Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I See You Dancing, Father...by Brendan Kennelly

I love this because it reminds me of dancing with my daddy in the kitchen when I was young !


No sooner downstairs after the night's rest
And in the door
Than you started to dance a step
In the middle of the kitchen floor.

And as you danced
You whistled
You made your own music
Always in tune with yourself.

Well, nearly always, anyway.
You're buried now
In Lislaughtin Abbey
And whenever I think of you

I go back beyond the old man
Mind and body broken
To find the unbroken man.
It is the moment before the dance begins,

Your lips are enjoying themselves
Whistling an air
Whatever happens or cannot happen
In the time I have to spare
I see you dancing, father.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye...by Leonard Cohen

Ok so it's a song, but Leonard Cohen is listed as a 'Canadian poet, novelist, and singer-songwriter' on his website, so this could be either a poem or a song. I first encountered Leonard in 1996 (HOW did it take me so long?!) in Munich, in Wohn Heim St Elisabeth where it was the only english language music (only english anything for that matter!!) I had come across in weeks, maybe months. It was actually a vinyl called 'The Best Of' , I think it was owned by a girl called Anita -or she arrived into the common room with it anyway, and for that reason I have always recalled her name. I loved that album from the first time I heard it - each and every one of those songs spoke to me - and I couldn't believe I hadn't taken the time to listen to him before - I had HEARD of him - who hasn't?! So that was the start of the love affair with Leonard's music, and this song, 'Suzanne' and 'Marianne' are my favourites, but that changes because it is still one of my most well loved albums (I have it on CD now, I hope Anita still has her vinyl!).

This is so simple yet so descriptive - I can see him in my head walking with her to the corner ........... and as a veteren of one of those long distance loves that had to say goodbye (luckily only for a while) this always touches me!


I loved you in the morning, our kisses deep and warm,
your hair upon the pillow like a sleepy golden storm,
yes, many loved before us, I know that we are not new,
in city and in forest they smiled like me and you,
but now it's come to distances and both of us must try,
your eyes are soft with sorrow,
Hey, that's no way to say goodbye.

I'm not looking for another as I wander in my time,
walk me to the corner, our steps will always rhyme
you know my love goes with you as your love stays with me,
it's just the way it changes, like the shoreline and the sea,
but let's not talk of love or chains and things we can't untie,
your eyes are soft with sorrow,
Hey, that's no way to say goodbye.

I loved you in the morning, our kisses deep and warm,
your hair upon the pillow like a sleepy golden storm,
yes many loved before us, I know that we are not new,
in city and in forest they smiled like me and you,
but let's not talk of love or chains and things we can't untie,
your eyes are soft with sorrow,
Hey, that's no way to say goodbye.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Road Not Taken...by Robert Frost

I recall having to learn this in school - something I never minded doing because I always found it easy. This one was easier than most, probably because it made total sense the first time I read it. I always wondered what exactly the difference was.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Digging ...by Seamus Heaney

Another Heaney masterpiece - I think they put something in the water to make all Irish people love his work. He recently had his 70th birthday and one acid tongued newspaper reporter mentioned in an article that he got so much coverage that it seemed like everyone in the country had lived every minute of the 70 years with him! Anyway, this is a poem that reminds me of hearing stories from my parents about when they used to go turf cutting as children. It also reminds me that each generation has their own version of 'digging' - and it doesn't always have to be with the same implements.


Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; as snug as a gun.

Under my window a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade,
Just like his old man.

My grandfather could cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner's bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, digging down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I've no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Candles ... by Constantine P Cavafy (translation by Rae Dalvern)

A good reminder to make the best of the time you've got...


The days of the future stand in front of us
Like a line of candles all alight----
Golden and warm and lively little candles.
The days that are past are left behind,
A mournful row of candles that are out;
The nearer ones are still smoking,
Candles cold, and melted, candles bent.,
I don’t want to see them; their shapes hurt me,
It hurts me to remember the light of them at first.
I look before me at my lighted candles,
I don’t want to turn around and see with horror
How quickly the dark line is lengthening,
How quickly the candles multiply that have been put out.

Friday, April 17, 2009

In Memory Of My Mother...by Patrick Kavanagh

I love this, despite the sadness, because it is so very Irish, from second Mass to the cattle !


I do not think of you lying in the wet clay
Of a Monaghan graveyard; I see
You walking down a lane among the poplars
On your way to the station, or happily

Going to second Mass on a summer Sunday -
You meet me and you say:'
Don't forget to see about the cattle -
'Among your earthiest words the angels stray.

And I think of you walking along a headland
Of green oats in June,
So full of repose, so rich with life -
And I see us meeting at the end of a town

On a fair day by accident, after
The bargains are all made and we can walk
Together through the shops and stalls and markets
Free in the oriental streets of thought.

O you are not lying in the wet clay,
For it is a harvest evening now and we
Are piling up the ricks against the moonlight

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Mournes.... by Helen Waddell

This poet grew up near the Mourne Montains in Northern Ireland. This is one of my all time favourite poems - I love her description of the sea, the fact that she couldn't leave in spring, and the way she describes the winter in which she would consent to die. As someone who loves the bleakness of winter, I can smell the cold and the fog when I read this. I also am touched by the fact that there is someone she loves waiting for her, or so she hopes, and that she would go 'tonight' to take her favourite road and to be with whoever that someone was.


I shall not go to heaven when I die.
But if they let me be
I think I'll take a road I used to know
That goes by Slieve-na-garagh and the sea.
And all day breasting me the wind will blow,
And I'll hear nothing but the peewit's cry
And the sea talking in the caves below.
I think it will be winter when I die
(For no one from the North could die in spring)
And all the heather will be dead and grey,
And the bog-cotton will have blown away,
And there will be no yellow on the wind.
But I shall smell the peat,
And when it's almost dark I'll set my feet
Where a white track goes glimmering to the hills,
And see, far up, a light--
Would you think Heaven could be so small a thing
As a lit window on the hills at night?--
And come in stumbling from the gloom,
Half-blind, into a firelit room.
Turn, and see you,
And there abide.

If it were true,
And if I thought that they would let me be,
I almost wish it were tonight I died.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Lines Written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin...by Patrick Kavanagh

Kavanagh is like Seamus Heaney to me, because he writes about ordinary things. This poem was written when he saw a canal-side seat dedicated to a lady. I have always loved the peom because it reminds me of when I used to live near that same canal myself - there was something really beautiful about a hazy summer evening by the canal, complete with traffic noise and passers by. It also strikes a chord in me about being commemorated or buried in a place that you love. Kavanagh got his wish, there is now a statue of him sitting beside the canal, very close to where I used to live, I always thought of this poem every time I saw him there !


'Erected to the memory of Mrs. Dermot O'Brien'

O commemorate me where there is water,
Canal water, preferably, so stilly
Greeny at the heart of summer. Brother
Commemorate me thus beautifully
Where by a lock niagarously roars
The falls for those who sit in the tremendous silence
Of mid-July. No one will speak in prose
Who finds his way to these Parnassian islands.
A swan goes by head low with many apologies,
Fantastic light looks through the eyes of bridges -
And look! a barge comes bringing from Athy
And other far-flung towns mythologies.
O commemorate me with no hero-courageous
Tomb - just a canal-bank seat for the passer-by.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Prayer....by Carol Ann Duffy

This poem I discovered in an anthology in recent years. I find it a sad poem, yet I like it for all that.


Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child's name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside.
Inside, the radio's prayer -Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock....by T.S. Eliot

I loved this poem from the first time I ever read it. I'm still not sure I 'get' it all, not fully anyway, but there are passages that I do get, and that spoke to me from day 1, and still speak to me. The imagery is pretty powerful in this poem in parts. Also there is something about the line "There will be time, there will be time to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet" that gets me every time.....also "Do I dare disturb the universe? In a minute there is time for decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse." It seems to have always fitted how I felt every time I read it ! It's so long though that I have only put some selected stanzas here. (Thanks goodness for copy and paste !)

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time

To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
[They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
[They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”]
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:—
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

. . . . .

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: “That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.” .....

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven...by W.B. Yeats

A lovely love poem, and again, more conventional than a lot of the poetry I like nowadays! I actually like it more for the vision it evokes of the night skies of my childhood, rather than it's romantic sentiments....however, it is still a rather beautiful love poem, full of hope and longing.


Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Upon Westminster Bridge....by William Wordsworth

This was a poem first encountered in school, when my definition of poetry was different to what it is now. Wordsworth, despite his style being more formal than I like nowadays, is always a favourite because his descriptions always seem to strike a chord - in this, I can almost smell the early morning in any city. Despite the exclamation marks which irritate me slightly for some reason, I have always loved this poem the most (along with Tintern Abbey) among Wordsworth's works (try saying that at speed.....)


Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Not Waving But Drowning...by Stevie Smith

I have always loved this poem, right from it's first entry onto my radar - it's the sadness of the last line that gets me always. I'm sure everyone has had that feeling once in a while - 'I was much too far out all my life and not waving but drowning'.


Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
and now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
and not waving but drowning.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Lake Isle of Innisfree...by W.B. Yeats

No matter how far you go, it's hard at times to beat WBY. This I love because it reminds me of where I grew up, a place where 'peace comes dropping slow', that I can always close my eyes and see, no matter how grey the pavement.

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.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,

I hear it in the deep heart's core.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Beannacht....by John O'Donohue

A beautiful blessing, originally written for the poet's mother, but applicable to anyone that we love.

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes

freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays

in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,

may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

On Growing Old ..... by Harry Secombe

I don't really know much about Harry Secombe, but I had heard his name along the way and thought he was a singer and comedian only. However I stumbled across this poem in one of my several beloved anthologies and loved it immediately. There is something poignant about his wanting to 'clutch the present to my bosom and never let it go'. As we are all hurtling towards being 'old', thinking about all the things that have been or have never been is a sobering thing at times. The last line is the one that I love most - a reminder to us all that a life well lived has nothing to fear.


I want the mornings to last longer
and the twilight to linger.

I want to clutch the present to my bosom
and never let it go.

I resent the tyranny of the lock in the hall
nagging me to get on with the day.

I am a time traveller
but a traveller who would rather walk
than fly.

And yet:
there is a lot to be said for growing old.

The major battles in life are over
though minor skirmishes may still occur.

There is an armistice of the heart,
a truce with passion.

Compromise becomes preferable to conflict
and old animosities blur with time.

There is still one last hurdle to cross
and the joy of your life measures your
reluctance to approach it.

But if you have lived your life with love
there will be nothing to fear
because a warm welcome will await you
on the other side.