An article appeared today in the Los Angelus Tribune perhaps as a tribute to the Irish for St Patrick’s weekend, recommending five Irish poems.  While only a few lines of each poem are quoted, the article encouraged me to root out the poems in their entirety.

  1. Becoming Anne Bradstreet,” Eavan Boland

Irish poet and Stanford University professor Boland has won a prestigious Lannan Foundation Award in Poetry, and is one of her home country’s most recognized poets. In this poem, she describes reading the work of Anne Bradsteet, a 17th century English poet who lived in North America:

“At the source, at the end and whenever

The book lies open and I am again

An Irish poet watching an English woman

Become an American poet.”

Heaney, one of Ireland’s most loved poets, died in 2013; two years later, a poll conducted by Irish broadcaster RTÉ found this to be the country’s favorite poem.

Part of a sonnet cycle called “Clearances,” the poem is a reminiscence of a boy helping his mother in the kitchen:

“I remembered her head bent towards my head,

Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives—

Never closer the whole rest of our lives.”

The Northern Irish poet and playwright MacNeice grew up in Ireland and England, but the Irish capital city always held a special place in his heart. His poem “Dublin” is a nod to the city that “never was my town”:

“I was not born or bred

Nor schooled here and she will not

Have me alive or dead

But yet she holds my mind

With her seedy elegance,

With her gentle veils of rain…”

The Belfast-born, Dublin-educated Mahon is known for his structured, sometimes witty poems about life in Ireland. “Dawn at St. Patrick’s” deals with serious subject matter — the narrator is describing the week between Christmas and New Year’s in the mental hospital where he’s a patient:

“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.”

One of Ireland’s most enduring and beloved verses, Yeats’ poem was inspired by a small lake island in County Sligo that he visited as a child. The poem showcases Yeats’ desire for a simpler life, far from the cities where he spent much of his adulthood:

“I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;

Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,

And live alone in the bee-loud glade.”

“The Exile’s Return, or Morning on the Irish coast”

Mam recited this poem at a number of talent competitons that were held between countymen’s associations – Uncle Pat was on the Wexfordmen’s Association Committee and he suggested Mam for the recitation section. She always loved this poem as she said it reminded her of Granny and her joy returning to Ireland… I think that’s why I nearly always had to hold back the tears when she said it; as well as being very nervous that she would forget the words – I was chief prompter in first row – words up my sleeve!!!!

“The Exiles Return, or Morning on the Irish coast”[7]

D’anam chun De! but there it is—
The dawn on the hills of Ireland !
God’s angels lifting the night’s black veil
From the fair, sweet face of my sireland !
O, Ireland! isn’t grand you look—
Like a bride in her rich adornin !
With all the pent-up love of my heart
I bid you the top of the morning !

This one short hour pays lavishly back
For many a year of mourning;
I’d almost venture another flight,
There’s so much joy in returning—
Watching out for the hallowed shore,
All other attractions scornin;
O, Ireland! don’t you hear me shout?
I bid you the top o’ the morning!

O, kindly, generous Irish land,
So leal and fair and loving!
No wonder the wandering Celt should think
And dream of you in his roving.
The alien home may have gems and gold,
Shadows may never have gloomed it;
But the heart will sigh for the absent land
Where the love-light first illumed it

Ho, ho ! upon Cliodhna’s shelving strand
The surges are grandly beating,
And Kerry is pushing her headlands out
To give us the kindly greeting!
Into the shore the sea- birds fly
On pinions that know no drooping,
And out from the cliffs, with welcomes charged,
A million of waves come trooping.

For thirty Summers, a stoir mo chroidhe,
Those hills I now feast my eyes on
Ne’er met my vision save when they rose
Over memory’s dim horizon.
E’en so, ’twas grand and fair they seemed
In the landscape spread before me;
But dreams are dreams, and my eyes would open
To see a Texas’ sky still o’er me.

And doesn’t old Cobh look charming there
Watching the wild waves’ motion,
Leaning her back up against the hills,
And the tip of her toes in the ocean.
I wonder I don’t hear Shandon‘s bells—
Ah! maybe their chiming’s over,
For it’s many a year since I began
The life of a western rover.

Oh! often upon the Texas plains,
When the day and the chase were over,
My thoughts would fly o’er the weary wave,
And around this coastline hover;
And the prayer would rise that some future day-
All danger and doubting scorning—
I’d help to win for my native land
The light of young Liberty’s morning!

Now fuller and truer the shoreline shows—
Was ever a scene so splendid?
I feel the breath of the Munster breeze,
Thank God that my exile’s ended!
Old scenes, old songs, old friends again,
The vale and the cot I was born in—
O, Ireland, up from my heart of hearts
I bid you the top o’ the mornin!

Mam’s poetry

Mam loved poetry and yet it wasn’t until her later years that we realised her great talent as a reciter. The release of a film about Oscar Wilde reminded me of this particular poem. It was written by the Wexford lady, Jane Wilde, mother of Oscar Wilde who wrote many poems about Irish history always under the name, Esperenza.

Mam recited the poem on the steps of St Michans during the 1798 centenary celebrations. The brothers in the title were two Cork lads, Henry and John Shears who fought for the United Irishmen, were betryed, arrested, tried, and hanged drawn and quarterd before burial in St Michan’s. The lord Mayor of Cork heard mam’s recitiation and invited her recite it on the steps of the Shears home in Cork as part of their celebrations.

The Brothers – John and Henry Shear

(A scene from 1798)

Tis midnight, falls the lamp-light dull and sickly

On a pale and anxious crowd

Through the court, and round the judges, thronging thickly

With prayers none dare to speak aloud.

Two youth, two noble youths, stand prisoners at the bar-

You can see them through the gloom-

In pride of life and manhood’s beauty, there they are

Awaiting their death doom.

Before them shrinking, cowering, scarcely human

The base informer bends

Who, Judas-like, could sell the blood of true men

While he clasped their hands as friends.

Aye, could fondle the young children of his victim

Break bread with his young wife

At the moment that for gold his perjured dictum

Sold the husband’s and the father’s life.

There is silence in the midnight – eyes are keeping

Troubled watch till forth the jury come;

Ther is silence in the midnight – eyes are weeping-

“Guilty” is the fateful uttered doom.

For a moment o’er the brothers’ noble faces

Came a shadow sad to see;

Then silently they rose up in their places,

And embraced each other fervently.

But the youngest – oh, he spake out bold and clearly:

“I have no ties of children or of wife;

Let me die – but spare the brother who more dearly

Is loved by me than life”.

Pale martyrs, ye may cease, your days are numbered;

Next noon your sun of life goes down;

One day between the sentence and the scaffold-

One day between the torture and the crown.

Yet none spring forth their bonds to sever

Ah! Methinks had I been there,

I’d have dared a thousand deaths ere ever

The sword should touch their hair.

It falls! – there is a shriek of lamentation

From the weeping crowd around;

They’re stilled – the noblest hearts within the nation-

The noblest heads lie bleeding on the ground.

Years have [passed since that fatal scene of dying,

Yet, lifelike to this day.

In their coffins still those severed heads are lying,

Kept by angels from decay.

Oh! They preach to us, those still and pallid features-

Those pale lips yet implore us, from their graves,

To strive for birthright as God’s creatures,

Or die, if we can but live as slaves.

 Enjoy reading them with Pat – he gave mam many years of happiness involving her in the talent project! Tell him that I said that!!!