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Poetry

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


Stolen sweets are always sweeter

Sunday, 16 June, 2019

The English poet and dramatist Thomas Randolph was born on this day in 1605 at Newnham in Northamptonshire. He was one of the most popular playwrights of his time and was expected to become Poet Laureate after Ben Jonson, but his untimely death at 29 prevented this.

Fairy Song

We the fairies blithe and antic,
Of Dimensions not gigantic,
Though the moonshine mostly keep us,
Oft in orchards frisk and peep us,

Stolen sweets are always sweeter;
Stolen kisses much completer;
Stolen looks are nice in chapels;
Stolen, stolen be your apples.

When to bed the world are bobbing,
Then’s the time to go orchard robbing;
Yet the fruit were scarce worth peeling
Were it not for stealing, stealing.

Thomas Randolph (1605 –1635)


The Boris Limerick

Thursday, 13 June, 2019

And they’re off! The 10 rivals for the Conservative Party leadership face the first ballot of Tory MPs this morning. The money here is on Boris Johnson. He’s a winner and he won The Spectator President Erdogan Offensive Poetry competition in 2016 with this Limerick.

There was a young fellow from Ankara
Who was a terrific wankerer
Till he sowed his wild oats
With the help of a goat
But he didn’t even stop to thankera.


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.


Until only the mountain remains

Saturday, 11 May, 2019

The birds have vanished into the sky
And now the last cloud drains away
We sit together, the mountain and me,
Until only the mountain remains.

Li Bai (701 – 762)

Mountains


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


Wilde Easter

Monday, 22 April, 2019

As Oscar Wilde lay dying in Paris in November 1900, the priest who received him into the Catholic Church was Father Cuthbert Dunne. When the Dublin cleric ended his days in Mount Argus Monastery, the young Brendan Behan was living nearby in Kildare Road. Like Wilde, he also became a professional wit and, referring to that last-minute conversion, Behan commended Wilde for shedding his sins as life ebbed away. He also reminded the world slyly that the two of them had enjoyed their bisexuality:

“Sweet is the way of the sinner
Sad, death without God’s praise
My life on you, Oscar boy,
Yourself had it both ways.”

Oscar Wilde’s Easter Day was published in 1894, six years before that famous deathbed conversion in Paris. It’s a bitter-sweet poem.

Easter Day

The silver trumpets rang across the Dome:
The people knelt upon the ground with awe:
And borne upon the necks of men I saw,
Like some great God, the Holy Lord of Rome.
Priest-like, he wore a robe more white than foam,
And, king-like, swathed himself in royal red,
Three crowns of gold rose high upon his head:
In splendour and in light the Pope passed home.
My heart stole back across wide wastes of years
To One who wandered by a lonely sea,
And sought in vain for any place of rest:
“Foxes have holes, and every bird its nest,
I, only I, must wander wearily,
And bruise my feet, and drink wine salt with tears.”

Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900)


The violent passion of a learned mistress

Saturday, 13 April, 2019

The Irish writer Frank O’Connor (1903 – 1966) is best known for his short stories. Neil Jordan’s award-winning film The Crying Game was inspired in part by O’Connor’s short story, “Guests of the Nation”, which is set during the Irish War of Independence and recounts the doomed friendship between members of an IRA unit and the two British Army hostages they are holding.

O’Connor’s work as a teacher of the Irish language provided the linguistic basis for his many translations into English of Irish poetry, including his initially banned translation of Brian Merriman’s Cúirt an Mheán Oíche (The Midnight Court). A Learned Mistress is the work of an anonymous Irish poet from the 17th century and it’s filled with the murderous passion expressed by the spokeswoman of a ménage à trois.

A Learned Mistress

Tell him it’s all a lie;
I love him as much as my life;
He needn’t be jealous of me –
I love him and loathe his wife.

If he kills me through jealously now
His wife will perish of spite,
He’ll die of grief for his wife –
Three of us dead in a night.

All blessings from heaven to earth
On the head of the woman I hate,
And the man I love as my life,
Sudden death be his fate.

(Translated from the Irish by Frank O’Connor)


Ash Wednesday

Wednesday, 6 March, 2019

Written between 1927 and 1930, the first three sections of T.S. Eliot’s Ash Wednesday were published separately in the late 1920s: part I as Perch’ Io non Spero, part II as Salutation and part III as Som de l’escalina. The poem was published in its final form in 1930 and it can be interpreted as a contemplation on the conscious choice of one individual, T.S. Eliot, to pursue his belief in God.

Ash Wednesday

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is
nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

II

Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of the day, having fed to sateity
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been
contained
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Bones live? And that which had been contained
In the bones (which were already dry) said chirping:
Because of the goodness of this Lady
And because of her loveliness, and because
She honours the Virgin in meditation,
We shine with brightness. And I who am here dissembled
Proffer my deeds to oblivion, and my love
To the posterity of the desert and the fruit of the gourd.
It is this which recovers
My guts the strings of my eyes and the indigestible portions
Which the leopards reject. The Lady is withdrawn
In a white gown, to contemplation, in a white gown.
Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness.
There is no life in them. As I am forgotten
And would be forgotten, so I would forget
Thus devoted, concentrated in purpose. And God said
Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for only
The wind will listen. And the bones sang chirping
With the burden of the grasshopper, saying

Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and life-giving
Worried reposeful
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Terminate torment
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
End of the endless
Journey to no end
Conclusion of all that
Is inconclusible
Speech without word and
Word of no speech
Grace to the Mother
For the Garden
Where all love ends.

Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining
We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each
other,
Under a tree in the cool of day, with the blessing of sand,
Forgetting themselves and each other, united
In the quiet of the desert. This is the land which ye
Shall divide by lot. And neither division nor unity
Matters. This is the land. We have our inheritance.

III

At the first turning of the second stair
I turned and saw below
The same shape twisted on the banister
Under the vapour in the fetid air
Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears
The deceitul face of hope and of despair.

At the second turning of the second stair
I left them twisting, turning below;
There were no more faces and the stair was dark,
Damp, jaggèd, like an old man’s mouth drivelling, beyond
repair,
Or the toothed gullet of an agèd shark.

At the first turning of the third stair
Was a slotted window bellied like the figs’s fruit
And beyond the hawthorn blossom and a pasture scene
The broadbacked figure drest in blue and green
Enchanted the maytime with an antique flute.
Blown hair is sweet, brown hair over the mouth blown,
Lilac and brown hair;
Distraction, music of the flute, stops and steps of the mind
over the third stair,
Fading, fading; strength beyond hope and despair
Climbing the third stair.

Lord, I am not worthy
Lord, I am not worthy

but speak the word only.

IV

Who walked between the violet and the violet
Who walked between
The various ranks of varied green
Going in white and blue, in Mary’s colour,
Talking of trivial things
In ignorance and knowledge of eternal dolour
Who moved among the others as they walked,
Who then made strong the fountains and made fresh the springs

Made cool the dry rock and made firm the sand
In blue of larkspur, blue of Mary’s colour,
Sovegna vos

Here are the years that walk between, bearing
Away the fiddles and the flutes, restoring
One who moves in the time between sleep and waking, wearing

White light folded, sheathing about her, folded.
The new years walk, restoring
Through a bright cloud of tears, the years, restoring
With a new verse the ancient rhyme. Redeem
The time. Redeem
The unread vision in the higher dream
While jewelled unicorns draw by the gilded hearse.

The silent sister veiled in white and blue
Between the yews, behind the garden god,
Whose flute is breathless, bent her head and signed but spoke
no word

But the fountain sprang up and the bird sang down
Redeem the time, redeem the dream
The token of the word unheard, unspoken

Till the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew

And after this our exile

V

If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny
the voice

Will the veiled sister pray for
Those who walk in darkness, who chose thee and oppose thee,
Those who are torn on the horn between season and season,
time and time, between
Hour and hour, word and word, power and power, those who wait
In darkness? Will the veiled sister pray
For children at the gate
Who will not go away and cannot pray:
Pray for those who chose and oppose

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Will the veiled sister between the slender
Yew trees pray for those who offend her
And are terrified and cannot surrender
And affirm before the world and deny between the rocks
In the last desert before the last blue rocks
The desert in the garden the garden in the desert
Of drouth, spitting from the mouth the withered apple-seed.

O my people.

VI

Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit
of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

T.S. Eliot (1888 – 1965)

Ash Wednesday