Iron Wine

09-15 Ridge
Lola Ridge
Irish
1873 – 1941

 

The ore in the crucible is pungent, smelling like acrid wine,
It is dusky red, like the ebb of poppies,
And purple, like the blood of elderberries.
Surely it is a strong wine – juice distilled of the fierce iron.
I am drunk of its fumes.
I feel its fiery flux
Diffusing, permeating,
Working some strange alchemy…
So that I turn aside from the goodly board,
So that I look askance upon the common cup,

And from the mouths of crucibles
Suck forth the acrid sap.

The Pope

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 215th birthday.

08-31 Lever
Charles James Lever
Irish
1806 – 1872

 

The Pope he leads a happy life,
He fears not married care nor strife.
He drinks the best of Rhenish wine,
I would the Pope’s gay lot were mine.

But yet all happy’s not his life,
He has no maid, nor blooming wife;
No child has he to raise his hope,
I would not wish to be the Pope.

The Sultan better pleases me,
His is a life of jollity;
He’s wives as many as he will,
I would the Sultan’s throne then fill.

But even he’s a wretched man,
He must obey the Alcoran;
He dare not drink one drop of wine
I would not change his lot for mine.

So here I’ll take my lowly stand,
I’ll drink my own, my native land;
I’ll kiss my maiden fair and fine,
And drink the best of Rhenish wine.

And when my maiden kisses me
I’ll think that I the Sultan be;
And when my cheery glass I tope,
I’ll fancy then I am the Pope.

Lament for Airt Uí Laoghaire

07-28 Ni Chonaill
Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill
Irish
1743 – 1800

 

I

My steadfast love!
When I saw you one day
by the market-house gable
my eye gave a look
my heart shone out
I fled with you far
from friends and home.

And never was sorry:
you had parlours painted
rooms decked out
the oven reddened
and loaves made up
roasts on spits
and cattle slaughtered;
I slept in duck-down
till noontime came
or later if I liked.

My steadfast friend!
it comes to my mind
that fine Spring day
how well your hat looked
with the drawn gold band,
the sword silver-hilted
your fine brave hand
and menacing prance,
and the fearful tremble
of treacherous enemies.
You were set to ride
your slim white-faced steed
and Saxons saluted
down to the ground,
not from good will
but by dint of fear
– though you died at their hands,
my soul’s beloved…

My steadfast friend!
And when they come home,
our little pet Conchúr
and baby Fear Ó Laoghaire,
they will ask at once
where I left their father.
I will tell them in woe
he is left in Cill na Martar,
and they’ll call for their father
and get no answer…

My steadfast friend!
I didn’t credit your death
till your horse came home
and her reins on the ground,
your heart’s blood on her back
to the polished saddle
where you sat – where you stood….
I gave a leap to the door,
a second leap to the gate
and a third on your horse.

I clapped my hands quickly
and started mad running
as hard as I could,
to find you there dead
by a low furze-bush
with no Pope or bishop
or clergy or priest
to read a psalm over you
but a spent old woman
who spread her cloak corner
where your blood streamed from you,
and I didn’t stop to clean it
but drank it from my palms.

My steadfast love!
Arise, stand up
and come with myself
and I’ll have cattle slaughtered
and call fine company
and hurry up the music
and make you up a bed
with bright sheets upon it
and fine speckled quilts
to bring you out in a sweat
where the cold has caught you.

II

My friend and my treasure!
Many fine-made women
from Cork of the sails
to Droichead na Tóime
would bring you great herds
and a yellow gold handful,
and not sleep in their room
on the night of your wake.

My friend and my lamb!
Don’t you believe them
nor the scandal you heard
nor the jealous man’s gossip
that it’s sleeping I went.
It was no heavy slumber
but your babies so troubled
and all of them needing
to be settled in peace.

People of my heart,
what woman in Ireland
from setting of sun
could stretch out beside him
and bear him three sucklings
and not run wild
losing Art Ó Laoghaire
who lies here vanquished
since yesterday morning?…

Long loss, bitter grief
I was not by your side
when the bullet was fired
so my right side could take it
or the edge of my shift
till I freed you to the hills,
my fine-handed horseman!

My sharp bitter loss
I was not at your back
when the powder was fired
so my fine waist could take it
or the edge of my dress,
till I let you go free,
My grey-eyed rider,
ablest for them all.

III

My friend and my treasure trove!
An ugly outfit for a warrior:
a coffin and a cap
on that great-hearted horseman
who fished in the rivers
and drank in the halls
with white-breasted women.
My thousand confusions
I have lost the use of you.
Ruin and bad cess to you,
ugly traitor Morris,
who took the man of my house
and father of my young ones
– a pair walking the house
and the third in my womb,
and I doubt that I’ll bear it.

My friend and beloved!
When you left through the gate
you came in again quickly,
you kissed both your children,
kissed the tips of my fingers.
You said: ” Eibhlín, stand up
and finish with your work
lively and swiftly:
I am leaving our home
and may never return.”
I made nothing of his talk
for he spoke often so.

My friend and my share!
O bright-sworded rider
rise up now,
put on your immaculate
fine suit of clothes,
put on your black beaver
and pull on your gloves.
There above is your whip
and your mare is outside.
Take the narrow road Eastward
where the bushes bend before you
and the stream will narrow for you
and men and women will bow
if they have their proper manners
– as I doubt they have at present…

My love, and my beloved!
Not my people who have died
– not my three dead children
nor big Dónall Ó Conaill
nor Conall drowned on the sea
nor the girl of twenty-six
who went across the ocean
alliancing with kings
– not all these do I summon
but Art, reaped from his feet last night
on the inch of Carriginima.
The brown mare’s rider
deserted here beside me,
no living being near him
but the little black mill-women
– and to top my thousand troubles
their eyes not even streaming.

My friend and my calf!
O Art Ó Laoghaire
son of Conchúr son of Céadach
son of Laoiseach Ó Laoghaire:
West from the Gaortha
and East from the Caolchnoc
where the berries grow,
yellow nuts on the branches
and masses of apples
in their proper season
– need anyone wonder
if Uibh Laoghaire were alight
and Béal Atha an Ghaorthaígh
and Gúgán the holy
or the fine-handed rider
who used tire out the hunt
as they panted from Greanach
and the slim hounds gave up?
Alluring-eyed rider,
o what ailed you last night?
For I thought myself
when I bought your uniform
the world couldn’t kill you!

IV

My love and my darling!
My love, my bright dove!
Though I couldn’t be with you
nor bring you my people
that’s no cause for reproach,
for hard pressed were they all
in shuttered rooms
and narrow coffins
in a sleep with no waking.

Were it not for the smallpox
and the black death
and the spotted fever
those rough horse-riders
would be rattling their reins
and making a tumult
on the way to your funeral,
Art of the bright breast…

My friend and my calf!
A vision in dream
was vouchsafed me last night
in Cork, a late hour,
in bed by myself:
our white mansion had fallen,
the Gaortha had withered,
our slim hounds were silent
and no sweet birds,
when you were found spent
out in midst of the mountain
with no priest or cleric
but an ancient old woman
to spread the edge of her cloak,
and you stitched to the earth,
Art Ó Laoghaire,
and streams of your blood
on the breast of your shirt.

My love and my darling!
It is well they became you
your stocking, five-ply,
riding -boots to the knee,
cornered Caroline hat
and a lively whip
on a spirited gelding,
many modest mild maidens
admiring behind you.

My steadfast love!
When you walked through the servile
strong-built towns,
the merchants’ wives
would salute to the ground
knowing well in their hearts
a fine bed-mate you were
a great front-rider
and father of children.

Jesus Christ well knows
there’s no cap upon my skull
nor shift next to my body
nor shoe upon my foot-sole
nor furniture in my house
nor reins on the brown mare
but I’ll spend it on the law;
that I’ll go across the ocean
to argue with the King,
and if he won’t pay attention
that I’ll come back again
to the black-blooded savage
that took my treasure.

V

My love and my beloved!
Your corn-stacks are standing,
your yellow cows milking.
Your grief upon my heart
all Munster couldn’t cure,
nor the smiths of Oiledn na bhFionn.

Till Art Ó Laoghaire comes
my grief will not disperse
but cram my heart’s core,
shut firmly in
like a trunk locked up
when the key is lost.

Women there weeping,
stay there where you are,
till Art Mac Conchúir summons drink
with some extra for the poor
– ere he enter that school
not for study or for music
but to bear clay and stones.

Someone

In honor of The Twelfth (Battle of the Boyne), we present this work by one of modern Ireland’s most widely-loved poets.

07-12 O'Driscoll
Dennis O’Driscoll
Irish
1954 – 2012

 

someone is dressing up for death today, a change of skirt or tie
eating a final feast of buttered sliced pan, tea
scarcely having noticed the erection that was his last
shaving his face to marble for the icy laying out
spraying with deodorant her coarse armpit grass
someone today is leaving home on business
saluting, terminally, the neighbours who will join in the cortege
someone is paring his nails for the last time, a precious moment
someone’s waist will not be marked with elastic in the future
someone is putting out milkbottles for a day that will not come
someone’s fresh breath is about to be taken clean away
someone is writing a cheque that will be rejected as ‘drawer deceased’
someone is circling posthumous dates on a calendar
someone is listening to an irrelevant weather forecast
someone is making rash promises to friends
someone’s coffin is being sanded, laminated, shined
who feels this morning quite as well as ever
someone if asked would find nothing remarkable in today’s date
perfume and goodbyes her final will and testament
someone today is seeing the world for the last time
as innocently as he had seen it first

Here’s to the Maiden of Bashful Fifteen

We present this work in honor of the 205th anniversary of the poet’s death.

07-07 Sheridan
Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Irish
1751 – 1816

 

Here’s to the maiden of bashful fifteen;
Here’s to the widow of fifty;
Here’s to the flaunting extravagant quean,
And here’s to the housewife that’s thrifty.

Let the toast pass,—
Drink to the lass,
I’ll warrant she’ll prove an excuse for the glass.

Here’s to the charmer whose dimples we prize;
Now to the maid who has none, sir:
Here’s to the girl with a pair of blue eyes,
And here’s to the nymph with but one, sir.

Let the toast pass,—
Drink to the lass,
I’ll warrant she’ll prove an excuse for the glass.

Here’s to the maid with a bosom of snow;
Now to her that’s as brown as a berry:
Here’s to the wife with her face full of woe,
And now to the damsel that’s merry.

Let the toast pass,—
Drink to the lass,
I’ll warrant she’ll prove an excuse for the glass.

For let ‘em be clumsy, or let ‘em be slim,
Young or ancient, I care not a feather;
So fill a pint bumper quite up to the brim,
And let us e’en toast them together.

Let the toast pass,—
Drink to the lass,
I’ll warrant she’ll prove an excuse for the glass.

Cascando

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 115th birthday.

Samuel Beckett
Irish
1906 – 1989

 

1

why not merely the despaired of
occasion of
wordshed

is it not better abort than be barren

the hours after you are gone are so leaden
they will always start dragging too soon
the grapples clawing blindly the bed of want
bringing up the bones the old loves
sockets filled once with eyes like yours
all always is it better too soon than never
the black want splashing their faces
saying again nine days never floated the loved
nor nine months
nor nine lives

2

saying again
if you do not teach me I shall not learn
saying again there is a last
even of last times
last times of begging
last times of loving
of knowing not knowing pretending
a last even of last times of saying
if you do not love me I shall not be loved
if I do not love you I shall not love

the churn of stale words in the heart again
love love love thud of the old plunger
pestling the unalterable
whey of words

terrified again
of not loving
of loving and not you
of being loved and not by you
of knowing not knowing pretending
pretending

I and all the others that will love you
if they love you

3

unless they love you

Bogland

We present this work in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.

Seamus Heaney
Irish
1939 – 2013

 

We have no prairies
To slice a big sun at evening—
Everywhere the eye concedes to
Encrouching horizon,

Is wooed into the cyclops’ eye
Of a tarn. Our unfenced country
Is bog that keeps crusting
Between the sights of the sun.

They’ve taken the skeleton
Of the Great Irish Elk
Out of the peat, set it up
An astounding crate full of air.

Butter sunk under
More than a hundred years
Was recovered salty and white.
The ground itself is kind, black butter

Melting and opening underfoot,
Missing its last definition
By millions of years.
They’ll never dig coal here,

Only the waterlogged trunks
Of great firs, soft as pulp.
Our pioneers keep striking
Inwards and downwards,

Every layer they strip
Seems camped on before.
The bogholes might be Atlantic seepage.

The wet centre is bottomless.

Ireland is Changing Mother

Rita Ann Higgins
Irish
b. 1955

 

Don’t throw out the loaves
with the dishes mother,
its not the double-takes so much
its that they take you by the double.
And where have all the Nelly’s gone
and all the missus Kelly’s gone
you might have had the cleanest step on your street
but so what mother,
nowadays it not the step but the mile that matters.

Meanwhile the Bally Bane Taliban
are battling it out over that football
that will bring the local yokels
to a deeper meaning of over the barring it,
and then some scarring will occur
as in cracked skull for your troubles.
They don’t just integrate, they limp-pa-grate,
your sons are shrinking mother.

Before this they were gods of that powerful thing
gods of the apron string.
They could eat a horse and they often did,
with your help mother.
Even Tim who has a black belt in sleep walking
and border lining couldn’t torch a cigarette
much less the wet-hay-stack of desire ,
even he can see, Ireland is changing mother.
Listen to black belt Tim mother.

When they breeze onto the pitch like some Namibian Gods
the local girls wet themselves.
They say in a hurry, o-ma-god, o-ma-god!
Not good for your sons mother
who claim to have invented everything
from the earwig to the slíothar.
They were used to seizing Cynthia’s hips
looking into her eyes and saying
I’m Johnny come lately, love me.
Now the Namibian gods and the Bally Bane Taliban
are bringing the local yokels
to their menacing senses
and scoring more goals than Cú Chúllainn.
Ireland is changing mother
tell yourself, tell your sons.

The Poet at Court

We present this work in honor of the 125th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Lady Jane Wilde
Irish
1821 – 1896

 

He stands alone in the lordly hall
He, with the high, pale brow;
But never a one at the festival
Was half so great, I trow.
They kiss the hand, and they bend the knee,
Slaves to an earthly king!
But the heir of a loftier dynasty
May scorn that courtly ring.

They press, with false and flattering words,
Around the blood‐bought throne;
But the homage never yet won by swords
Is his—the Anointed One!
His sway over every nation
Extendeth from zone to zone;
He reigns as a god o’er creation
The universe is his own.

No star on his breast is beaming,
But the light of his flashing eye
Reveals, in its haughtier gleaming,
The conscious majesty.
For the Poet’s crown is the godlike brow
Away with that golden thing!
Your fealty was never yet due till now

Kneel to the God‐made King!

The Bells of Limerick

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 205th birthday.

Frances Browne
Irish
1816 – 1879

 

Oh! bright on the silvery Shannon lies
The light of the setting sun,
And stately the city’s spires arise,
Where the isle’s last field was won!
But now, no stain of the battle’s blood
Remains, to sully that peaceful flood,—
Nor sound in the summer-evening swells,
Save that of St. Mary’s vesper bells.

There came a late and a lonely boat,
O’er the shining river’s breast;
And it bore, from a land far, far remote,
A sad and a stranger guest:—
A darker tint had tinged his brow
Than the skies that bent above him, now,
Could give their sons—and a brighter beam
Had shone on his youth, by Tiber’s stream.

His was the peerless land of song,
By the Muses blest, of yore;
But his steps had wandered, far and long,
From the bright Hesperian shore:
And his early home was a darkened spot,—
For the love, that brightened his hearth, was not;
And heavy and chill the clouds of age
Fell on his lonely pilgrimage.

But still, in his memory’s echo, swelled
A sweet and a solemn chime,—
That oft, through the golden twilight pealed,
In his own far southern clime:—
Oh! many a city and many a shore
Had the weary pilgrim wandered o’er,—
But they never sent to his aged ear
The sounds he had loved—and pined to hear!

Yet why doth the stranger start,—and turn
From his lonely musings, now?
And why doth such glowing gladness burn
In his aged eye and brow?
‘Tis only the vesper bells, again,
That ring from St. Mary’s sacred fane,—
But oh! to the wanderer’s heart they tell
Of scenes and voices remembered well!

His arm was strong, and his hope was bright,
When he tuned to melody
Those vesper bells, in the cloudless light
Of his own Italian sky;—
And now, on a distant northern shore,
That music breathed on his heart once more—
Though the strength and hope of his years were past—
As sweet as when he heard it last!

For the light of many a twilight hour,
And the breath of many a strain,
From cottage porch, and from myrtle bower,
With that sound returned again:—
And the wanderer listened, like one whose soul
Had found the path to its early goal,—
But his eyes were fixed, and his very breath
Seemed hush in the changeless hush of death!

Fainter and fainter the last low note
On the waters died away;
And the rowers paused,—for the lonely boat
By the stately city lay.
But the wanderer moved not—spoke not—still,
Though the dews of night fell fast and chill,
And strangers lifted his drooping head,—
But they found that the weary soul had fled!

Oh! strange were the yearning thoughts and fond
Round that lone heart’s ruined shrine,—
As the Hebrew’s thirst for the fount beyond
Philistia’s leaguering line!
But the sounds, that in life he loved the best,
May peal, unheeded, above his rest,—
For still, through the summer twilight, swells
The sound of St. Mary’s vesper bells!