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Irish Poetry

Literature Discussion Group

7:00 - 9:00
Wednesday, March 17
Foundry United Methodist Church
1500 16th St. NW (corner of P and 16th)
Room 202
-- use door on front of building nearest P St., ring buzzer to be let in
Nearest metro stop: Dupont Circle (red line)

EAMON GRENNAN

"Cold Morning"


Through an accidental crack in the curtain
I can see the eight o'clock light change from
charcoal to a faint gassy blue, inventing things

in the morning that has a thick skin of ice on it
as the water tank has, so nothing flows, all is bone,
telling its tale of how hard the night had to be

for any heart caught out in it, just flesh and blood
no match for the mindless chill that's settled in,
a great stone bird, its wings stretched stiff

from the tip of Letter Hill to the cobbled bay, its gaze
glacial, its hook-and-scrabble claws fast clamped
on every window, its petrifying breath a cage
in which all the warmth we were is shivering.


---------------------------------------------------------


PAUL MULDOON


"The Avenue"

Now that we've come to the end
I've been trying to piece it together,
Not that distance makes anything clearer.
It began in the half-light
While we walked through the dawn chorus
After a party that lasted all night,
With the blackbird, the wood-pigeon,
The song-thrush taking a bludgeon
To a snail, our taking each other's hand
As if the whole world lay before us.

- - - - - - - - -

"Tell"


He opens the scullery door, and a sudden rush
of wind, as raw as raw,
brushes past him as he himself will brush
past the stacks of straw


that stood in earlier for Crow
or Comanche tepees hung with scalps
but tonight past muster, row upon row,
for the foothills of the Alps.


He opens the door of the peeling-shed
just as one of the apple-peelers
(one of almost a score
of red-cheeked men who pare


and core
the red-cheeked apples for a few spare
shillings) mutters something about bloodshed
and the peelers.


The red-cheeked men put down their knives
at one and the same
moment. All but his father, who somehow connives
to close one eye as if taking aim


or holding back a tear,
and shoots him a glance
he might take, as it whizzes past his ear,
for a Crow, or a Comanche, lance


hurled through the Tilley-lit
gloom of the peeling-shed,
when he hears what must be an apple split
above his head.


------------------------------------------


WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS


"Leda and the Swan"


A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
                    Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?
- - - - - - - - -

"The Lake Isle of Innisfree"


I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.
- - - - - - - - -

"The Second Coming"


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
- - - - - - - - -

"When You are Old"


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.

Eamon Grennan is a Dublin native and teaches in Poughkeepsie, New York, where he is the Dexter M. Ferry Jr., Professor of English at Vassar College. His poems appear regularly in magazines on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition to a number of Pushcart Prizes, he has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. He lives in Poughkeepsie, and spends as much time as he can in the West of Ireland.

Paul Muldoon was born in County Armagh, Northern Ireland, in 1951. He studied at Queen's University, Belfast, and has worked for BBC Belfast as a radio and television producer in addition to writing about ten volumes of poetry. He has also written libretti for operas, a play, and edited The Faber Book of Beasts (1997), The Essential Byron (1989), and The Faber Book of Contemporary Irish Poetry (1986).

Muldoon has taught at a number of British and American universities including Cambridge University, Columbia University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Massachusetts. He is currently Howard G.B. Clark 21 Professor in the Humanities at Princeton University and Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford. 

William Butler Yeats was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1865, the son of a well-known Irish painter, John Butler Yeats. He spent his childhood in County Sligo, where his parents were raised, and in London. He returned to Dublin at the age of fifteen to continue his education and study painting, but quickly discovered he preferred poetry. Born into the Anglo-Irish landowning class, Yeats became involved with the Celtic Revival, a movement against the cultural influences of English rule in Ireland during the Victorian period, which sought to promote the spirit of Ireland's native heritage. Though Yeats never learned Gaelic himself, his writing at the turn of the century drew extensively from sources in Irish mythology and folklore. Also a potent influence on his poetry was the Irish revolutionary Maud Gonne, whom he met in 1889, a woman equally famous for her passionate nationalist politics and her beauty. Though she married another man in 1903 and grew apart from Yeats (and Yeats himself was eventually married to another woman, Georgie Hyde Lees), she remained a powerful figure in his poetry. 

Yeats was deeply involved in politics in Ireland, and in the twenties, despite Irish independence from England, his verse reflected a pessimism about the political situation in his country and the rest of Europe, paralleling the increasing conservativism of his American counterparts in London, T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. His work after 1910 was strongly influenced by Pound, becoming more modern in its concision and imagery, but Yeats never abandoned his strict adherence to traditional verse forms. He had a life-long interest in mysticism and the occult, which was off-putting to some readers, but he remained uninhibited in advancing his idiosyncratic philosophy, and his poetry continued to grow stronger as he grew older. Appointed a senator of the Irish Free State in 1922, he is remembered as an important cultural leader, as a major playwright (he was one of the founders of the famous Abbey Theatre in Dublin), and as one of the very greatest poets of the century. W. B. Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1923 and died in 1939 at the age of 73.