Archive for the Literature Category

Poppies in July – Sylvia Plath

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on July 10, 2020 by telescoper

Little poppies, little hell flames,
Do you do no harm?

You flicker. I cannot touch you.
I put my hands among the flames. Nothing burns

And it exhausts me to watch you
Flickering like that, wrinkly and clear red, like the skin of a mouth.

A mouth just bloodied.
Little bloody skirts!

There are fumes I cannot touch.
Where are your opiates, your nauseous capsules?

If I could bleed, or sleep! –
If my mouth could marry a hurt like that!

Or your liquors seep to me, in this glass capsule,
Dulling and stilling.

But colorless. Colorless.

by Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)


June Thunder, by Louis Macneice

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on June 18, 2020 by telescoper

The Junes were free and full, driving through tiny
Roads, the mudguards brushing the cowparsley,
Through fields of mustard and under boldly embattled
Mays and chestnuts

Or between beeches verdurous and voluptuous
Or where broom and gorse beflagged the chalkland–
All the flare and gusto of the unenduring
Joys of a season

Now returned but I note as more appropriate
To the maturer mood impending thunder
With an indigo sky and the garden hushed except for
The treetops moving.

Then the curtains in my room blow suddenly inward,
The shrubbery rustles, birds fly heavily homeward,
The white flowers fade to nothing on the trees and rain comes
Down like a dropscene.

Now there comes catharsis, the cleansing downpour
Breaking the blossoms of our overdated fancies
Our old sentimentality and whimsicality
Loves of the morning.

Blackness at half-past eight, the night’s precursor,
Clouds like falling masonry and lightning’s lavish
Annunciation, the sword of the mad archangel
Flashed from the scabbard.

If only you would come and dare the crystal
Rampart of the rain and the bottomless moat of thunder,
If only now you would come I should be happy
Now if now only.

by Louis Macneice (1907-1963)



Posted in Literature with tags , , on June 16, 2020 by telescoper

So it’s 16th June, a very special day in Ireland – and especially Dublin – because 16th June 1904 is the date on which the story takes place of Ulysses by James Joyce. Bloomsday – named after the character Leopold Bloom – is an annual celebration not only of all things Joycean but also of Ireland’s wider cultural and literary heritage.

If you haven’t read Ulysses yet then you should. It’s one of the great works of modern literature. And don’t let people put you off by telling you that it’s a difficult read. It really isn’t. It’s a long read that’s for sure -it’s over 900 pages – but the writing is full of colour and energy. It’s a wonderful book.

(There’s also quite a lot of sex in it….)

I’ve read it twice, once when I was a teenager and once when I was in my thirties. I then lent my copy to someone and never got it back. The copy shown above is a new one I bought last year with the intention of reading the novel again now that I live in Ireland but I sadly have not had the time yet. I will, though.

Incidentally if you would like to limber up before making an attempt on Ulysses I recommend this set of short stories.

But if you don’t fancy reading it you can listen to an epic 29 hour dramatisation of Ulysses on the radio via RTÉ; see here for details.

The Chameleon, by A.P. Herbert

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on June 11, 2020 by telescoper

A Chameleon, in Dublin Zoo.

The chameleon changes his colour;
He can look like a tree or a wall;
He is timid and shy and he hates to be seen,
So he simply sits down on the grass and grows green,
And pretends he is nothing at all.

I wish I could change my complexion
To purple or orange or red:
I wish I could look like the arm of a chair
So nobody ever would know I was there
When they wanted to put me to bed.

I wish I could be a chameleon
And look like a lily or rose;
I’d lie on the apples and peaches and pears,
But not on Aunt Margaret’s yellowy chairs—
I should have to be careful of those.

The chameleon’s life is confusing;
He is used to adventure and pain;
But if he ever sat on Aunt Maggie’s cretonne
And found what a curious color he’d gone,
I don’t think he’d do it again.

by A.P. Herbert (1890-1971)


The Trees, by Philip Larkin

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on May 31, 2020 by telescoper

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

by Philip Larkin (1922-1985)

#PoetryDayIRL: ‘When You Are Old’, by William Butler Yeats

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on April 30, 2020 by telescoper

One more for Ireland’s National Poetry Day. I couldn’t resist posting one by William Butler Yeats (known to his friends as ‘WB’)

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

#PoetryDayIRL: ‘Dublin’, by Louis MacNeice

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , , on April 30, 2020 by telescoper

Here is another poem for Ireland’s National Poetry Day. This one is called Dublin and it was written by Louis MacNeice.

Grey brick upon brick,
Declamatory bronze
On sombre pedestals –
O’Connell, Grattan, Moore –
And the brewery tugs and the swans
On the balustraded stream
And the bare bones of a fanlight
Over a hungry door
And the air soft on the cheek
And porter running from the taps
With a head of yellow cream
And Nelson on his pillar
Watching his world collapse.

This 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
And all her ghosts that walk
And all that hide behind
Her Georgian facades –
The catcalls and the pain,
The glamour of her squalor,
The bravado of her talk.

The lights jig in the river
With a concertina movement
And the sun comes up in the morning
Like barley-sugar on the water
And the mist on the Wicklow hills
Is close, as close
As the peasantry were to the landlord,
As the Irish to the Anglo-Irish,
As the killer is close one moment
To the man he kills,
Or as the moment itself
Is close to the next moment.

She is not an Irish town
And she is not English,
Historic with guns and vermin
And the cold renown
Of a fragment of Church latin,
Of an oratorical phrase.
But oh the days are soft,
Soft enough to forget
The lesson better learnt,
The bullet on the wet
Streets, the crooked deal,
The steel behind the laugh,
The Four Courts burnt.

Fort of the Dane,
Garrison of the Saxon,
Augustan capital
Of a Gaelic nation,
Appropriating all
The alien brought,
You give me time for thought
And by a juggler’s trick
You poise the toppling hour –
O greyness run to flower,
Grey stone, grey water,
And brick upon grey brick.

#PoetryDayIRL: ‘Quarantine’, by Eavan Boland

Posted in History, Poetry with tags , , on April 30, 2020 by telescoper

It is a remarkable fact that when the poet Eavan Boland passed away a couple of days ago, the sad news of her passing led the main TV bulletin here in Ireland. I struggle to think of another country where the death of a poet would be deemed so important.

Anyway, today is National Poetry Day in Ireland so I decided to post a poem by Eavan Boland as a tribute on this day. This is Quarantine a moving contemplation of the tragedy of the Great Hunger.

In the worst hour of the worst season
of the worst year of a whole people
a man set out from the workhouse with his wife.
He was walking — they were both walking — north.

She was sick with famine fever and could not keep up.
He lifted her and put her on his back.
He walked like that west and west and north.
Until at nightfall under freezing stars they arrived.

In the morning they were both found dead.
Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole history.
But her feet were held against his breastbone.
The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.

Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.
There is no place here for the inexact
praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the body.
There is only time for this merciless inventory:

Their death together in the winter of 1847.
Also what they suffered. How they lived.
And what there is between a man and woman.
And in which darkness it can best be proved.

One Cigarette – Edwin Morgan

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on April 27, 2020 by telescoper

Today (27th April 2020) is the 100th anniversary of the birth of the late great Scottish poet Edwin Morgan so I thought I’d take the opportunity to post one of my favourite poems of his. This is called One Cigarette:

No smoke without you, my fire.
After you left,
your cigarette glowed on in my ashtray
and sent up a long thread of such quiet grey
I smiled to wonder who would believe its signal
of so much love. One cigarette
in the non-smoker’s tray.
As the last spire
trembles up, a sudden draught
blows it winding into my face.
Is it smell, is it taste?
You are here again, and I am drunk on your tobacco lips.
Out with the light.
Let the smoke lie back in the dark.
Till I hear the very ash
sigh down among the flowers of brass
I’ll breathe, and long past midnight, your last kiss.

by Edwin Morgan (1920-2010)

Everything is going to be all right

Posted in Covid-19, Poetry with tags , , on March 27, 2020 by telescoper

This evening the (acting) Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced further restrictions as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak in Ireland, meaning that most of us are now confined to our homes for at least the next 14 days.

Remarkably, the main news on RTÉ this evening responded to this announcement with a reading of this poem by Irish poet Derek Mahon.

How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.

by Derek Mahon