Tag: poem

The Irish Unionist’s Farewell to Greta Hellstrom

Sunday, 11 August, 2019

The poem, The Irish Unionist’s Farewell to Greta Hellstrom in 1922, by Sir John Betjeman, is set in west County Waterford, with each stanza closing with the line “Dungarvan in the rain.” Dungarvan is a coastal town and harbour in Waterford and it’s also the administrative centre of the county.

The work recounts the story of Betjeman’s unrequited love for a woman called Greta Hellstrom, but the woman in the poem is, in fact, Emily Sears, a great beauty who later married Ion Villiers-Stuart. Betjeman knew them both. He used to visit them on Helvick Head and stay at The Yellow House fishing lodge, which was then owned by the Villiers-Stuarts. The poet tries to hide the identity of the woman by describing her as Swedish when, in fact, she was American, and by setting the poem in 1922. He was at school aged 16 in that year, and he only got to know the Villiers-Stuart couple in the early 1940s. The final lines of the poem show the poet’s acceptance of Emily’s decision to remain friends and never to be lovers: “You were right to keep us parted:/ Bound and parted we remain,/Aching, if unbroken hearted-/ Oh! Dungarvan in the rain.”

The Irish Unionist’s Farewell to Greta Hellstrom in 1922

Slanting eyes of blue, unweeping,
Stands my Swedish beauty where
Gusts of Irish rain are sweeping
Round the statue in the square;
Corner boys against the walling
Watch us furtively in vain,
And the Angelus is calling
Through Dungarvan in the rain.

Gales along the Comeragh Mountains,
Beating sleet on creaking signs,
Iron gutters turned to fountains,
And the windscreen laced with lines,
And the evening getting later,
And the ache-increased again,
As the distance grows the greater
From Dungarvan in the rain.

There is no one now to wonder
What eccentric sits in state
While the beech trees rock and thunder
Round his gate-lodge and his gate.
Gone – the ornamental plaster,
Gone – the overgrown demesne
And the car goes fast, and faster,
From Dungarvan in the rain.

Had I kissed and drawn you to me,
Had you yielded warm for cold,
What a power had pounded through me
As I stroked your streaming gold!
You were right to keep us parted:
Bound and parted we remain,
Aching, if unbroken hearted –
Oh! Dungarvan in the rain!

Sir John Betjeman


Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore

Thursday, 18 July, 2019

Filmmakers Ciaran Vaughan and Myles Shelly made a short video accompaniment to Seamus Heaney reading his poem Postscript. The clip was filmed in County Clare — mainly around Finavarra, where the poem is based.

Postscript

And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park or capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open


Leopards at Knole

Sunday, 2 June, 2019

Vita Sackville-West, the English poet, novelist and garden designer, died on this day in 1962, aged 70. Her home, the magnificent Knole House, located within a 1,000-acre estate in Kent, was given to Thomas Sackville by Queen Elizabeth I in the sixteenth century, and Vita was born there in 1892, the only child of cousins Lionel Edward Sackville-West and Victoria Sackville-West.

Vita’s mother, who was raised in a Parisian convent, was the illegitimate daughter of Lionel Sackville-West and a Spanish dancer, Josefa de Oliva, known as Pepita. Pepita’s mother was an acrobat who had married a barber, and Vita inherited some of this adventurousness. Her most famous intrigue was with Virginia Woolf, who celebrated their relationship in the novel Orlando. What Vita Sackville-West did not inherit, however, was Knole. The English aristocratic custom of the day was followed by the Sackville-West family, preventing Vita from inheriting her beloved home on the death of her father, a source of life-long bitterness to the poet. The estate followed the title and was bequeathed instead by her father to his nephew Charles.

Leopards at Knole

Leopards on the gable-ends,
Leopards on the painted stair,
Stiff the blazoned shield they bear,
Or and gules, a bend of vair,
Leopards on the gable-ends,
Leopards everywhere.

Guard and vigil in the night
While the ancient house is sleeping
They three hundred years are keeping,
Nightly from their stations leaping,
Shadows black in moonlight bright,
Roof to gable creeping.

Rigid when the day returns,
Up aloft in sun or rain
Leopards at their posts again
Watch the shifting pageant’s train;
And their jewelled colour burns
In the window-pane.

Often on the painted stair,
As I passed abstractedly,
Velvet footsteps, two and three,
Padded gravely after me.
– There was nothing, nothing there,
Nothing there to see.

Vita Sackville-West (1892 – 1962)

Vita Sackville-West


It’s time to turn the lock, and poke the fire

Tuesday, 28 May, 2019

It was Dorothy Parker who said, “I hate writing, I love having written.” Among the many things we love that she wrote is Hearthside, which is very appropriate as we head to a place where, “Under deeper skies than mine / Quiet valleys dip and shine / Where their tender grasses heal / Ancient scars of trench and tomb.”

Hearthside

“If I seek a lovelier part,
Where I travel goes my heart;
Where I stray my thought must go;
With me wanders my desire.
Best to sit and watch the snow,
Turn the lock, and poke the fire.”

Dorothy Parker (1893 – 1967)

Hearthside


Smell the sea, and feel the sky

Friday, 17 May, 2019

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

John Masefield, Sea Fever

Yohan Terraza

Image: The French photographer Yohan Terraza was born in 1980 in Bordeaux. His style of landscape photography is influenced by romantic painters such as J. M. W. Turner.


Epitaph for an enemy

Saturday, 27 April, 2019

The Anglo-Irish poet Cecil Day-Lewis (or Day Lewis) was born on this day in 1904. Along with being the father of actor Daniel Day-Lewis, celebrity chef Tamasin Day-Lewis and critic Sean Day-Lewis, he was the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1968 until his death in 1972. “The poet’s inverted snobbery in dropping the hyphen in his name on his publications (beginning in 1927) has been a source of trouble for librarians and bibliographers ever since,” is how his biographer at the Poetry Foundation puts it.

Cecil Day-Lewis became a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1935 and he practiced the Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist faith until the early 1950s. He renounced it in 1960 and his detective story, The Sad Variety (1964), written using the pseudonym Nicholas Blake, is a derisive portrayal of doctrinaire communists and their role in the brutal suppression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising. While the works of his poetic friends Auden and Spender have endured the test of time, his own verse has faded. The visceral sentiment at the heart of Epitaph for an Enemy continues to pulsate, however.

Epitaph for an Enemy

You ask, “What sort of man
Was this?”
— No worthier than
A pendulum which makes
Between its left and right
Involuntary arcs
Proving from morn to night
No contact anywhere
With human or sublime —
A punctual tick
A mere accessory of Time

His leaden act was done
He stopped, and Time went on.

Cecil Day-Lewis (1904 – 1972)

The enemy


Leda e il cigno

Wednesday, 28 November, 2018

According to the Greek myth that inspired the great W.B. Yeats poem, Zeus took the form of a swan and seduced Leda on the same night she slept with her husband King Tyndareus. Recently, a brilliant fresco depicting the event was unearthed in Pompeii and the artwork is best described in the original Italian:

Bellissima e sensuale, il corpo statuario solo parzialmente coperto da un drappo dorato, la regina Leda sembra incrociare languida lo sguardo di chi la avvicina. Tra le gambe di lei, in una posa che non potrebbe essere più esplicita, c’è il potente Zeus che per possederla si è trasformato in un grande cigno bianco e che secondo il mito insieme con il marito Tindaro, re di Sparta, diventerà il padre dei suoi quattro figli, i gemelli Castore e Polluce, ma anche la bella Elena, nel cui nome si scatenerà la guerra di Troia, e Clitennestra, che diventerà la moglie del re Agamennone.

Leda and the Swan

Here’s how Pliny the Younger recalled the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79 that destroyed Pompeii and preserved the fresco of Leda and the Swan:

“Ashes were already falling, not as yet very thickly. I looked round: a dense black cloud was coming up behind us, spreading over the earth like a flood.

‘Let us leave the road while we can still see,’ I said, ‘or we shall be knocked down and trampled underfoot in the dark by the crowd behind.’

We had scarcely sat down to rest when darkness fell, not the dark of a moonless or cloudy night, but as if the lamp had been put out in a closed room.

You could hear the shrieks of women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men; some were calling their parents, others their children or their wives, trying to recognize them by their voices. People bewailed their own fate or that of their relatives, and there were some who prayed for death in their terror of dying. Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness for evermore.”


Never such innocence again

Sunday, 11 November, 2018

The beautiful MCMXIV by Philip Larkin captures the fragile peace in the final days before the carnage of the Great War. MCMXIV deserves re-reading on this Remembrance Sunday 2018 because MCMXIV is the year 1914 in Roman numerals and Larkin’s decision to title his poem MCMXIV rather than “1914” or “Nineteen Fourteen” means, perhaps, it’s meant to be read like those inscriptions on tombs or war memorials.

Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word — the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages,
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.

Poppies


Michael Fitzgerald: who would have been 100 today

Monday, 17 September, 2018

In memory of Michael Fitzgerald (17 September 1918 – 2 April 2011), farmer and fencer.

This hand fenced

Fencing is farmwork for the fall of the year.
The days are dry and so are the essential stones.

When given their allotted places in ditches,
They stand side-by-side patiently.
The rows look uneven but are never untidy.

Timber is crooked here as well,
And whitethorn offers no mercy.
So the fencer returns with bloody hands,
But the stigmata were earned honourably.

Robert Frost was right —
“Good fences make good neighbours.”

Eamonn Fitzgerald

Father


Third anniversary

Thursday, 6 September, 2018

Do not go to my old school.
Do not go to my old house —
I am not in any of those places.
Look for me in your hearts
and greet me there.

— Kamand Kojouri

Mammy walking on


A Monster at Our Table

Sunday, 2 September, 2018

Derived from the Latin monstrum, the English word monster suggests something awful, evil, because a monster is generally physically or psychologically hideous and morally objectionable. Monsters are often hybrids of humans and animals, but the word can also be used figuratively to describe someone with similar characteristics, such as a person who does cruel or horrific things.

A Monster at Our Table

A monster sat down at our table
And ate up all of our bread
We watched his jaws crush the crusts
Immobilized by revulsion and dread

He talked about the weather and sport
But the topics withered under his breath
We nodded at convenient intervals
And silently prayed for his death

The monster got up from our table
And waddled away towards his lair
We sprinkled Holy Water behind him
To protect what we loved about there.

Eamonn Fizgerald

A Monster at our tabl