Monday, 16 March 2015

Day 971: Dublin


Another of A Poem for Ireland choices, this poem by Louis MacNeice is a lyrical if tentative love letter to Dublin. 

The second stanza has some of the best descriptions of Dublin I've heard - 'the glamour of her squalor...the bravado of her talk.'  Louis MacNeice was from Belfast and felt himself an outsider when in Dublin. This is reflected very much in the poem. It starts out as a hesitant ode to the capital city from  someone still trying to get their bearings in it - 'this never was my town' - but then goes on to become something more lyrical and full of a beloved wonder: 'The lights jig in the river/With a concertina movement/And the sun comes up in the morning/Like barley-sugar on the water.'  

What I like about this poem is the transformation inherent in it. Indeed, by the end we can see how Dublin has captured MacNeice's mind and heart, so much so that the 'days are soft' there and the monotonous oppressive 'grey brick upon grey brick' at the beginning of the poems has by the end become 'greyness run to flower'. That says it all really.


Dublin - Louis MacNeice

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.

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