16 January 2017


There are two ways of climbing to the summit
of Ben Bulben: one behind Drumcliff churchyard,
east at the creamery and up the hill.
There you pass elegant retirement houses
on ever-narrowing woodbine-scented roads,
until you have to leave the car and walk,
straight up the formidable, striated front.

This is a hard way. If you make it,
look back down at all that you have left:
the sea stretching from the Rosses to the foot
of Knocknarea  - seeing maybe the last thing
that Diarmuid saw before his death:
the unexcavated cairn of the fierce queen
who scorns the dangerous currents at Strandhill.

The other way is easier: you ask Jimmy Waters
whose business visits to the local farms
have taught him every yard and forest-track
where the mountain-stream disappears under
the ground. He’ll tell you which warnings to ignore:
the gates you can open, and what bogs
above Glencar you can still take in your stride.

And the Yeatses: which way for them? Did they stand
and clap their hands to send the swans wheeling
in broken rings, over the sea and across
to the other mountain, to wonder at the gist
of what they mean? Or did they watch the races
being set up on the yellow strand,
where men still break stones on the road below? 
- Bernard O'Donoghue

14 January 2017


I see her against the pearl sky of Dublin
Before the turn of the century, a young woman
With all those brothers and sisters, green eyes, hair
She could sit on; for high life, a meandering sermon

(Church of Ireland) each Sunday, window-shopping
In Dawson Street, picnics at Killiney and Howth…
To know so little about the growing of one
Who was angel and maid-of-all work to my growth!

- Who, her sister dying, took on the four-year
Child, and the chance that now she would never make
A child of her own; who, mothering me, flowered in
The clover-soft authority of the meek.

Who, exiled, gossiping home chat from abroad
In roundhand letters to a drift of relations  -
Squires’, Goldsmiths, Overends, Williams’ - sang the songs
Of Zion in a strange land. Hers the patience

Of one who made no claims, but simply loved
Because that was her nature, and loving so
Asked no more than to be repaid in kind.
If she was not a saint, I do not know

What saints are…Buying penny toys at Christmas
(The most a small purse could afford) to send her
Nephews and nieces, sh’d never have thought the shop
Could shine for me one day in Bethlehem splendour.

Exiled again, after ten years, my father
Remarrying, she faced the bitter test
Of charity - to abdicate in love’s name
From love’s contentful duties. A distressed

Gentle woman housekeeping for strangers;
Later, companion to a droll recluse
Clergyman brother in rough-pastured Wexford,
She lived for all she was worth - to be of use.

She bottled plums, she visited parishioners.
A plain habit of innocence, a faith
Mildly forbearing, made her one of those
Who, we were promised, shall inherit the earth

… Now, sunk in one small room of a Rathmines
Old people’s home, helpless, beyond speech
Or movement, yearly deeper she declines
To imbecility - my last link with childhood.

The battery’s almost done: yet if I press
The button hard - some private joke in boyhood
I teased her with – there comes upon her face
A glowing of the old, enchanted smile.

So, still alive, she rots. A heart of granite
Would melt at this unmeaning sequel, Lord,
How can this be justified, how can it
Be justified?

- Cecil Day-Lewis

09 January 2017


When the time comes, it is better that death be welcome,
As an old friend who embraces and forgives.
Sieze advantage of what little time is left,
And if imagination serves, if strength endures, if memory lives,
Ponder on those vanished loves, those jesting faces.
Take once more their hands and press them to your cheek,
Think of you and them as young again, and running in the fields,
As drinking wine and laughing.
And if you wish, let there be Spanish music, Greek seas
And French sun, the hills of Ireland if you loved them,
Some other place if that should please, some other music
More suited to your taste.
Consider, if you can, that
Soon you’ll shed this weariness, this pain,
The heaped-upon indignities, and afterwards - who knows? -
Perhaps you’ll walk with angels, should angels be ,
By fresher meadows, unfamiliar streams.
You may find that those who did not love you do so now,
That those who loved you did so more than you believed.
You may go on to better lives and other worlds.
You may meet God, directly or disguised.
You may, on the other hand  - who knows? - just wander off
To sleep that seamless, darkest, dreamless, unimaginable sleep.
Do not be bitter, no world lasts forever.
You who travelled like Odysseus,
This is Ithaca, this is your destination.
This is your last adventure. Here is my hand,
The living to the dying;
Yours will grow cold in mine, when the time comes.

- Louis de Bernieres

06 January 2017


on our journey home,
we saw

a buzzard
making a kill
on the roadside verge.

It glided across
our windscreen
and hunkered down

on something –
we couldn’t see
what it was – as the wings

folded around
what Lucas called
‘the prey’.

He wanted to know
if buzzards took children,
or cats;

as we slowed to look,
he chose to admire

the plumage
and the fierce light
of its eye.
- John Burnside 

05 January 2017


Swerving east, from rich industrial shadows
And traffic all night north; swerving through fields
Too thin and thistled to be called meadows,
And now and then a harsh-named halt, that shields
Workmen at dawn; swerving to solitude
Of skies and scarecrows, haystacks, hares and pheasants,
And the widening river’s slow presence,
The piled gold clouds, the shining gull-marked mud,

Gathers to the surprise of a large town:
Here domes and statues, spires and cranes cluster
Beside grain-scattered streets, barge-crowded water,
And residents from raw estates, brought down
The dead straight miles by stealing flat-faced trolleys,
Push through plate-glass swing doors to their desires -
Cheap suits, red kitchen-ware, sharp shoes, iced lollies,
Electric mixers, toasters, washers, driers –

A cut-price crowd, urban yet simple, dwelling
Where only salesmen and relations come
Within a terminate and fishy-smelling
Pastoral of ships up streets, the slave museum,
Tattoo-shops, consulates, grim head-scarfed wives;
And out beyond its mortgaged half-built edges
Fast-shadowed wheat-fields, running high as hedges,
Isolate villages, where removed lives

Loneliness clarifies. Here silence stands
Like heat. Here leaves unnoticed thicken,
Hidden weeds flower, neglected waters quicken,
Luminously-peopled air ascends;
And past the poppies bluish neutral distance
Ends the land suddenly beyond a beach
Of shapes and shingle. Here is unfenced existence:
Facing the sun, untalkative, out of reach.

- Philip Larkin

03 January 2017


The eye can hardly pick them out
From the cold shade they shelter in,
Till wind distresses tail and main;
Then one crops grass, and moves about
- The other seeming to look on -
And stands anonymous again

Yet fifteen years ago, perhaps
Two dozen distances surficed
To fable them: faint afternoons
Of Cups and Stakes and Handicaps,
Whereby their names were artificed
To inlay faded, classic Junes -

Silks at the start: against the sky
Numbers and parasols: outside,
Squadrons of empty cars, and heat,
And littered grass : then the long cry
Hanging unhushed till it subside
To stop-press columns on the street.

Do memories plague their ears like flies?
They shake their heads. Dusk brims the shadows.
Summer by summer all stole away,
The starting-gates, the crowd and cries -
All but the unmolesting meadows.
Almanacked, their names live; they

Have slipped their names, and stand at ease,
Or gallop for what must be joy,
And not a fieldglass sees them home,
Or curious stop-watch prophesies:
Only the grooms, and the grooms boy,
With bridles in the evening come.

- Philip Larkin

02 January 2017


Swifts turn in the heights of the air;
higher still turn the invisible stars.
When day withdraws to the ends of the earth
their fires shine on a dark expanse of sand.

We live in a world of motion and distance.
The heart flies from tree to bird,
from bird to distant star,
from star to love; and love grows
in the quiet house, turning and working,
servant of thought, a lamp held in one hand.

- Philippe Jaccottet
(translated by Derek Mahon)