Archive for March, 2016

EASTER, 1916

‘We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric,

but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry’

W.B Yeats, ‘Anima Hominis’, Essays (1924)

 

 

Could he hear the firing squads day after day?

Did the rattle carry from Kilmainham Gaol

to Merrion Square as the poem quickened?

 

Easter had been as late as it could be

that year. Unlikely saviours came forth,

commonplace clerks, scribblers, pedagogues.

The English sent a gunboat up the Liffey.

It hollowed out most of Sackville Street –

Clery’s, Liberty Hall, the GPO –

and the ‘terrible beauty’ was born,

the glare of rebellion, of sacrifice.

 

As the poem grew, swallows and swifts

twittered and screeched over the park in the square

and above the broken stones of the city.

 

The English, as always, overreacted:

turned, through brutality, a revolt – inept,

unpopular – into a decisive,

echoing blow for independence.

 

The swifts had gone when he finished the poem

in late September. He published it widely

four years later – via London and New York –

that murderous autumn when he knew for sure

what he had written had become true.

 

‘MacDonagh and MacBride

And Connolly and Pearse

Now and in time to be,

Wherever green is worn,

Are changed, changed utterly:

A terrible beauty is born.’

 

 

 

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TRAFFICKING IN MOCKERY

While paupers’ bones receive scant ceremony,

a king’s skeleton toured much of Leicestershire

(excluding its now defunct coal fields) –

received a 21 gun salute,

was borne on a gun carriage, escorted

by Guides and Scouts and chaps ahorse in armour,

lay in state flanked by bowed head veterans

and was entombed in bespoke pride of place

in the restored cathedral with long queues.

 

The remains of a sensitive, serious

fellow portrayed holding his signet ring,

his seal of office, between finger and thumb,

or a witty Machiavell with some

of the best lines the Bard of Avon penned?

 

A Princess Diana moment sans tears!

All about dosh and PR for city,

county, church and varsity, hallowed

by the pretence of the veneration

of history aka monarchy –

the old English disease.

 

 

 

 

 


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NASTY, BRUTISH AND SHORT

The sun is lowering in the west by the time

I reach the site. Though the hawthorn hedges

are casting long shadows, I can see

the remains of the earth fortifications.

This fortified homestead, a quarter

of a football pitch, was lived in for

six centuries, from the so-called dark

to the so-called middle ages. It was

some ‘continuing city’ for twenty four

generations – from Aneurin’s ‘Y

Goddodin’ to Dante’s ‘La Divina

Commedia’. They kept cattle, grew crops.

gathered shell fish from the shore over the hills.

We do not know why they built here or

why they left. There are no signs of havoc –

massacre or flight – and all their dead

had been buried with due ceremony.

Maybe they had received a better offer –

servitude in return for security.

 

I feel a chill here as twilight settles,

imagining the seemingly constant threat –

and yet… We are wired for fear. Sometimes

I dread – in my centrally heated house

with security lights, fridge and freezer –

the last clutch at the heart.

 

 

 

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FROM THE RUINS

You are old enough now to remember this.

The overhead power line at the cottage

meant we could not fly the new kite there.

I knew a field five minutes away

with a ruined medieval chapel

and a view down the slope to a bay

where hundreds of souls drowned in a fabled storm.

But we told you of the space and the wind.

 

Your daddy showed you how to fly the kite

while your mummy, grandma and me went

to church! Vestiges of paint remained

though the weathers of centuries had scrubbed

the internal walls of most of the murals.

Through the arches of the chancel window,

we saw you flying your kite: serious,

already skilled by a good teacher.

 

You managed the controls, intuitively

aware of aero dynamics, like

some latter-day Daedalus, as the kite,

mass produced sky blue plastic from China,

bucked and soared in the prevailing westerly.

Rightly oblivious of history,

you were a five year old Benjamin Franklin

looking to steal heaven’s thunder and lightning.

 

 

 

 


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LEITH HILL PLACE, SURREY

On this late summer Sunday afternoon

a line of smoke drifts from woodlands below

that seem to stretch almost unbroken

to the South Downs distant, cerulean.

Out of sight is England’s long southern coast.

Dressed limestone forms the house’s facade.

It is imbedded with severed fossils.

 

Through an open window there is music,

a piano. On the lawn are cream teas

and wasps. A buzzard is circling far off.

Josiah Wedgwood retired here, Darwin

visited and Ralph Vaughan Williams composed.

They were related, a Victorian

pantheon – industry, science, art.

 

We cross mowed pastureland to the car park.

A cow frolics away amongst the ferns.

I think of bottle kilns dark in smoke,

and the wet shine of clay revolving,

evolving on a humming, ceaseless wheel,

and, some bright morning, the rising of a lark.

 

 

 

 

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