Tag: poetry

Footfall tapping secrecies of stone in July

Sunday, 1 July, 2018

The poet Patrick Kavanagh lived the formative years of his life in a rural Ireland that was steeped in history and rich with community life but, as Inniskeen Road: July Evening shows, Kavanagh was, in the midst of all this activity, as isolated and lonely as Robinson Crusoe on his desert island. He wasn’t “a great mixer,” as John Anthony said recently, when discussing relationships.

Inniskeen Road: July Evening

The bicycles go by in twos and threes –
There’s a dance in Billy Brennan’s barn to-night,
And there’s the half-talk code of mysteries
And the wink-and-elbow language of delight.
Half-past eight and there is not a spot
Upon a mile of road, no shadow thrown
That might turn out a man or woman, not
A footfall tapping secrecies of stone.
I have what every poet hates in spite
Of all the solemn talk of contemplation.
Oh, Alexander Selkirk knew the plight
Of being king and government and nation.
A road, a mile of kingdom, I am king
Of banks and stones and every blooming thing.

Patrick Kavanagh (1904 – 1967)

The Top Road


Donald Hall kept country hours

Monday, 25 June, 2018

The death has taken place of the American poet Donald Hall, who wrote about a handful of themes that included his childhood, baseball, sex, farming, the death of his parents and the loss of his second wife and fellow poet, Jane Kenyon. They met in 1969, when she was his student at the University of Michigan. By the mid-70s they were married and living at Hall’s beloved home, Eagle Pond Farm, built in 1803 and belonging to his family since the 1860s. But Kenyon was diagnosed with leukaemia and died in 1995, when she was 47. Hall never stopped mourning her and had arranged to be buried next to her. Now, they are united again.

In one obituary today, it said: “He kept country hours for much of his working life, rising at 6am and writing for two hours.” The Black-Faced Sheep is beautiful and honest.

The Black-Faced Sheep

Ruminant pillows! Gregarious soft boulders!

If one of you found a gap in a stone wall,
the rest of you — rams, ewes, bucks, wethers, lambs;
mothers and daughters, old grandfather-father,
cousins and aunts, small bleating sons —
followed onward, stupid
as sheep, wherever
your leader’s sheep-brain wandered to.

My grandfather spent all day searching the valley
and edges of Ragged Mountain,
calling “Ke-day!” as if he brought you salt,
“Ke-day! Ke-day!”

When the shirt wore out, and darns in the woollen
shirt needed darning,
a woman in a white collar
cut the shirt into strips and braided it,
as she braided her hair every morning.

In a hundred years
the knees of her great-granddaughter
crawled on a rug made from the wool of sheep
whose bones were mud,
like the bones of the woman, who stares
from an oval in the parlor.

I forked the brambly hay down to you
in nineteen-fifty. I delved my hands deep
in the winter grass of your hair.

When the shearer cut to your nakedness in April
and you dropped black eyes in shame,
hiding in barnyard corners, unable to hide,
I brought grain to raise your spirits,
and ten thousand years
wound us through pasture and hayfield together,
threads of us woven
together, three hundred generations
from Africa’s hills to New Hampshire’s.

You were not shrewd like the pig.
You were not strong like the horse.
You were not brave like the rooster.

Yet none of the others looked like a lump of granite
that grew hair,
and none of the others
carried white fleece as soft as dandelion seed
around a black face,
and none of them sang such a flat and sociable song.

Now the black-faced sheep have wandered and will not return,
even if I should search the valleys
and call “Ke-day,” as if I brought them salt.
Now the railroad draws
a line of rust through the valley. Birch, pine, and maple
lean from cellarholes
and cover the dead pastures of Ragged Mountain
except where machines make snow
and cables pull money up hill, to slide back down.

At South Danbury Church twelve of us sit —
cousins and aunts, sons —
where the great-grandfathers of the forty-acre farms
filled every pew.
I look out the window at summer places,
at Boston lawyers’ houses
with swimming pools cunningly added to cowsheds,
and we read an old poem aloud, about Israel’s sheep,
old lumps of wool, and we read

that the rich farmer, though he names his farm for himself,
takes nothing into his grave;
that even if people praise us, because we are successful,
we will go under the ground
to meet our ancestors collected there in the darkness;
that we are all of us sheep, and death is our shepherd,
and we die as the animals die

Donald Hall (1928 – 2018)

The black-faced sheep


Summer solstice stars

Thursday, 21 June, 2018

Today, Thursday, 21 June, marks the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. We celebrate the longest day in the year with Summer Stars by Carl Sandburg.

Summer Stars

Bend low again, night of summer stars.
So near you are, sky of summer stars,
So near, a long arm man can pick off stars,
Pick off what he wants in the sky bowl,
So near you are, summer stars,
So near, strumming, strumming,
So lazy and hum-strumming.

Carl Sandburg (1878 – 1967)


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