Raised on songs and stories

Quoting from the well known Dublin song, I too think I was “raised on songs and stories”. I wrote one of my post grad papers on the storytelling tradition and the wealth of literature and history I was exposed to growing up. Poems played a particularly important part in that heritage.


We always got a book from Santa at Christmas – and that is why my favourite poem is probably ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas by  Clement Moore. I have numerous editions of the poem – probably only differing in illustrations but each one of them special.

Santa brought a poetry book at some stage which contained a selection of wonderful poetry. My earliest favourite was Hiawatha’s Childhood by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, an extract from the Song of Hiawatha. How could you not but see the images conjured by his grandmother Nikomis’ words.


At the door on summer evenings,
Sat the little Hiawatha,
Heard the whispering of the pine-trees,
Heard the lapping of the waters,
Sounds of music, words of wonder;
“Minne-wawa!” said the pine-trees,
“Mudway-aushka!” said the water.
Saw the fire-fly Wah-wah-taysee,
Flitting through the dusk of evening,
With the twinkle of its candle
Lighting up the brakes and bushes,
Later I went on to read the entire poem and was moved by the romance of the wooing of Minnehaha!

What other poems stirred me-

I loved  Samual Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Khan:
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

My teacher in 3rd and 4th used to read us legends – Irish and international.  That’s probably why I liked Lord Tennyson’s tragic story of the Lady of Shalott – its connection to Lancelot and King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table which was read to me at school.

Willows whiten, aspens shiver.
The sunbeam showers break and quiver
In the stream that runneth ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four gray walls, and four gray towers
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.

I had an inspirational teacher in 5th and 6th class and she read Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

As part of the Leaving Cert programme I was led to explore the moodiness of Emily Dickenson’s and Thomas Hardy’s poetry.
WB Yeats always held a special place in Mam’s heart and loved the way she would quote frequently from a number of poems: “I will arise and go now” was a favourite parting line of hers.
• I didn’t discover Francis Ledwidge and his WW1 poems until I was in college.
• One of my most recent discoveries is the sun and her flowers collection by rupi kaur, short and sort of feminist and moody poems

Mam was a great reader of poetry. Around the Boree Log was a book that my grandmother used to read for her children when they returned from Australia and mam had a well-thumbed copy of it. The poems ranged from humorous tales of scraggy dogs and children unwillingly joining in family prayer to stories of longing for home or youth. Written by Fr. John O’Brien the poems were all about the simple if arduous farming life of Irish settlers in Australia.

Through the hush of my heart in the spell of its dreaming
Comes the song of a bush boy glad-hearted and free;
Oh, the gullies are green where the sunlight is streaming,
And the voice of that youngster is calling to me.

It is calling to me with a haunting insistence,
And my feet wander off on a hoof-beaten track,
Till I hear the old magpies away in the distance
With a song of the morning that’s calling me back.
(from Calling to Me)

I never realised that John O’Brien wrote another collection of poetry until at a recent forage through second-hand books I found The Parish of St Mel’s.  Because Mam’s readings were usually accompanied by stories about my Gran’s longing for home I always felt that even the funny ones were a bit nostalgic!

Mam was renowned for her recitations as party pieces, many of emigrant poems, and I was so proud to accompany her as she represented the Wexfordmen’s Association as a reciter in National Competition. We even “went on tour” when, following a 1798 tribute to the Shears Brothers at St Michan’s Church, she was invited by Cork City Council to perform the same poem in Cork, at the door to the Shears’ family home.

In more recent years, as our family gathered to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, I was surprised by the creativity of uncles and cousins who penned poems describing the lives and adventures of various family members. It was lovely to listen to people being celebrated while they were still here to hear them. Very often, I discovered that there were actual collections of poems. I began collecting them and although not for me to publicise, I read through them frequently and wonder at the talent and depth of feeling behind them. I know I’ve mentioned on a few occasions that I hope to feature as a central theme.

So imagine my delight when I received these words – AND on National Poetry Day 2018: A POEM ABOUT ME (well sort of?) a tribute to multiple births in my garden pond (the writer wishing to remain anonymous?)

My Garden Pond

A stroll past the pond
That ripple caught my eye
I thought to myself
Maybe it was a fly

Curiosity got the better
I wanted to see
Threw away my walking stick
Went down on one knee

Well to my surprise
With more than one to count
They swam those waters
Not very much food about

Irony has its way
They are guarded each day
By a legless heron
Who keeps away the prey

The Salmon of Knowledge
In folklore is told
But nothing like spotting
A fish with scales of gold

My words they have fooled you
The pond is so small
If you jumped across it
You would easily make landfall

Author: Breda Fay

I'm retired since end August 2016 and loving the new life! More time now for family and friends and to explore craft, history, travel and certainly more of a chance for, me-time. To paraphrase Seuss: I've no tears that (teaching) is over; but many smiles that it happened!

One thought on “Raised on songs and stories”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.