Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Two Poems - MacDonagh and MacNeice

We were contacted recently by Niall MacDonagh, son of Donagh MacDonagh, who had this to say about Dublin Made Me, the title of the poem which also serves as the name of this website:
I just need to record that it upsets me that, of all the poetry, plays, stories my father left behind, THAT piece of verse is what is remembered. The thing is that it is not about Dublin at all but a put down of the rest of the country. Read it and you will see what I am saying.

Now, if you want a very fine poem about Dublin (by a non Dubliner) see this:

Dublin

Grey brick upon brick,
Declamatory bronze
On sombre pedestals -
O'Connell, Grattan, Moore -
And the brewery tugs and the swans
On the balustraded stream
And the bare bones of a fanlight
Over a hungry door
And the air soft on the cheek
And porter running from the taps
With a head of yellow cream
And Nelson on his pillar
Watching his world collapse.
This never was my town,
I was not born or bred
Nor schooled here and she will not
Have me alive or dead
But yet she holds my mind
With her seedy elegance,
With her gentle veils of rain
And all her ghosts that walk
And all that hide behind
Her Georgian facades -
The catcalls and the pain,
The glamour of her squalor,
The bravado of her talk.
The lights jig in the river
With a concertina movement
And the sun comes up in the morning
Like barley-sugar on the water
And the mist on the Wicklow hills
Is close, as close
As the peasantry were to the landlord,
As the Irish to the Anglo-Irish,
As the killer is close one moment
To the man he kills,
Or as the moment itself
Is close to the next moment.
She is not an Irish town
And she is not English,
Historic with guns and vermin
And the cold renown
Of a fragment of Church latin,
Of an oratorical phrase.
But oh the days are soft,
Soft enough to forget
The lesson better learnt,
The bullet on the wet
Streets, the crooked deal,
The steel behind the laugh,
The Four Courts burnt.
Fort of the Dane,
Garrison of the Saxon,
Augustan capital
Of a Gaelic nation,
Appropriating all
The alien brought,
You give me time for thought
And by a juggler's trick
You poise the toppling hour -
O greyness run to flower,
Grey stone, grey water,
And brick upon grey brick.
– Louis MacNeice

A good point and well-taken. Grateful we are too, to be reminded of Louis MacNeice's sombre yet elegant paean to the city. Irish people of a certain generation will possibly recall being taught both MacNeice's and MacDonagh's poems as part of English curriculum.

Donagh MacDonaghDonagh MacDonagh (1912-1968) was an Irish writer, judge, presenter, broadcaster, and playwright. According to Wikipedia:
He wrote poetic dramas and ballad operas. He published three volumes of poetry: Veterans and Other Poems (1943), The Hungry Grass (1947) and A Warning to Conquerors (1969). He also edited the Oxford Book of Irish Verse (1958) with Lennox Robinson. A play, Happy As Larry, was translated into a number of languages. He had three other plays produced: God's Gentry (a ballad opera about the tinkers), Lady Spinder (about Deirdre of the Sorrows and the Three sons of Ussna and by far his best writing) and Step in the Hollow a piece of situation comedy nonsense. He also wrote short stories. He published Twenty Poems with Niall Sheridan; staged first Irish production of Murder in the Cathedral with Liam Redmond, later his brother-in-law. Furthermost he was a popular broadcaster on Radio Éireann.

His books are no longer in print but we understand that a project is underway to publish all of his writings, in e-book form, or at least those that can be found: it appears that he was a very prolific writer. Websites that contains links to his poems and plays can be found here and here. The National Library of Ireland also holds some of his personal letters and papers, in addition to those of his father, Thomas MacDonagh, also a poet and playwright, who was among the leaders of the 1916 Rising subsequently executed for his role, his name appearing as one of the signatories to the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.

Louis MacNeice was born in Belfast in 1907, to parents originally from the west of Ireland. It is recorded that when he was six, his mother was admitted to a Dublin nursing home suffering from severe depression and he did not see her again. Inauspicious beginnings you might say, to his relationship with a city that would inspire him to write those lines.

His first trip to Dublin appears to have been in 1934, when he met with William Butler Yeats. The poem, Dublin was written in 1939 and first appeared in a collection entitled The Last Ditch, which was published in 1940. The strength and endurance of the lines which he penned, are nowhere better exemplified than in this recital, given by a true Dubliner, albeit recorded on the streets of Galway, a city to be found amongst -
The raw and hungry hills of the West
The lean road flung over profitless bog
Where only a snipe could nest
Where the sea takes its tithe of every boat.
Bawneen and currach have no allegiance of mine


One can only wonder how words like "This never was my town ...and she will not have me alive or dead" must resonate in the heart of a homeless exile.


Reference Material:

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