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

Garden Homage

Three windows are at work here, sophisticated
spaces against the day, against the light.
The sky looks as if it has been added later
to a glimpsed world as nobody saw it.

Small gaps of awkwardness between overlapping leaves
bring their time to us, as we our time
to them. The hand alone is amazing,
the skull and the owner’s hand holding it,

together on a page for fifty years,
with the earliest smile. A rope vase
of flowers returns the angels
to the ground, that still beautiful brown.
Medbh McGuckian
2005
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

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

Extraordinary Rendition

I.

I gave you back my claim on the mining town
and the rich vein we once worked,
the tumble down
from a sluice box that irked

you so much, the narrow gauge
that opened up to one and all
when it ran out at the landing stage
beyond the falls.

I gave you back oak ties,
bully flitches, the hand-hewn crossbeams
from which hung hardtack

in a burlap bag that, I'd surmise,
had burst its seams
the last night we lay by the old spur track.

II.

You gave me back your frown
and the most recent responsibility you'd shirked
along with something of your renown
for having jumped from a cage just before it jerked

to a standstill, your wild rampage
shot through with silver falderals,
the speed of that falling cage
and the staidness of our canyon walls.

You gave me back lake skies,
pulley glitches, gully pitches, the reflected gleams
of two tin plates and mugs in the shack,

the echoes of love sighs
and love screams
our canyon walls had already given back.
Paul Muldoon
2010