Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect on Google Plus Connect on Flickr

Tag: poetry

Cavafy on the Mediterranean migrants

Monday, 14 May, 2018 0 Comments

One can read C.P. Cavafy’s In the Harbour-Town as a poem about home-sickness or a poem about migration, or both, as the two are often intertwined. In another way, it can be interpreted as a poem that speaks to our times because he mentions “a Syrian harbour” in the same breath as “the great pan-Hellenic world”. Recent reports of a rise in unaccompanied child migrants reaching Greece and Cyprus through the Central and Western Mediterranean Routes make this Cavafy poem sound uncannily prescient.

In the Harbour-Town

Emis – young, twenty-eight –
reached this Syrian harbor in a Tenian ship,
his plan to learn the incense trade.
But ill during the voyage,
he died as soon as he was put ashore.
His burial, the poorest possible, took place here.
A few hours before dying he whispered something
about “home,” about “very old parents.”
But nobody knew who they were,
or what country he called home
in the great pan-Hellenic world.
Better that way; because as it is,
though he lies buried in this harbour-town,
his parents will always have the hope he’s still alive.

C.P. Cavafy (29 April 1863 – 29 April 1933)

Translated from the original Greek by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard.

Harbour town


Cavafy in April on Candles

Sunday, 29 April, 2018 0 Comments

Hosted by the Cavafy Archive and the Onassis Foundation, the International Cavafy Summer School will take place from 9 to 15 July in Athens. “Knowledge of Modern Greek is not a prerequisite, but familiarity with Cavafy’s work is,” say the organizers.

W.H. Auden famously observed that the poetry of Cavafy seemed to survive translation remarkably well, and that it was marked by “a tone of voice, a personal speech immediately recognizable as a poem by Cavafy; nobody else could possibly have written it.” Born on 29 April 1863, Constantine P. Cavafy died on 29 April 1933.

Candles

Days to come stand in front of us,
like a row of burning candles —
golden, warm, and vivid candles.
Days past fall behind us,
a gloomy line of burnt-out candles;
the nearest are still smoking,
cold, melted, and bent.
I don’t want to look at them: their shape saddens me,
and it saddens me to remember their original light.
I look ahead at my burning candles.
I don’t want to turn, don’t want to see, terrified,
how quickly that dark line gets longer,
how quickly one more dead candle joins another.

Constantine P. Cavafy

Candles in Milan


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


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


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


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


Rain on the road

Monday, 13 November, 2017 0 Comments

On this day in 1850, the British novelist, poet, essayist, and travel writer Robert Louis Stevenson was born. In his short life, he enriched the world with works such as Treasure Island, Kidnapped, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and A Child’s Garden of Verses:

Rain

The rain is raining all around,
It falls on field and tree,
It rains on the umbrellas here,
And on the ships at sea.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 – 1894)

Brolly


They are not long, the days of wine and roses

Tuesday, 3 October, 2017 0 Comments

Sunday night’s mass murder in Las Vegas fills one with despair. What kind of rage or madness drives a person to do something so barbarous? Can it be detected? Treated? Which mental health checks can be done to prevent people acquiring fully automatic AR-15 style assault rifles with high capacity magazines?

As we wait for answers to all those questions, our attention should be focussed not on the killer but on his victims. They, and their families and friends, are the ones deserving sympathy and attention today. Those slaughtered were enjoying the music; they were living their lives when death was poured down upon them. To their memory, then, we dedicate Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam by Ernest Dowson, an English poet who died aged 32 in 1900. In his short life and few poems, he created vivid phrases such as “gone with the wind,” “I have been faithful… in my fashion” and “days of wine and roses”.

Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam

“The brief sum of life forbids us the hope of enduring long.” — Horace

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

Ernest Dowson (1867 – 1900)


Never closer the whole rest of our lives

Tuesday, 5 September, 2017 0 Comments

When poets remember their mothers, they portray the complexities of a relationship in which the mother is both intimately known and yet oddly mysterious. In Seamus Heaney’s sequence Clearances, written in memory of his mother, he includes a sonnet about the beautiful ordinary moments that happened while he and his mother peeled potatoes in the kitchen. The silences are broken by “pleasant splashes” of water as the potatoes drop into a bucket.

But the next sounds we hear are of sobbing and of murmured prayers: “some were responding and some crying”. As his mother dies, Heaney recalls the peeling of those potatoes “when all the others were away at Mass” and “our fluent dipping knives — Never closer the whole rest of our lives.” The beauty of that moment is heartbreaking.

In memoriam M.K.H., 1911 – 1984

When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives —
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

Picking the potatoes


Gunn and Vuillard: Coffee people

Tuesday, 29 August, 2017 0 Comments

In a poem from his 1982 collection The Passages Of Joy, Thom Gunn declared: “I like loud music, bars, and boisterous men.” Gunn was born on this day in 1929 in Gravesend in Kent and died on 25 April 2004 in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco. He moved from England to California in 1954 to live with his male lover and to immerse himself in San Francisco’s bath-house culture. Gay life, however, was not his sole poetic focus. Celebration, endurance, mortality and reading, in their broadest senses, were his themes. “Deep feeling doesn’t make for good poetry,” he said once. “A way with language would be a bit of help.”

Thom Gunn’s meditation on Deux femmes buvant leur café, a remarkable painting by Édouard Vuillard now housed in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, is filled with the poet’s love of people and places and art and coffee.

Painting by Vuillard

Two dumpy women with buns were drinking coffee
In a narrow kitchen — at least I think a kitchen
And I think it was whitewashed, in spite of all the shade.
They were flat brown, they were as brown as coffee.
Wearing brown muslin? I really could not tell.
How I loved this painting, they had grown so old
That everything had got less complicated,
Brown clothes and shade in a sunken whitewashed kitchen.

But it’s not like that for me: age is not simpler
Or less enjoyable, not dark, not whitewashed.
The people sitting on the marble steps
Of the national gallery, people in the sunlight,
A party of handsome children eating lunch
And drinking chocolate milk, and a young woman
Whose t-shirt bears the defiant word WHATEVER,
And wrinkled folk with visored hats and cameras
Are vivid, they are not browned, not in the least,
But if they do not look like coffee they look
As pungent and startling as good strong coffee tastes,
Possibly mixed with chicory. And no cream.

Thom Gunn (1929 – 2004)

Vuillard