In honor of The Twelfth (Battle of the Boyne), we present this work by one of today’s finest exemplars of the Irish spirit.
There is an old
statue in the courtyard
that weeps, like Niobe, its sorrow in stone.
The griefs of the ages she has made her own.
Her eyes are rain-washed but not hard,
her body is covered in mould,
the garden overgrown.
One by one
the first lights come on,
those that haven’t been on all night.
Christmas, the harshly festive, has come and gone.
No snow, but the rain pours down
in the first hour before dawn,
for ‘fools and mad’ has become
the administrative block. Much there
has remained unchanged for many a long year —
stairs, chairs, Georgian widows shafting light and dust,
of the satirist;
but the real
hospital is a cheerful
modern extension at the back
hung with restful reproductions of Dufy, Klee and Braque.
Television, Russian fiction, snooker with the staff,
a sifter of Lucozade, a paragraph
of Newsweek or the Daily Mail
are my daily routine
during the festive season.
They don’t lock the razors here
as in Bowditch Hall. We have remained upright —
though, to be frank, the Christmas dinner scene,
with grown men in their festive gear,
was a sobering sight.
I watch the last
planes of the year go past,
silently climbing a cloud-lit sky.
Earth-bound, soon I’ll be taking a train to Cork
and trying to get back to work
at my sea-lit, fort-view desk
in the turf-smoky dusk.
next door, a visiting priest
intones to a faithful dormitory.
I sit on my Protestant bed, a make-believe existentialist,
and stare the clouds of unknowing. We style,
as best we may, our private destiny;
or so it seems to me
as I chew my thumb
and try to figure out
what brought me to my present state¬ —
an ‘educated man’, a man of consequence, no bum
but one who has hardly grasped what life is about,
if anything. My children, far away,
don’t know where I am today,
in a Dublin asylum
with a paper whistle and a mince pie,
my bits and pieces making a home from home.
I pray to the rain-clouds that they never come
where their lost father lies; that their mother thrives;
and that I
may measure up to them
before I die.
Soon a new year
will be here demanding, as before,
modest proposals, resolute resolutions, a new leaf,
new leaves. This is the story of my life,
the story of all lives everywhere,
mad fools whatever we are,
in here or out there.
Light and sane
I shall walk down to the train,
into that world whose sanity we know,
like Swift to be a fiction and a show.
The clouds part, the rain ceases, the sun
casts now upon everyone
its ancient shadow.
Every old man I see
Reminds me of my father
When he had fallen in love with death
One time when sheaves were gathered.
That man I saw in Gardner Street
Stumbled on the kerb was one,
He stared at me half-eyed,
I might have been his son.
And I remember the musician
Faltering over his fiddle
In Bayswater, London,
He too set me the riddle.
Every old man I see
In October-coloured weather
Seems to say to me:
“I was once your father.”
The sea is all washed up. The house rocks
On through the night; nothing will see reason.
Most things have left us, and some people too.
Strange the speed with which they disappeared.
And colours died that gave a shape to things,
Till what is lost comes vaguely in these dreams.
And the dead sad words float out in foolish space
And have the weight of atoms in a wind;
They do not want to come to earth again.
I saw their tears unflowing in the sky.
In an old house I heard some words for flowers:
‘Buttercup’, ‘lupin’, ‘truth’ and ‘fluredelee’.
And there were names for trees: ‘barkbrown’, ‘oak’
And ‘hard’, the loveliest of all, they said,
Easy to live with and soft on the eye.
On a saint’s day you climbed into its soul.
As I went down through Dublin city
At the hour of twelve of the night,
Who did I see but a Spanish lady
Washing her feet by candle light.
First she washed them,
Then she dried them,
All by a fire of amber coals,
In all my life I never did see
A maid so neat about the soles.
I asked her would she come a-walking,
And we went on where the small bats flew,
A coach I called then to instate her,
And on we went till the grey cocks crew.
Combs of amber
In her hair were,
And her eyes had every spell,
In all my life I never did see
A maid whom I could love so well.
But when I came to where I found her,
And set her down from the halted coach,
Who was there waiting, his arms folded,
But that fatal swordsman, Tiger Roache?
Then blades were out,
And ‘twas thrust and cut,
And never wrist gave me more affright,
Till I lay low upon the floor
Where she stood holding the candle light.
But, O ye bucks of Dublin city,
If I should see at twelve of the night,
In any chamber, such lovely lady
Washing her feet by candle light,
And drying o’er
Soles neat as hers,
All by a fire of amber coal
Your blades be dimmed! I’d whisper her,
And take her for a midnight stroll!
Here, in their final quiet, the singers lie.
True to the dead, to the living true.
The grass is growing as it always grew
Drinking every human cry
Like the rain of summer reaching the repose
Of singers long out of sight.
Will we ever know what the grass knows
Flourishing in green wisdom, green delight?
When delusions of communication cease
And we are victims once again
Of rumors the gossip wind is bringing
We’ll celebrate the singers in their peace
Because above the graves of men
The happy grass is singing.
We present this work in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.
There is woe, there is clamour, in our desolated land,
And wailing lamentation from a famine‐stricken band;
And weeping are the multitudes in sorrow and despair,
For the green fields of Munster lying desolate and bare.
Woe for Lorc’s ancient kingdom, sunk in slavery and grief;
Plundered, ruined, are our gentry, our people, and their Chief;
For the harvest lieth scattered, more worth to us than gold,
All the kindly food that nourished both the young and the old.
Well I mind me of the cosherings, where princes might dine,
And we drank until nightfall the best seven sorts of wine;
Yet was ever the Potato our old, familiar dish,
And the best of all sauces with the beeves and the fish.
But the harp now is silent, no one careth for the sound;
No flowers, no sweet honey, and no beauty can be found;
Not a bird its music thrilling through the leaves of the wood,
Nought but weeping and hands wringing in despair for our food.
And the Heavens, all in darkness, seem lamenting our doom,
No brightness in the sunlight, not a ray to pierce the gloom;
The cataract comes rushing with a fearful deepened roar,
And ocean bursts its boundaries, dashing wildly on the shore.
Yet, in misery and want, we have one protecting man,
Kindly Barry, of Fitzstephen’s old hospitable clan;
By mount and river working deeds of charity and grace:
Blessings ever on our champion, best hero of his race!
Save us, God! In Thy mercy bend to hear the people’s cry,
From the famine‐stricken fields, rising bitterly on high;
Let the mourning and the clamour cease in Lorc’s ancient land,
And shield us in the death‐hour by Thy strong, protecting hand!
This is the time of life when a woman
goes to Dublin to the theatre to get away
the night every Leaving Cert student in Ireland
is up from the country to see the same RSC production.
Hamlet is small and elegant and very English. What did
she expect – that after all those years
he would have grown really Danish, the lies
would be less eloquent, gestures less fluid?
Tonight she finds the prince tedious and self-obsessed. You are thirty years old for Christ’s sake,
she shouts, startling the audience.
The students are disapproving, then delighted.
Now that they have stopped texting one another,
the girls are shaping some of the words.
There is Royal Shakespearean body language
between Claudius and Gertrude.
The boys whistle, applaud uneasily.
The woman thinks Gertrude is entitled to her lover’s kiss. What kind of twisted little shit are you?
she asks Hamlet, but silently. Hamlet is relentless.
The actor fifty if he’s a day, torturing his mother
who is the same age. No one cares.
It is as bad as MacLiammoir playing Romeo.
The kids are loving it. We are rearing
a generation of throwbacks, she thinks,
without Latin to sustain them, much less history.
She checks the exits, measures her chances. She rises
in a crouch just as a hush is spreading through the house.
Here and there along the rows the students begin
To mouth Hamlet’s soliloquy. The half-formed faces
half-lit are devout. At What is a man is his chief good be… but to sleep…the ungodly voices join in as at Mass.