This is the last Ulster Poet post and it’s the best of all.
And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy under water.
Useless to think you’ll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.
To your high altar I once came
Proudly, even brazenly, and I said:-
Open your tabernacles I too am flame
Ablaze on the hills of Being. Let the dead
Chant the low prayer beneath a candled shrine,
O cut for me life’s bread, for me pour wine!
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.)
a traveller between hands,
a sacred proof of the journey
from me to you.
Caught in the cusp of china blue seas
we are waltzing on water,
embraced in this bowl
that opens its heart
like a miracle,
we carry and do not spill.
She steps from behind a tombstone,
is delicately there,
as though shaped from those sad poems
about dead deer.
or simply to stop trembling
and accept the caress
of the way I keep my distance,
muffle the trespass
of even a sudden look.
She watches me sideways,
I ogle a Celtic cross
for as long as it takes to be counted incidental
then not to count. At last I can watch her pass
unscared into the morning, so tuned to place she
is its sole movement. How soft must be the air
in her fine nostrils. How sweet the cemetery grass.
Put in mind of his own father and moved to tears
Achilles took him by the hand and pushed the old king
Gently away, but Priam curled up at his feet and
Wept with him until their sadness filled the building.
Taking Hector’s corpse into his own hands,, Achilles
Made sure it was washed and, for the old king’s sake,
Laid out in uniform, ready for Priam to carry
Wrapped like a present home to Troy at daybreak.
When they had eaten together, it pleased them both
To stare at each other’s beauty as lovers might,
Achilles built like a god, Priam good-looking still
And full of conversation, who earlier had sighed:
“I get down on my knees and do what must be done
And kiss Achilles’ hand, the killer of my son.”
First, I should say that in Irish Folklore the hare is a shapeshifter and plays a part in many tales.
Just around the time
You might be hoping for a sign,
The Hare appeared
Very far down in my garden
Like an omen of goodwill;
Of the hereafter;
That life had a meaning
The hare came up to my window,
And I was startled too.
Death had struck.
She lay like an old doll
On a sofa.
The family gathered around
And I could sense their fear:
Her he comes!
Wasn’t I the soft one,
And isn’t it in my garden
The hare appears.
I crossed a bridge and thought to shake the dust
From off my feet, but it was not to be;
For though I fled across the Irish sea,
Nursing resentment and profound disgust
That individuals had betrayed their trust
And held the public stage in ignominy,
Events o’ertook the ancient enemy,
And time has mellowed memory, as it must.
Homeward I crawl, a wretched prodigal,
To bide awhile, and then again depart –
To leave once more, once more to feel bereft –
Your picture album in my mental holdall,
The hills of Antrim etched upon my heart,
For truth to tell, I never really left.
It is always the women who are the Watchers
And Keepers of life, they guard our exits
And our entrances. They are both tomb and womb,
End and beginning. Bitterly they bring forth
And bitterly take back the light they gave.
The last to leave and still the first to come.
They circle us like sleep or like the grave.
Earth is their element, and in it lies
The seed and silence of the lighted skies,
The seasons with their fall and slow uprise,
Man with his sight and militant surmise.
It is always the women who are the Watchers
And Wakeners . . .
Poetry lovers are familiar with Séamus Heaney who won the Nobel Prize, and most people would know that he came from Derry in the province of Ulster in Ireland. Ireland has many poets and writers – a friend of mine said it was a wonder the island didn’t sink under the weight of them – but Ulster has more poets per capita than any of the four Irish provinces. I will post one here today and every Friday, for a while . . . This one is anonymous and translated from Latin. It was written in the 9th century, most probably by a monk. I hope you like it.
Thou hast come safe to port
I still at sea
The light is on thy head
Darkness in me.
Pluck thou in heaven’s field
Violet and Rose
While I strew flowers that will thy vigil keep
Where thou dost sleep
Love in thy last repose.