Plays and poems in Icarus by Maurice Scully: A Review

sp18playsPlays, by Maurice Scully, Smithereens Press, free e-book (plus additional material published in Icarus)

Maurice Scully is consistently one of the most interesting poets writing in English today and any new work from him is to be welcome, and this short e-booklet along with some associated/overlapping material published in the TCD literary journal that Scully once edited, is no exception. Plays comprises a series of eight interrelated texts, two of which reappear in Icarus, along with a ninth, and a short prefatory note written especially for the magazine. The Smithereens sequence is literally framed by play, a dog playing with a ball on a pier, in brief at first, and then a more extended treatment at the end. These texts call out the deliberate nature of play as a rule-bound activity, much like language. This parallel is developed in Placed, the second piece in the sequence, which starts from a game of tiddly-winks, moves through a kind of painterly abstraction:

Slim textures

in circles squares

diamonds cylinders –

 

I heard

you rang

you answered

you

and moves, as the prose note calls out, from this ‘motley’ to thoughts of Yeats, Easter 1916, and the ‘decade of commemoration’ and all it implies.

At various points Scully’s language draws on ‘canonical’ lines form what many years ago he dismissed as ‘the gem school’ of poetry.

The poets in question are Patrick Kavanagh:

O co memor

or emco morat

may by water

vat or em

 

rald grass.

Followed by Wordsworth and Heaney:

I wandered lonely in a crowd

as a meaning-bearing creature digging

over vegetables flashing signals to

light-sensitive weed-seeds in the dark.

Between yr fingers & yr thumb, humble

ambition.

These reworkings are, as I read them, sardonic comment on the persistent myth of the poet as Romantic hero, grappling with ‘significance’, the solitary purveyor of the profound. Scully, by inference, favours a more modest, social, and fruitful view of the process of writing as being in the world. In this work, the poet is both solitary and connected, exploring life as it is, not as it ideally should be, dancing in the weave of things.

The action of

burning’s a

complex action.

Crumpled

 

paper napkin

with a base

pattern of

indentations

 

overlaid with

a pattern of

pumpkins

 

mushrooms

peppers

their names

in clear letters

 

under circular

stains where a

cup was placed –

the action of

 

fending for yrself.

Scully’s control of verbal music is evident in, for example, the patterning of the sounds represented by the letter ‘a’ in the second quoted stanza above, which play across the variable single and double stress lines. The result is a complex simplicity that perfectly enacts the ‘sense’ of the lines.

The implications of this approach to writing are profoundly political, precisely to the extent that it avoids didacticism. In the note in Icarus, Scully speculates that the book-in-progress to which all these texts belong ‘might be about “power”. But I don’t know yet.’ There is a cliché in wide circulation that art (and everything else) should ‘speak truth to power’, as if truth were that simple and that power didn’t know it. The indeterminacy of Scully’s approach is, I believe, ultimately more effective. The business of poetry is to explore questions, not present answers. Scully’s restless art does this better than most.

Alicia Jane Sparrow: Irish Woman Poet

Alicia Jane Sparrow (? – 1858) was born in Killabeg, Enniscorthy, Wexford and apparently died at a relatively early age. She published widely in journals and anthologies in Ireland, the UK and the USA. The Exile’s Lament appeared in Friendship’s Offering, and Winter’s Wreath: a Christmas and New Year’s Present, which was published in London in 1844.

THE EXILE’S FAREWELL

Farewell to the shore where my father is sleeping!

Oh, sweet and unbroken his rest may it be!

Farewell to the home where my mother is weeping

Her first-born — her dearest — alas! alien me!

Far away from the friends whom I loved in my childhood.

Estranged from the hearts that I clung to of yore,

I will seek me a rest in the desert or wild-wood.

And my country and kindred shall see me no more!

Margaret Corrigan: Irish Woman Poet

I have been unable to discover anything about Margaret Corrigan apart from a single poem that was first published in the August 1941 issue of The Bell and then reprinted in an anthology of poems from that magazine, Irish Poems of Today, edited by Geoffrey Taylor, which was published by the Irish People’s Press in 1944.

A Farmer in Hospital

Between white sheets he lies, a withered leaf.
Between white pages of compressing book.
He, who, at morn, had walked mist-silvered hills,
And felt the soft white dewy wool of sheep,
And shook them free from flesh-consuming pests,
Receiving thankfulness from their mild eyes.
Now, nevermore, his heavy boots shall sink
Into the deep brown earth when he, earth’s midwife,
Opens earth’s pregnant womb for fruitfulness.
No more on frosty nights with yellow lamp
Swinging from cold red hands
He’ll see the warm white breath of sleeping cows
Take ghostly shape among the byre shadows;
He striding on from cow to cow in dread
Lest pain of calfbirth pierce them unawares.
Lamp lighting glosses on their broad smooth backs.
Nor shall he hear again resounding sound
Of horn and bay of hounds when he, as he
Swings to the motion of the swinging horse,
Blood-lust aflame, all thoughts on one thought bent,
Chases the gaunt red terror-stricken fox.
No more, at dawn, alone in wakefulness,
Striding the fields in quest of lambing sheep,
He’ll see the gold brooms of the rising sun
Sweeping the hilltops clear of the nightly dew.
And feel dark surges of unbidden joy
Pour round his heart an ecstasy of pain.
These things are passed. In narrow bed he lies,
Watching through glass a small square patch of blue,
A flick of cloud, pale smoke, and many roofs:
Seeing at times one breathless snatch of green
Beating a moment at his window pane —
The waving of a solitary branch
Uplifted from a solitary tree:
Then turns away his head and feels the ache
Of things remembered, and cold pain of loss,
And pants to know again the cool damp earth,
And seeks a long reunion in the grave.

Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill: Irish Woman Poet

Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill (?1743-?1800) was born in Derrynane, Co. Kerry. She was the aunt of Daniel O’Connell. Her great poem Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire is a lament for her murdered second husband. It has been frequently translated into English, including versions by Eleanor Hull, Frank O’Connor and Thomas Kinsella.

Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire

B’fhéidir gur aithris Eibhlín na dréachtaí seo os cionn an choirp i gCarraig an Ime.

Mo ghrá go daingean tu!
Lá dá bhfaca thu
ag ceann tí an mhargaidh,
thug mo shúil aire dhuit,
thug mo chroí taitnearnh duit,
d’éalaíos óm charaid leat
i bhfad ó bhaile leat.

Is domhsa nárbh aithreach:
Chuiris parlús á ghealadh dhom,
rúrnanna á mbreacadh dhom,
bácús á dheargadh dhom,
brící á gceapadh dhom,
rósta ar bhearaibh dom,
mairt á leagadh dhom;
codladh i gclúmh lachan dom
go dtíodh an t-eadartha
nó thairis dá dtaitneadh liorn.

Mo chara go daingean tu!
is cuimhin lem aigne
an lá breá earraigh úd,
gur bhreá thiodh hata dhuit
faoi bhanda óir tarraingthe;
claíomh cinn airgid,
lámh dheas chalma,
rompsáil bhagarthach –
fír-chritheagla
ar námhaid chealgach –
tú i gcóir chun falaracht
is each caol ceannann fút.
D’umhlaídís Sasanaigh
síos go talamh duit,
is ní ar mhaithe leat
ach le haon-chorp eagla,
cé gur leo a cailleadh tu,
a mhuirnín mh’anama….

Mo chara thu go daingean!
is nuair thiocfaidh chúgham abhaile
Conchúr beag an cheana
is Fear Ó Laoghaire, an leanbh,
fiafróid díom go tapaidh
cár fhágas féin a n-athair.
‘Neosad dóibh faoi mhairg
gur fhágas i gCill na Martar.
Glaofaid siad ar a n-athair,
is ní bheidh sé acu le freagairt….

Mo chara thu go daingean!
is níor chreideas riamh dod mharbh
gur tháinig chúgham do chapall
is a srianta léi go talamh,
is fuil do chroí ar a leacain
siar go t’iallait ghreanta
mar a mbítheá id shuí ‘s id sheasarnh.
Thugas léim go tairsigh,
an dara léim go geata,
an triú léim ar do chapall.

Do bhuaileas go luath mo bhasa
is do bhaineas as na reathaibh
chomh maith is bhí séagam,
go bhfuaras romham tu marbh
Cois toirín ísil aitinn,
gan Pápa gan easpag,
gan cléireach gan sagart
do léifeadh ort an tsailm,
ach seanbhean chríonna chaite
do leath ort binn dá fallaing —
do chuid fola leat ‘na sraithibh;
is níor fhanas le hí ghlanadh
ach í ól suas lem basaibh.

Mo ghrá thu go daingean!
is érigh suas id sheasamh
is tar liom féin abhaile,
go gcuirfeam mairt á leagadh,
go nglaofam ar chóisir fhairsing,
go mbeidh againn ceol á spreagadh,
go gcóireod duitse leaba
faoi bhairlíní geala,
faoi chuilteanna breátha breaca,
a bhainfidh asat alias
in ionad an fhuachta a ghlacais.

II

Nuair a shroich deirfiúr Airt (ó Chorcaigh) teach an tórraimh in aice Mhaigh Chromtha, fuair sí, de réir an tseanchais, Eibhlín roimpi sa leaba. Seo roinnt den bhriatharchath a bhí eatarthu.

Deirfiúr Airt:
Mo chara is mo stór tú
is mó bean chumtha chórach
ó Chorcaigh na. seolta
go Droichead na Tóime,
do tabharfadh macha mór bó dhuit
agus dorn buí-óir duit,
ná raghadh a chodladh ‘na seomra
oíche do thórraimh.

Eibhlín Dhubh:

Mo chara is m’ uan tú!
is ná creid sin uathu,
ná an cogar a fuarais,
ná an scéal fir fuatha,
gur a chodladh a chuas-sa.
Níor throm suan dom:
ach bhí do linbh ró-bhuartha,
‘s do theastaigh sé uathu
iad a chur chun suaimhnis.

A dhaoine na n-ae istigh,
‘bhfuil aon bhean in Éirinn,
ó luí na gréine,
a shínfeadh a taobh leis,
do bhéarfadh trí lao dho,
ná raghadh le craobhacha
i ndiaidh Airt Uí Laoghaire
atá anso traochta
ó mhaidin inné agam?…

M’fhada-chreach léan-ghoirt
ná rabhas-sa taobh leat
nuair lámhadh an piléar leat,
go ngeobhainn é im thaobh dheas
nó i mbinn mo léine,
is go léigfinn cead slé’ leat
a mharcaigh na ré-ghlac

Deirfiúr Airt:
Mo chreach ghéarchúiseach
ná rabhas ar do chúlaibh
nuair lámhadh an púdar,
go ngeobhainn é im chom dheas
nó i mbinn mo ghúna,
is go léigfinn cead siúil leat
a mharcaigh na súl nglas,
ós tú b’fhearr léigean chucu.
III

Cuireann Eibhlín a mórtas as a fear céile in iúl go lánphoiblí sna dréachtaí seo. B’fhéidir gur aithris si an méid seo tar éis don chorp a bheith rétithe le haghaidh an adhlactha.

Eibhlín Dhubh:

Mo chara thu is mo, shearc-mhaoin!
Is gránna an cháir a chur ar ghaiscíoch
comhra agus caipín,
ar mharcach an dea-chroí
a bhiodh ag iascaireacht ar ghlaisíbh
agus ag ól ar hallaíbh
i bhfarradh mná na ngeal-chíoch.
Mo mhíle mearaí
mar a chailleas do thaithí.

Greadadh chúghat is díth
á Mhorris ghránna an fhill!
á bhain díom fear mo thí,
athair mo, leanbh gan aois:
dís acu ag siúl an tí,
‘s an tríú duine acu istigh im chlí,
agus is dócha ná cuirfead diom.

Mo chara thu is mo thaitneamh!
Nuair ghabhais amach an geata
d’fhillis ar ais go tapaidh,
do phógais do dhís leanbh,
do phógais mise ar bharra baise.
Dúraís, ‘A Eibhlín, éirigh id sheasamh
agus cuir do ghnó chun taisce
go luaimneach is go tapaidh.
Táimse ag fágáil an bhaile,
is ní móide go deo go gcasfainn.’
Níor dheineas dá chaint ach magadh,
mar bhíodh á rá liom go minic cheana.

Mo chara thu is mo chuid!
A mharcaigh an chlaímh ghil,
éirigh suas anois,
cuir ort do chulaith
éadaigh uasail ghlain,
cuir ort do bhéabhar dubh,
tarraing do lámhainní umat.
Siúd í in airde t’fbuip;
sin i do láir amuigh.
Buail-se an bóthar caol úd soir
mar a maolóidh romhat na toir,
mar a gcaolóidh romhat an sruth,
mar a n-umhlóidh romhat mná is fir,
má tá a mbéasa féin acu –
‘s is baolach liomsa ná fuil anois….

Mo ghrá thu is mo chumann!
‘s ní hé a bhfuair bás dem chine,
ni bás mo thriúr clainne;
ná Dónall Mór Ó Conaill,
ná Conall a bháigh an tuile,
ná bean na sé mblian ‘s fiche
do chuaigh anonn thar uisce
‘déanamh cairdeasaí le rithe –
ní hiad go lér atá agam dá ngairm,
ach Art a bhaint aréir dá bhonnaibh
ar inse Charraig an Ime!
marcach na lárach doinne
atá agam féin anso go singil —
gan éinne beo ‘na ghoire
ach mná beaga dubha an mhuilinn,
is mar bharr ar mo mhíle tubaist
gan a súiile féin ag sileadh.

Mo chara is mo lao thu!
A Airt Uí Laoghaire
Mhic Conchúir, Mhic Céadaigh,
Mhic Laoisigh Uí Laoghaire,
aniar ón nGaortha
is anoir ón gCaolchnoc,
mar a bhfásaid caora
is cnó bui ar ghéagaibh
is úlla ‘na slaodaibh
na n-am féinig.
Cárbh ionadh le héinne
dá lasadh Uíbh Laoghaire
agus Béal Atha an Ghaorthaigh
is an Uigdn naofa
i ndiaidh mharcaigh na ré-ghlac
a níodh an fiach a thraochadh
ón nGreanaigh ar saothar
nuair stadaidís caol-choin!
Is a mharcaigh na gclaon-rosc —
nó cad d’imigh aréir ort?
Óir do shíleas féinig
ni maródh an saol tu
nuair cheannaíos duit éide.

IV

Déanann deirfiúr Airt a caoineadh féin anseo. Nuair a luann sí, na mná óga a bhí mór le Art, spriúchann Eibhlín.

Deirfiúr Airt:
Mo ghrá is mo rún tu!
‘s mo ghra mo cholúr geal!
Cé ná tánag-sa chúghat-sa
is nár thugas mo thrúip liom,
nior chúis náire siúd liom
mar bhíodar i gcúngrach
i seomraí dúnta
is i gcomhraí cúnga,
is i gcodladh gan mhúscailt.
Mura mbeadh an bholgach
is an bás dorcha
is an fiabhras spotaitheach,
bheadh an marc-shlua borb san
is a srianta á gcroitheadh acu
ag déanamh fothraim
ag teacht dod shochraid
a Airt an bhrollaigh ghil….

Mo chara is mo lao thu!
Is aisling tri néallaibh
do deineadh aréir dom
i gCorcaigh go déanach
ar leaba im aonar:
gur thit ár gcúirt aolda,
cur chríon an Gaortha,
nár fhan friotal id chaol-choin
ná binneas ag éanaibh,
nuair fuaradh tu traochta
ar lár an tslé’ arnuigh,
gan sagart, gan cléireach,
ach seanbhean aosta
do leath binn dá bréid ort
nuair fuadh den chré thu,
a Airt Uí Laoghaire,
is do chuid fola ‘na slaodaibh
i mbrollach do léine.

Mo ghrá is mo rún tu!
‘s is breá thiodh súd duit,
stoca chúig dhual duit,
buatais go glúin ort,
Caroilin cúinneach,
is fuip go lúifar
ar ghillín shúgach –
is mó ainnir mhodhúil mhúinte
bhíodh ag féachaint sa chúl ort.

Eibhlín Dhubh:

Mo ghrá go daingean tu!
‘s nuair théitheá sna cathracha
daora, daingeana,
biodh mná na gceannaithe
ag umhlú go talamh duit,
óir do thuigidís ‘na n-aigne
gur bhreá an leath leaba tu,
nó an bhéalóg chapaill tu,
nó an t-athair leanbh tu.

Tá fhios ag losa Criost
ná beidh caidhp ar bhaitheas mo chinn,
ná léine chnis lem thaoibh,
ná bróg ar thrácht mo bhoinn,
ná trioscán ar fuaid mo thí,
ná srian leis an láir ndoinn,
ná caithfidh mé le dlí,
‘s go raghad anonn thar toinn
ag comhrá leis an rá,
‘s mura gcuirfidh ionam aon tsuim
go dtiocfad ar ais arís
go bodach na fola duibhe
a bhain diom féin mo mhaoin.

V

De bharr constaicí dlí, dealraionn sé nár cuireadh Art i reilig a shinsear. Cuireadh an corp go sealadach; agus cúpla mí ina dhiaidh sin, ní foldáir, aistríodh i go mainistir Chill Cré, Co. Chorcaí. B’fhéidir gur chuir Eibhlín na dréachtaí seo a leanas lena, caoineadh ar ócáid an dara adhlacadh.

Eibhlín Dhubh:

Mó ghrá thu agus mo rún!
Tá do stácaí ar a mbonn,
tá do bha buí á gcrú;
is ar mo chroí atá do chumha
ná leigheasfadh Cúige Mumhan
ná Gaibhne Oileáin na bhFionn.
Go dtiocfaidh Art Ó Laoghaire chúgham
ní scaipfidh ar mo chumha
atá i lár mo chroí á bhrú,
dúnta suas go dlúth
mar a bheadh glas a bheadh ar thrúnc
‘s go raghadh an eochair amú.

A mhná so amach ag gol
stadaidh ar bhur gcois
go nglaofaidh Art Mhac Conchúir deoch,
agus tuilleadh thar cheann na mbocht,
sula dtéann isteach don scoil —
ní ag foghlaim léinn ná port,
ach ag iompar cré agus cloch.