Elliptical Movements

A blog by Billy Mills

Sarah Herbert: Irish Woman Poet

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Sarah Herbert (1824-1846) was born in Ireland into the family of the Earl of Dysart, but emigrated with her family to Nova Scotia at the age of two on the Nassau, which was wrecked off the coast. Her mother died as a result but she and her father survived. He remarried and Sarah and her half-sister became literary collaborators on a number of popular works of fiction, as well as both writing poetry. ‘Adieu to the City’ comes from their shared collection, The Aeolian Harp, or, Miscellaneous Poems



Adieu to the city! the summer is nigh,
And I know that the flowers are in bloom, —
I have had a glimpse of the bright blue sky,
As it shone o’er the house-tops, all dark and high,
Like the sunlight over the tomb!

Oh I long to roam the wild wood free,
And to list to the birds’ gay song,
As they flit in their freedom from tree to tree,
Or to gaze on the waves of the billowing sea,
As proudly it dashes along!

Oh gladly I leave thee, thou city street,
With thy dull and smoky air.
For the home where the loved will my coming greet,
And my welcome be spoken in accents sweet, —
I long, — Oh I long to be there!


Written by Billy Mills

19/04/2014 at 20:34

Posted in Irish Women Poets, Poetry

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Henrietta O’Neill: Irish Woman Poet

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Henrietta O’Neill (1758-1793) was the daughter of Charles Boyle, Lord Dungarvon. As well as being a poet, she was a gifted amateur actor and artist. She died in Portugal where she went for health reasons. Her husband, John O’Neill, was a Nationalist MP and died during the 1798 rising.


 Ode To The Poppy

Not for the promise of the labor’d field,
Not for the good the yellow harvests yield,
I bend at Ceres’ shrine;
For dull, to humid eyes appear,
The golden glories of the year;
Alas!–a melancholy worship’s mine!

I hail the Goddess for her scarlet flower!
Thou brilliant weed,
That dost so far exceed,
The richest gifts gay Flora can bestow;
Heedless I pass’d thee, in life’s morning hour,
(Thou comforter of woe,)
‘Till sorrow taught me to confess thy power.

In early days, when Fancy cheats,
A various wreath I wove;
Of laughing springs luxuriant sweets,
To deck ungrateful love:
The rose, or thorn, my numbers crown’d.
As Venus smil’d, or Venus frown’d;
But Love, and Joy, and all their train, are flown;
E’en languid Hope no more is mine,
And I will sing of thee alone;
Unless, perchance, the attributes of grief,
The cypress bud, and willow leaf,
Their pale, funereal, blend with thine.

Hail, lovely blossom! — thou can’st ease,
The wretched victims of disease;
Can’st close those weary eyes, in a gentle sleep.
Which never open but to weep;
For, oh! thy potent charm,
Can agonizing pain disarm;
Expel imperious memory from her seat,
And bid the throbbing heart forget to beat.

Soul-soothing plant! — that can such blessings give,
By thee the mourner bears to live!
By thee the hopeless die!
Oh! ever “friendly to despair,”
Might sorrow’s pallid votary dare,
Without a crime, that remedy implore,
Which bids the spirit from its bondage fly,
I’d court they palliative aid no more;
No more I’d sue, that thou shouldst spread,
Thy spell around my aching head,
But would conjure thee to impart,
The balsam for a broken heart;
And by thy soft Lethean power,
(Inestimable flower)
Burst these terrestrial bonds, and other regions try.



Written by Billy Mills

12/04/2014 at 12:42

New Poster Poems

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This month’s Poster Poems on the Guardian site concerns fruit. Why not join in?

Written by Billy Mills

04/04/2014 at 23:41

Posted in Guardian, Poetry

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Mary Davys: Irish Woman Poet

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Mary Davys (1674-1732) Married Peter Davys, who ran the free school at Dublin’s St. Patrick’s cathedral and was a member of Swift’s circle. Widowed at the age of 24, she moved to England where she became a moderately successful professional writer of plays, fiction and verse. Her novels have a key role in the development of the genre in English. The Modern Poet was published in 1725 as part of the second volume of her Works.


from The Modern Poet

Behind moth eaten curtain, ‘stead of press,
Hung up the tattered relics of his dress:
A threadbare coat, at elbows quite worn out,
Buttonless waistcoat with an old surtout;
Breeches with pockets gone, for the abuse
Of master’s wit had made them of no use;
A hat some ten times dressed, much on the rust,
Was laid in box to keep it from the dust;
On wooden peg hung piss-burned periwig,
A little out of curl but very big;
In days of yore it had a noble master,
And given to set up the poetaster,
For pride has oftentimes appeared in tatters,
And strives to make us imitate our betters:
It gave him airs to strut about the town,
Flattering my lord, and railing at the Gown,
With brazen-hilted Bilbo to attack
All those who dare call names behind his back;
Though certain ‘tis, a poet’s only weapon
Should be his pen, when people are mistaken.
But some, alas! have to their sorrow found
His passion, not his reason, kept its ground:
He thought it hard he should a scene run through
Of beggary and be insulted too.

Written by Billy Mills

30/03/2014 at 22:23

Eleanor Hull: Irish Woman Poet

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Eleanor Hull (1860-1935) was one of the foremost Irish scholars of the period of the Literary Revival. Her translation of The Lay of Prince Marvan appeared in The Poem-Book of the Gael: Translations from Irish Gaelic Poetry into English Prose and Verse (London: Chatto & Windus 1912).

The Lay Of Prince Marvan

There is a sheeling hidden in the wood
Unknown to all save God;
An ancient ash-tree and a hazel-bush
Their sheltering shade afford.

Around the doorway’s heather-laden porch
Wild honeysuckles twine;
Prolific oaks, within the forest’s gloom,
Shed mast upon fat swine.

Many a sweet familiar woodland path
Comes winding to my door;
Lowly and humble is my hermitage,
Poor, and yet not too poor.

From the high gable-end my lady’s throat
Her trilling chant outpours,
Her sombre mantle, like the ousel’s coat,
Shows dark above my doors.

From the high oakridge where the roe-deer leaps
The river-banks between,
Renowned Mucraime and Red Roigne’s plains
Lie wrapped in robes of green.

Here in the silence, where no care intrudes,
I dwell at peace with God;
What gift like this hast thou to give, Prince Guaire,
Were I to roam abroad?

The heavy branches of the green-barked yew
That seem to bear the sky;
The spreading oak, that shields me from the storm,
When winds rise high.

Like a great hostel, welcoming to all,
My laden apple-tree;
Low in the hedge, the modest hazel-bush
Drops ripest nuts for me.

Round the pure spring, that rises crystal clear,
Straight from the rock,
Wild goats and swine, red fox, and grazing deer,
At sundown flock.

The host of forest-dwellers of the soil
Trysting at night;
To meet them foxes come, a peaceful troop,
For my delight.

Like exiled princes, flocking to their home,
They gather round;
Beneath the river bank great salmon leap,
And trout abound.

Rich rowan clusters, and the dusky sloe,
The bitter, dark blackthorn,
Ripe whortle-berries, nuts of amber hue,
The cup-enclosed acorn.

A clutch of eggs, sweet honey, mead and ale,
God’s goodness still bestows;
Red apples, and the fruitage of the heath,
His constant mercy shows.

The goodly tangle of the briar-trail
Climbs over all the hedge;
Far out of sight, the trembling waters wail
Through rustling rush and sedge.

Luxuriant summer spreads its coloured cloak
And covers all the land;
Bright blue-bells, sunk in woods of russet oak,
Their blooms expand.

The movements of the bright red-breasted wren,
A lovely melody
Above my house, the thrush and cuckoo’s strain
A chorus wakes for me.

The little music-makers of the world
Chafers and bees,
Drone answer to the tumbling torrent’s roar
Beneath the trees.

From gable-ends, from every branch and stem,
Sounds sweetest music now;
Unseen, in restless flight, the lively wren
Flits ’neath the hazel-bough.

Deep in the firmament the sea-gulls fly,
One widely-circling wreath;
The cheerful cuckoo’s call, the poult’s reply,
Sound o’er the distant heath.

The lowing of the calves in summer-time,
Best season of the year!
Across the fertile plain, pleasant the sound,
Their call I hear.

Voice of the wind against the branchy wood
Upon the deep blue sky;
Most musical the ceaseless waterfall,
The swan’s shrill cry.

No hired chorus, trained to praise its chief,
Comes welling up for me;
The music made for Christ the Ever-young,
Sounds forth without a fee.

Though great thy wealth, Prince Guaire, happier live
Those who can boast no hoard;
Who take at Christ’s hand that which He doth give
As their award.

Far from life’s tumult and the din of strife
I dwell with Him in peace,
Content and grateful, for Thy gifts, High Prince,
Daily increase.

(GUAIRE replies)
Wisely thou choosest, Marvan; I a king
Would lay my kingdom by,
With Colman’s glorious heritage I’d part
To bear thee company!

Written by Billy Mills

23/03/2014 at 18:13

Eileen Shanahan: Irish Woman Poet

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Eileen Shanahan (1901-1979) was born in Dublin. She worked as a secretary at the League of Nations in Geneva from 1929 until the invasion of France in 1940.  Although she published widely in magazines and anthologies, she never published a collection of her poems during her lifetime and her work remains uncollected. The Three Children is her best-known poem.

The Three Children (Near Clonmel)

I met three children on the road –
The hawthorn trees were sweet with rain
The hills had drawn their white blinds down –
Three children on the road from town.

Their wealthy eyes in splendour mocked
Their faded rags and bare wet feet,
The King had sent his daughters out
To play at peasants in the street.

I could not see the palace walls;
The avenues were dumb with mist;
Perhaps a queen would watch and weep
For lips that she had borne and kissed –

And lost about the lonely world,
With treasury of hair and eye
The tigers of the world would spring,
The merchants of the world would buy.

And one will sell her eyes for gold,
And one will barter them for bread,
And one will watch their glory fade
Beside the looking-glass unwed.

A hundred years will softly pass,
Yet on the Tipperary hills
The shadows of a king and queen
Will darken on the daffodils.

Written by Billy Mills

15/03/2014 at 21:57

Posted in Irish Women Poets, Poetry

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Frances Greville: Irish Woman Poet

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Frances Greville (c. 1724 – 1789) was born Frances Macartney, daughter of the MP for Longford. She married Foulk Greville and is believed to have contributed to his Maxims Characters and Reflections. She was friendly with Richard Brinsley Sheridan, who dedicated his play The Critic to her.

She published very little of her poetry, but Prayer for Indifference was extremely popular and widely reprinted both during her lifetime and since.

Prayer for Indifference

Oft I’ve implored the Gods in vain,
And prayed till I’ve been weary!
For once, I’ll seek my wish to gain
Of Oberon the Fairy!

Sweet airy Being, wanton Spright!
Who liv’st in woods unseen;
And oft, by Cynthia’s silver light,
Tripp’st gaily o’er the green:

If e’er thy pitying heart was moved,
As ancient stories tell,
And for th’ Athenian Maid who loved,
Thou sought’st a wondrous spell;

O, deign once more t’ exert thy power!
Haply, some herb, or tree,
Sovereign as juice from western flower,
Conceals a balm for me.

I ask no kind return in Love;
No tempting charm to please;
Far from the heart such gifts remove,
That sighs for peace and ease.

Nor ease, nor peace, that heart can know,
That, like the needle true,
Turns at the touch of joy or woe;
But, turning, trembles too.

Far as distress the soul can wound,
’Tis pain in each degree;
’Tis bliss but to a certain bound,
Beyond—is agony.

Then take this treacherous sense of mine,
Which dooms me still to smart;
Which pleasure can to pain refine,
To pain new pangs impart.

O, haste to shed the sovereign balm,
My shattered nerves new-string;
And for my guest, serenely calm,
The nymph Indifference bring.

At her approach see hope, see fear,
See expectation fly;
And disappointment in the rear,
That blasts the purposed joy.

The tears which pity taught to flow,
My eyes shall then discern;
The heart that throbbed at others’ woe,
Shall then scarce feel its own.

The wounds which now each moment bleed,
Each moment then shall close;
And tranquil days shall still succeed
To nights of sweet repose.

O, Fairy Elf! but grant me this;
This one kind comfort send;
And so may never-fading bliss,
Thy flowery paths attend.

So may the glow-worm’s glimmering light,
Thy tiny footsteps lead
To some new region of delight,
Unknown to mortal tread.

And be thy acorn goblet filled
With heaven’s ambrosial dew:
From sweetest, freshest flowers distilled,
That shed fresh sweets for you.

And what of life remains for me,
I’ll pass in sober ease;
Half-pleased, contented will I be—
Content, but half to please.

Written by Billy Mills

09/03/2014 at 21:43

Posted in Irish Women Poets, Poetry

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