Irish Poem of the Month

This used to be Poem of the Week Page, but I couldn’t keep up with it, so now it’s Poem of the Month! It’s a mixed bunch, from ancient poems originally written in the Irish, to nineteenth century Anglo-Irish poems and more modern, contemporary work. Please leave a comment if you like a particular poem, or indeed, a suggestion for any of your favourite poems or poets to be included. Apologies if you don’t like Seamus Heaney’s work – he seems to crop up pretty often in my mind, especially since his death in 2013.

Week 20: The Scholar’s Life


Week 19: Nonce Words by Seamus Heaney

Week 18: Another Heaney poem – his last, written in August 2013, just 10 days before his death. Banks of a Canal.

Week 17: I’ve changed this page title to ‘Irish Poem of the Month’ instead of ‘Week’ since I’m so behind with posting, but hey – we all need a break from time to time. Is it really a whole year since Seamus Heaney died? Here’s the poem I’ve chosen to mark the first anniversary of his passing:
The Blackbird of Glanmore

Week 16: The Student and His Cat

Week 15: The Fisherman by W. B. Yeats

Week 14: Seed by Paula Meehan

Week 13: Death of an Irishwoman by Michael Hartnett

Week 12: The Mayo Tao by Derek Mahon

Week 11: The Strand by Louis MacNeice

Week 10: This poem is dedicated to Lorem Ipsum and Don.

Wordsworth’s Skates

Star in the window.
Slate scrape.
Bird or branch?
Or the whet and scud of steel on placid ice?

Not the bootless runners lying toppled
In dust in a display case,
Their bindings perished,

But the reel of them on frozen Windermere
As he flashed from the clutch of earth along its curve
And left it scored.

(Seamus Heaney, 1939-2013, from District and Circle, 2006)

Week 9: Two Poems from the Irish, circa 7th Century



The Scribe

A hedge of trees surrounds me,
A blackbird’s lay sings to me;
Above my lined booklet
The trilling birds chant to me.
In a grey mantle from the top of bushes
The cuckoo sings:
Verily – may the Lord shield me! –
Well do I write under the greenwood.

The Blackbird

Ah, blackbird, thou art satisfied
Where thy nest is in the bush:
Hermit that clinkest no bell,
Sweet, soft, peaceful is thy note

(Anonymous, translated by Kuno Meyer. The second was written by a monk in the margin of a book he was copying)

Week 8: The Man with a Bit of Jizz in Him

Aer Lingus plane

My husband is a man –
With a bit of jizz in him.
On Monday night in Sligo I said to him:
“Let’s go someplace for a week
Before the winter is on top of us.”
He said: “Where would you like to go?”
I said: “Down south – West Cork or Kerry.”
He said: “Too much hassle.”
I said: “Where would you like to go?”
He said: “Dublin Airport early tomorrow morning.
I’ll drive halfway, you drive halfway.”
We caught the Aer Lingus Dublin-Nice flight:
180 Euros return.
Driving to Dublin he phoned his niece in Hertz.
He said: “I want a car in Nice.”
Hertz gave us a brand-new Peugot.
Only thirty miles on the clock.
(If you’re over forty-five, they give you a big car.
If you’re a young fellow, they give you a small car
That you can go and crash.)
There’s only two ways out of Nice Airport –
West or East: simple.
At the first filling station he stopped
And asked the way to St-Paul-de-Vence.
“St-Paul-de-Vence? Exit 48
And do not come on to the motorway again
Until you want to go back to Ireland.”
An hour later I was lying on a duvet
In a three-star hotel in St-Paul-de-Vence.
It was spotless. Spotless!
I was that pleased with him I shook his hand
And pulled him in under the duvet with me.
An attractive middle-aged housewife I may be but –
There is nothing to beat a man with a bit of jizz in him.

(Paul Durcan, b. 1944. From The Art of Life, 2004, The Harvill Press)

Week 7: I Fall in Love

Irish bog

I fall in love, in the fall of every year,
with the smattering of rain on my windshield
and the pale and wan light toppling over the sheer
edge of my field
of vision, with leaves strewn in my way,
with the bracket-fungus screwed to a rotten log:
I fall in love with bog and cold clay
and what they hold in store for me and you, my dear.

I fall in love with all that’s going off:
with blackened spuds
rotting in their beds, with
Brussels sprouts nipped in the bud
by a blast of frost, rat-eaten artichokes, and,
like so many unpicked locks,
the tares and cockles buried in shifting sand;
it’s as if I fall in love with death itself.

For it’s neither fall nor the coming to in spring –
neither shrug of the shoulders nor sudden foray
down that boring ‘little road of the King’ –
but something else that makes me wary:
how I throw off the snowy sheet and icy quilt
made of feathers from some flock
or Otherworldly birds, how readily I am beguiled
by a sunny smile, how he offers me a wing.

(Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, b.1952. Translation by Paul Muldoon in The Astrakhan Cloak, 1992, Gallery Press)

Week 6: Captivity

tiger in cage

I am an animal

a wild animal
from the tropics
for my beauty

I would shake the trees of the forest
with my cry

but now
I lie down
and observe with one eye
the lone tree yonder

people come in hundreds
every day
who would do anything
for me
but set me free

(Caitlin Maude, 1941-1984, poet, teacher, actress and traditional singer. Translation: Gabriel Fitzmaurice)

Week 5: Ach! this new Irish fashion and ach! …

Aristocrat C17th

Ach! this new Irish fashion and ach!
beggar-women’s sons with long curly locks,
bright cuffs on their wrists and big showy rings –
like any pure-blooded Irish prince.

Each bum and his son to their chins in starch,
with gaiters on and thrown-back scarves,
pipes of tobacco in their gobs a-puff,
from wrist to elbow all braceleted up.

The snare that tripped me was Life, that fickle trickster,
there’s respect in each house for a man with broken English
and no nod at all to the man with a poet’s training
but ‘piss off now, you and your perfect Gaelic!’

(Irish C17th, possibly Brian Mac Giolla Phadraig, c.1585-1653: Translation by Michael Hartnett)

Week 4: The Choice

Ben bulben

The intellect of man is forced to choose
Perfection of the life, or of the work,
And if it take the second must refuse
A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.

When all that story’s finished, what’s the news?
In luck or out the toil left its mark:
That old perplexity an empty purse,
Or the day’s vanity, the night’s remorse.

(W. B. Yeats – Anglo-Irish poet, 1865-1939)

Week 3: I am Raftery (Mise Raifteiri)

Rafferty's homeplace

I am Raifteiri, the poet, full of courage and love,
my eyes without light, in calmness serene,
taking my way by the light of my heart,
feeble and tired to the end of my road:
look at me now, my face towards Balla,
performing music to empty pockets!

(Antoine O Raifteiri – one of the last Irish ‘wandering bards’ 1784-1835)

Week 2: The Planter’s Daughter

planter's house

When night stirred at sea
And the fire brought a crowd in,
They say that her beauty
Was music in mouth
And few in the candlelight
Thought her too proud,
For the house of the planter
Is known by the trees.

Men that had seen her
Drank deep and were silent,
The women were speaking
Wherever she went –
As a bell that is rung
Or a wonder told shyly
And O she was the Sunday
In every week.

(Austin Clarke – Irish poet, 1896-1974)

Week 1: Keep Your Kiss to Yourself


Keep your kiss to yourself,
young miss with the white teeth.
I can get no taste from it.
Keep your mouth away from me.

I got a kiss more sweet than honey
from a man’s wife, for love,
and I’ll get no taste from any kiss
till doomsday, after that.

Until I see that same woman
(grant it, gracious Son of God)
I’ll love no woman young or old
because her kiss is – what it is!

(Anonymous: Irish 17th century verse in syllabic metres)

14 thoughts on “Irish Poem of the Month”

  1. Hi Safia, somehow I missed this page, lovely to discover it!

    • Dear Clare, I’m surprised you manage to fit in what you do, never mind ‘surfing’ around my blog. Every visit you make is a pleasure for me – thank you! 🙂

  2. Thank you Safia. That means much to me. You’re too kind. The poetry was a pleasure to read. Beautiful post – again thank you for your kindness.

    • You’re welcome, Don. I was flicking through ‘District and Circle’ looking for another poem when I spotted ‘Wordsworth’s Skates’. It reminded me of the discussion you and Lorem Ipsum had on his blog about Wordsworth’s cottage. I’ve been there myself many years ago, and it sure is a beautiful little corner of the world.

  3. Hi. Where did you get the photo of the flute player standing outside the cottage? Have you any info on it?

    • I believe that’s Antoine O Raifteiri’s old cottage in the photo – I was oblivious to crediting pics when I first started blogging! If you do a search under his name or the anglicised version, Anthony O’Raftery, it may come up.

      • Okay. Thanks!

      • Well, I did a search and found out that he was a travelling bard so it’s unlikely he had a home place. It may have been a house he stayed in though. Do you remember where you got the picture because I’d like to find out who the musician is in the photo and what part of the country it was taken etc? If not no worries.

        • I tried to search for it, but no luck – sorry. Everyone has a homeplace where they were born and no Irish person would ever forget where that is! I really doubt if this photographer would have recorded who is in the picture, but you never know. Off the top of my head, I think his birthplace was Kiltimagh in County Mayo – I believe there’ll be some kind of organisation there to chronicle his life. Perhaps you could search for that. Good luck and please, do pop back and let me know if you come up with anything. if you click the ‘reply’ button below, I’ll get an e-mail – I didn’t realise you’d left the above comment and only came across it by chance – sorry for the delay in replying.

  4. (Safia, my maiden name is Moore.)
    My most recent painting was from Seamus Heaney!

    “He lived there in the unsayable lights.
    He saw the fuchsia in a drizzling noon,
    The elderflower at dusk like a risen moon
    And green fields greying on the windswept heights.”

    ~from the Glanmore Sonnets
    Field Work

    Elizabeth Wrightman

    • That’s amazing! Do you think we were separated at birth, Elizabeth? Just kidding. I love the stanza you’ve chosen from Glanmore Sonnets – please let me know if/when you post it to your website. Thank you and best wishes, Safia x

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