Today’s Ulster Poet: Cathal ó Searcaigh (translated from Irish)

CLABBER: THE POET AT THREE

“That’s clabber! Clutching clabber

sucks caddies down,” said my father harshly

while I was stomping happily

in the ditch on the side of the road.

“Climb out of that clabber pit

before you catch your death of it!”

But I went on splattering and splashing,

and scattering whoops of joy:

“Clabber! Clabber! I belong to it,”

although the word meant nothing to me

until I heard a squelch in my wellies

and felt through every fibre of my duds

the cold tremors of awakening knowledge.

O elected clabber, you chilled me to the bone.

(Clábar is the Irish word for mud.)

Sea and Sardinia by D. H. Lawrence – an excerpt

This is an account of the travels of D H Lawrence in Sardinia, with his wife, often referred to as the q-b (the queen bee). I’m not a great fan of Lawrence’s novels but this book is terrific, the writing mesmerising. Here is a short passage to give you a flavour:

And so we steam out. And almost at once the ship begins to take a long, slow, dizzy dip, and a fainting swoon upwards, and a long, slow, dizzy dip, slipping away from beneath one. The q-b turns pale. Up comes the deck in that fainting swoon backwards – then down it fades in that indescribable slither forwards. It is all quite gentle – quite, quite gentle. But oh, so long, and so slow, and so dizzy.

“Rather pleasant,” say I to the q-b.

“Yes. Rather lovely, really,” she answers wistfully.

To tell the truth there is something in the long, slow lift of the ship, and her long, slow slide forwards which makes my heart beat with joy. It is the motion of freedom. To feel her come up – then slide slowly forward, with a sound of the smashing of waters, is like the magic gallop of the sky, the magic gallop of elemental space. That long, slow, waveringly rhythmic rise and fall of the ship, with waters snorting as it were from her nostrils, oh God what a joy it is to the wild innermost soul. One is free at last – and lilting in a slow flight of the elements, wringing outwards. Oh God, to be free of all the hemmed-in life – the horror of human tension, the absolute insanity of machine persistence. The agony which a train is to me, really. And the long-drawn-out agony of a life among tense, resistant people on land. And then to feel the long, slow lift and drop of this almost empty ship, as she took the waters. Ah God, liberty, liberty, elemental liberty. I wished in my soul the voyage might last for ever, that the sea had no end, that one might float in this wavering, tremulous, yet long and surging pulsation while ever time lasted; space never exhausted, and no turning back, no looking back, even.”

This makes me wonder why I try to write at all! Sea and Sardinia is a short book but it is filled with magic writing like the above.

HE WISHES FOR THE CLOTHS OF HEAVEN by William Butler Yeats.

I’m in a Yeats mood today and this is one of my favourites. So romantic, so beautiful and all for nothing; Maud Gonne didn’t love him back.

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.

Random thoughts . . .

Consider the English language – a mixture of Teutonic, Latin and Greek. Recently I read “Mythos” by Stephen Fry; it’s a reader-friendly retelling of the Greek myths and I was astonished to see how many English words are Greek in origin. Any word beginning with ph, like phrase, photo, physical, and other words – grammar, geography, antiques, and millions more.

English is spoken all over the world now, second only to Spanish, and maybe Chinese? I’m not sure. But there is a lot of difference between English as spoken in Ireland, in Britain and in the United States. I sometimes think that if there was no communication at all between these countries for – say – a couple of centuries – each country would end up with a completely separate language. Because the words we use express how we think and what we believe, and we are all surely different.

Language grows and changes all the time anyway. The first poem (anonymous) in a poetry book I had at school goes as follows:

“Sumer is icumen in,

     Lhude sing cuccu!

Groweth sed, and bloweth med,

     And springeth the wude nu –

                                Sing cuccu!”

I have never forgotten it; I hear it in my head from time to time.

What about grammar? There are new verbs around – I seen for I saw; I done for I did; I should have went for I should have gone. And I hear eXpresso when the word is eSpresso, and eC cetera in place of eT cetera. I find these things terribly irritating but I know I am pedantic. And maybe I’m wrong; the point of language is to communicate so perhaps grammar and spelling and pronunciation aren’t that important.

On a lighter note, there are phrases I can’t get my head around. “She’s no better than she should be.” I know what it means – but I don’t get how those words in that order mean what they do. I take the sentence apart but it still escapes me. Another is “Put up or shut up.” I think about that one a lot. I wonder if other languages are like this. I speak Irish but not to the degree that I can examine it in detail.

And then there are double words, like – upset – how does the combination of up and set mean to be distressed? For-give; under-stand; for-get; and I’m sure there are many more like that.

These things puzzle me and I ponder them from time to time. That reminds me of the line from Alice in Wonderland – I’m not sure which character, the Mad Hatter maybe.

“I shall sit here off and on for days and days” – so deliciously ambivalent.