Tag: poem

To My Mother on Mother’s Day

Sunday, 14 May, 2017 0 Comments

In 1842, when she was 11, Christina Rossetti wrote her first poem, To my Mother on her Birthday. Rossetti has often been called the greatest Victorian woman poet, but her poetry is increasingly regarded as among the most beautiful and innovative of the period by either sex. Her poem, To My Mother, is dedicated today to a great and generous, loved and missed mother. May she “long us bless.”

To My Mother

To-day’s your natal day;
Sweet flowers I bring:
Mother, accept, I pray
My offering.

And may you happy live,
And long us bless;
Receiving as you give
Great happiness.

Christina Rossetti (1830 – 1894)

My loved and missed mother


The echo of well water

Thursday, 4 May, 2017 0 Comments

The Irish poet Thomas Kinsella was born in Dublin on this day in 1928. He was championed by the critics in the early 1960s, but it was the dying Kavanagh and the upcoming Heaney who became the poets of the people, ordinary and elite. Popular success evaded Kinsella and although he’s central to the Irish canon he has remained on the margins of the verse market all his life.

Talking of margins, the ancient Irish monks and scribes who filled the marginalia of their manuscripts with illuminations and glosses, offer a comparison with Kinsella. One can always discover some new scribbled clue in the texts that the medievalists annotated and it’s the same with Thomas Kinsella’s poems. There’s much more there than meets the eye. Rereading has its rewards.

Echo

He cleared the thorns
from the broken gate,
and held her hand
through the heart of the wood
to the holy well.

They revealed their names
and told their tales
as they said that they would
on that distant day
when their love began.

And hand in hand
they turned to leave.
When she stopped and whispered
a final secret
down to the water.

Thomas Kinsella

Saint Sedna's Well


Heart of my heart, our heaven is now

Sunday, 23 April, 2017 0 Comments

The English poet Rupert Brooke died of sepsis on this day (St. George’s Day) in 1915 on a French hospital ship off the Greek island of Skyros, while preparing for the landing at Gallipoli. He was 27. His brother, William Brooke, a member of the London Regiment, was killed in action near Le Rutoire Farm on 14 June 1915. He was 24.

Rupert Brooke was famous for his good looks, which prompted the poet W. B. Yeats to describe him as “the handsomest young man in England”, and he had a large circle of powerful friends, including Virginia Woolf and Winston Churchill. He lived his short life with passion: poet, scholar, dramatist, critic, traveller, activist, soldier. He is best known for his sonnets written during the First World War, especially The Soldier.

The Hill, a meditation on fate, contains some of the great lines of modern English poetry: “We have kept the faith!” and “We shall go down with unreluctant tread / Rose-crowned into the darkness!”

The Hill

Breathless, we flung us on the windy hill,
Laughed in the sun, and kissed the lovely grass.
You said, “Through glory and ecstasy we pass;
Wind, sun, and earth remain, the birds sing still,
When we are old, are old.…” “And when we die
All’s over that is ours; and life burns on
Through other lovers, other lips,” said I,
— “Heart of my heart, our heaven is now, is won!”

“We are Earth’s best, that learnt her lesson here.
Life is our cry. We have kept the faith!” we said;
“We shall go down with unreluctant tread
Rose-crowned into the darkness!”… Proud we were,
And laughed, that had such brave true things to say.
— And then you suddenly cried, and turned away.

Rupert Brooke (1887 – 1915)

The Blue Galtees


Oscar Wilde’s Good Friday in Genoa

Friday, 14 April, 2017 0 Comments

The juxtaposition of paganism and Christianity was a constant theme in Oscar Wilde’s poetry. This is nowhere more apparent than in his sonnet, Written in Holy Week at Genoa when Wilde is awakened from a daydream by a “young boy-priest”. His sensuous charms are far more real than the suffering embodied by “The Cross, the Crown, the Soldiers and the Spear”, and those “dear Hellenic hours” are preferable to thoughts of the crucified Christ. But the “bitter pain” cannot be ignored.

Written in Holy Week at Genoa

I wandered in Scoglietto’s green retreat,
The oranges on each o’erhanging spray
Burned as bright lamps of gold to shame the day;
Some startled bird with fluttering wings and fleet
Made snow of all the blossoms, at my feet
Like silver moons the pale narcissi lay:
And the curved waves that streaked the sapphire bay
Laughed i’ the sun, and life seemed very sweet.
Outside the young boy-priest passed singing clear,
“Jesus the Son of Mary has been slain,
O come and fill his sepulchre with flowers.”
Ah, God! Ah, God! those dear Hellenic hours
Had drowned all memory of Thy bitter pain,
The Cross, the Crown, the Soldiers, and the Spear.

Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900)

Today, Good Friday, is a special day for those the world over who will meditate on the mystery of The Way of the Cross.

The Cross


Ten O’Clock

Wednesday, 12 April, 2017 0 Comments

In his poem Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock, Wallace Stevens uses the word “ceintures”. A misspelling of “centuries”? Not quite. The etymology shows it as a borrowing from the French ceinture, which is a term in dressmaking for a belt or girdle.

Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock

The houses are haunted
By white night-gowns.
None are green,
Or purple with green rings,
Or green with yellow rings,
Or yellow with blue rings.
None of them are strange,
With socks of lace
And beaded ceintures.
People are not going
To dream of baboons and periwinkles.
Only, here and there, an old sailor,
Drunk and asleep in his boots,
Catches tigers
In red weather.

Wallace Stevens (1879 – 1955)

Ten


Our swan sister: white, black, golden

Sunday, 9 April, 2017 0 Comments

“The people who live in a golden age usually go around complaining how yellow everything looks,” said Randall Jarrell, the American poet, critic, essayist and novelist. In The Black Swan, Jarrell explored the colours of the swan spectrum. Excerpt:

When the swans turned my sister into a swan
I would go to the lake, at night, from milking:
The sun would look out through the reeds like a swan,
A swan’s red beak; and the beak would open
And inside there was darkness, the stars and the moon.

Randall Jarrell (1914 – 1965)

Cork Swan


Martin McGuinness obituary

Tuesday, 21 March, 2017 0 Comments

The death has taken place of Martin McGuinness, a key figure in the IRA terror group that killed more than 1,500 people before its political wing, Sinn Féin, embraced the compromises its peaceful opponents had articulated from the 1960s onwards.

Martin McGuinness was a cold-blooded killer who morphed into a dove but his many victims should not be forgotten in the coming rush to sanctify a legacy and burnish a myth. The poet Desmond Egan summarized the cruel futility of McGuinness’ quest in The Northern Ireland Question. It’s concise but the four lines perfectly capture the random barbarity that Martin McGuinness once practiced and endorsed.

The Northern Ireland Question

two wee girls
were playing tig near a car

how many counties would you say
are worth their scattered fingers?

Desmond Egan


Shamrock of stone

Friday, 17 March, 2017 0 Comments

When the British poet and war-time diplomat Sir John Betjeman visited the west of Ireland in the 1940s, he stayed with Lord Hemphill and his beautiful American wife Emily. She had met her titled husband while riding in the Borghese Gardens in Rome in 1926 and they married a year later in New York. The couple then moved to Tulira Castle, the Victorian bastion built in Galway by Edward Martyn and immortalized in George Moore’s Hail and Farewell. By the time Betjeman arrived, however, Emily was involved in a passionate affair with Ion Villiers-Stuart, as she revealed to him when they cycled through the primeval-looking landscape of The Burren. That day’s events led to one of Betjeman’s finest poems, Ireland with Emily. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Ireland with Emily

Bells are booming down the bohreens,
White the mist along the grass,
Now the Julias, Maeves and Maureens
Move between the fields to Mass.
Twisted trees of small green apple
Guard the decent whitewashed chapel,
Gilded gates and doorway grained,
Pointed windows richly stained
With many-coloured Munich glass.

See the black-shawled congregations
On the broidered vestment gaze
Murmer past the painted stations
As Thy Sacred Heart displays
Lush Kildare of scented meadows,
Roscommon, thin in ash-tree shadows,
And Westmeath the lake-reflected,
Spreading Leix the hill-protected,
Kneeling all in silver haze?

In yews and woodbine, walls and guelder,
Nettle-deep the faithful rest,
Winding leagues of flowering elder,
Sycamore with ivy dressed,
Ruins in demesnes deserted,
Bog-surrounded bramble-skirted —
Townlands rich or townlands mean as
These, oh, counties of them screen us
In the Kingdom of the West.

Stony seaboard, far and foreign,
Stony hills poured over space,
Stony outcrop of the Burren,
Stones in every fertile place,
Little fields with boulders dotted,
Grey-stone shoulders saffron-spotted,
Stone-walled cabins thatched with reeds,
Where a Stone Age people breeds
The last of Europe’s stone age race.

Has it held, the warm June weather?
Draining shallow sea-pools dry,
When we bicycled together
Down the bohreens fuchsia-high.
Till there rose, abrupt and lonely,
A ruined abbey, chancel only,
Lichen-crusted, time-befriended,
Soared the arches, splayed and splendid,
Romanesque against the sky.

There in pinnacled protection,
One extinguished family waits
A Church of Ireland resurrection
By the broken, rusty gates.
Sheepswool, straw and droppings cover,
Graves of spinster, rake and lover,
Whose fantastic mausoleum,
Sings its own seablown Te Deum,
In and out the slipping slates.

John Betjeman (1906 – 1984)

The Building, Ballylanders, Limerick, Ireland


An Auden villanelle

Tuesday, 21 February, 2017 0 Comments

On this day in 1907, the English poet Wystan Hugh Auden was born and we’re celebrating his birthday with one of his lesser-known works written in the ‘villanelle’ form. The villanelle emerged during the Renaissance and the word comes from the Italian villano, or peasant. What began as Italian folksong turned into nineteen-line poems with two rhymes throughout, consisting of five tercets and a quatrain, with the first and third lines of the opening tercet recurring alternately at the end of the other tercets and with both repeated at the close of the final quatrain. The most famous villanelle in English is Dylan Thomas’s Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.

WH Auden Written in 1940 during the darkest days of the Second World War, If I Could Tell You conveys Auden’s sense of uncertainty about the future of life and love.

If I Could Tell You

Time will say nothing but I told you so
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
If we should stumble when musicians play,
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

There are no fortunes to be told, although,
Because I love you more than I can say,
If I could tell you I would let you know.

The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
There must be reason why the leaves decay;
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

Perhaps the roses really want to grow,
The vision seriously intends to stay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

Suppose the lions all get up and go,
And the brooks and soldiers run away;
Will Time say nothing but I told you so?
If I could tell you I would let you know.

WH Auden (21 February 1907 – 29 September 1973)


The death of an Irishwoman

Sunday, 12 February, 2017 0 Comments

“Limerick’s Lorca” is how Seamus Heaney, the Nobel Prize winner for Literature in 1995, described the poet Michael Hartnett. “I am the immense shadow of my tears,” said Federico García Lorca and Death of an Irishwoman echoes Lorca’s flamenco-inspired cante jondos (deep songs) that explore love and tragedy.

Death of an Irishwoman

Ignorant, in the sense
she ate monotonous food
and thought the world was flat,
and pagan, in the sense
she knew the things that moved
at night were neither dogs nor cats
but púcas and darkfaced men,
she nevertheless had fierce pride.
But sentenced in the end
to eat thin diminishing porridge
in a stone-cold kitchen
she clenched her brittle hands
around a world
she could not understand.
I loved her from the day she died.
She was a summer dance at the crossroads.

Michael Hartnett (1941 – 1999)

Mammy and friend


A cold coming we had of it

Friday, 6 January, 2017 0 Comments

Was it the birth of a new world (Christianity) or the death of an old one (polytheism) that caused his crisis in belief? The speaker in The Journey Of The Magi says that since returning home following their visit to see the infant Christ, he and his companions have felt uneasy among their compatriots, who now seem to be “an alien people clutching their gods” (in contrast to the believers in the newly arrived Jesus, who worship one god only).

T. S. Eliot converted to Christianity in 1927, the same year he wrote Journey of the Magi in a single day, one Sunday morning. “I had been thinking about it in church,” Eliot told his wife Valerie years later, “and when I got home I opened a half-bottle of Booth’s Gin, poured myself a drink, and began to write. By lunchtime, the poem, and the half-bottle of gin, were both finished.” This is for the Feast of the Epiphany.

The Journey Of The Magi

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

T. S. Eliot (26 September 1888 — 4 January 1965)

A cold coming