poem index

collection

Poetry of Ireland

When one thinks of Ireland, one may consider its ages-old literary tradition of Bardic poetry, folk songs, and early Irish and English vernacular poems that were shared by all, whether by recitation, song, or the page. Irish poets and their verses have certainly influenced and contributed to the canon of American literature; few literature classes can be complete without a poem by Yeats or Heaney, and a Wilde witticism is sure to be quoted. In celebration of the Irish poets who have changed how we think about poetry, we’ve curated this collection of Irish poets, poems, and essays.

poem

Crannog

Where an ash bush grows in the lake 
a ring of stones has broken cover 
in this summer's drought. 
Not high enough to be an island, 
it holds a disc of stiller water 
in the riffled lake. 

Trees have reclaimed the railway line behind us; 
behind that, the road goes east—
as two lines parallel in space and time run away from us 
this discovered circle draws us in. 
In drowned towns 
bells toll only for sailors and for the credulous 
but this necklace of wet stones, 
remnant of a wattle Atlantis, 
catches us all by the throat. 

We don't know what beads or blades 
are held in the bog lake's wet amber 
but much of us longs to live in water 
and we recognise this surfacing 
of old homes of love and hurt. 

A troubled bit of us is kin 
to people who drew a circle in water, 
loaded boats with stone, 
and raised a dry island and a fort 
with a whole lake for a moat.
Moya Cannon
2010
poem

An Irish Airman Foresees His Death

I know that I shall meet my fate   
Somewhere among the clouds above;   
Those that I fight I do not hate   
Those that I guard I do not love;   
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,   
No likely end could bring them loss   
Or leave them happier than before.   
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,   
Nor public man, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight   
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;   
I balanced all, brought all to mind,   
The years to come seemed waste of breath,   
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.
W. B. Yeats
1919
poem

Quarantine

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.
Eavan Boland
2008
poem

A Kite for Aibhin

After "L'Aquilone" by Giovanni Pascoli (1855-1912)
Air from another life and time and place,
Pale blue heavenly air is supporting
A white wing beating high against the breeze,

And yes, it is a kite! As when one afternoon
All of us there trooped out
Among the briar hedges and stripped thorn,

I take my stand again, halt opposite
Anahorish Hill to scan the blue,
Back in that field to launch our long-tailed comet.

And now it hovers, tugs, veers, dives askew,
Lifts itself, goes with the wind until
It rises to loud cheers from us below.

Rises, and my hand is like a spindle
Unspooling, the kite a thin-stemmed flower
Climbing and carrying, carrying farther, higher

The longing in the breast and planted feet
And gazing face and heart of the kite flier
Until string breaks and—separate, elate—

The kite takes off, itself alone, a windfall.
Seamus Heaney
2010
poem

Donal Og

Translated from an anonymous eighth-century Irish poem


It is late last night the dog was speaking of you;
the snipe was speaking of you in her deep marsh.
It is you are the lonely bird through the woods;
and that you may be without a mate until you find me.

You promised me, and you said a lie to me,
that you would be before me where the sheep are flocked;
I gave a whistle and three hundred cries to you,
and I found nothing there but a bleating lamb.

You promised me a thing that was hard for you,
a ship of gold under a silver mast;
twelve towns with a market in all of them,
and a fine white court by the side of the sea.

You promised me a thing that is not possible,
that you would give me gloves of the skin of a fish;
that you would give me shoes of the skin of a bird;
and a suit of the dearest silk in Ireland.

When I go by myself to the Well of Loneliness,
I sit down and I go through my trouble;
when I see the world and do not see my boy,
he that has an amber shade in his hair.

It was on that Sunday I gave my love to you;
the Sunday that is last before Easter Sunday.
And myself on my knees reading the Passion;
and my two eyes giving love to you for ever.

My mother said to me not to be talking with you today,
or tomorrow, or on the Sunday;
it was a bad time she took for telling me that;
it was shutting the door after the house was robbed.

My heart is as black as the blackness of the sloe,
or as the black coal that is on the smith's forge;
or as the sole of a shoe left in white halls;
it was you that put that darkness over my life.

You have taken the east from me; you have taken the west from me;
you have taken what is before me and what is behind me;
you have taken the moon, you have taken the sun from me;
and my fear is great that you have taken God from me!
Isabella Augusta, Lady Gregory
1919