocks as fast
and as far as your thought can run.
A great snug wall goes around everything,
has always been there, will always
remain. It is a good world to be
lost in. It comforts you. It is
all right. And you sleep.

William Stafford


Kavanagh’s Christmas Childhood was ours, too

Monday, 25 December, 2017 0 Comments

The world evoked in A Christmas Childhood by Patrick Kavanagh is both magical and real, and for those who grew up in the rural Ireland of the 20th century, this poem from a Christmas when he was six years old captures that mysterious childhood moment when the ordinary becomes extraordinary. “One side of the potato-pits was white with frost,” he notes factually in one line but in another three whin bushes on the horizon are transformed into the Three Wise Kings. The passing of time, says Kavanagh, erases the innocence of childhood but it does resurface, especially at Christmas. Then: “How wonderful that was, how wonderful!”

A Christmas Childhood is dedicated to Kit and Mick Fitzgerald, honourable people, who made our childhood Christmas wonderful.

A Christmas Childhood

I

One side of the potato-pits was white with frost –
How wonderful that was, how wonderful!
And when we put our ears to the paling-post
The music that came out was magical.

The light between the ricks of hay and straw
Was a hole in Heaven’s gable. An apple tree
With its December-glinting fruit we saw –
O you, Eve, were the world that tempted me

To eat the knowledge that grew in clay
And death the germ within it! Now and then
I can remember something of the gay
Garden that was childhood’s. Again

The tracks of cattle to a drinking-place,
A green stone lying sideways in a ditch,
Or any common sight, the transfigured face
Of a beauty that the world did not touch.

II

My father played the melodion
Outside at our gate;
There were stars in the morning east
And they danced to his music.

Across the wild bogs his melodion called
To Lennons and Callans.
As I pulled on my trousers in a hurry
I knew some strange thing had happened.

Outside in the cow-house my mother
Made the music of milking;
The light of her stable-lamp was a star
And the frost of Bethlehem made it twinkle.

A water-hen screeched in the bog,
Mass-going feet
Crunched the wafer-ice on the pot-holes,
Somebody wistfully twisted the bellows wheel.

My child poet picked out the letters
On the grey stone,
In silver the wonder of a Christmas townland,
The winking glitter of a frosty dawn.

Cassiopeia was over
Cassidy’s hanging hill,
I looked and three whin bushes rode across
The horizon — the Three Wise Kings.

And old man passing said:
‘Can’t he make it talk –
The melodion.’ I hid in the doorway
And tightened the belt of my box-pleated coat.

I nicked six nicks on the door-post
With my penknife’s big blade –
There was a little one for cutting tobacco.
And I was six Christmases of age.

My father played the melodion,
My mother milked the cows,
And I had a prayer like a white rose pinned
On the Virgin Mary’s blouse.

Patrick Kavanagh (1904 – 1967)