Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Greenfire Surge

—Anonymous Photos of the Irish Coast
—Poems by Tom Goff, Carmichael, CA


The soaking rains of mid-March,
lavished on us too late,
or almost, upon the parch
of all February, the pate
of the summit unwigged by snow.
Drydock, once white oceandrift.
The belated ice-storm may blow,
moist powder may poultice the rift.
Lovemaking edge-whetted by guilt
for desertion, months trickled away.
No heaping of sweet bright silt
will fully atone—or allay
the resentments kept warm by raw stone
too long frostless, iceless, alone. 

 Cobh, County Cork


For the Irish Rebels
             (on Terry Golway’s For the Cause of Liberty:
             A Thousand Years of Ireland’s Heroes)

At last, an Irish history simple to read
yet shrewd about that radical craziness
that had to spout if Ireland was to bleed
almost to bleeding out, then win: excess
from all the soldiery and statesmen brave:
The O’Neill, Wolfe Tone, Robert Emmett, Pádraig Pearse,
Grattan, the insane sane who would not slave:
such Michaels and Josephs and Dermots voiced and fierce
died changing the title laborer for martyr;
better than break-even trade in the blood barter.
Eloquent, too, the account of Gonne; and Yeats
and Augusta Gregory whose plays—debates—
fueled theater, sparked much greenfire surge.
The harpist’s banner, the sunder-from-England urge…

Balance of Terror
             (on the Easter Rising, 1916)

In “Shells at Oranmore,” poet Dermot O’Byrne*
talks not of seashells gleaned upon soft strands
of beach, but shells from naval guns that churn
stone into slurry and slag, steel firebrands
bombarding Irish coastline, English-tossed,
chaos-clatter, blood streaks everywhere
these imprecise war-dogs sniff out the lost,
doomed long before the first-launched scorched the air.
Words like “an insolence winged across the sun,”
or “Never before had such a song been sung”:
Strangely construed—lines on the barbarity
of British howitzers read today as if
praising Irish defiance. The sulfur whiff
taints all, it’s true—wee small disparity.

*Dermot O’Byrne was British composer Arnold Bax

 Part of The Ring of Kerry


O write it up above your hearth
And troll it out to sun and moon,
To all true Irishmen on earth
Arrest and death come late or soon.

Some boy-o whistled Ninety-eight*
One Sunday night in College Green,
And such a broth of love and hate
Was stirred ere Monday morn was late
As Dublin town had never seen.

And god-like forces shocked and shook
Through Irish hearts that lively day,
And hope it seemed no ill could brook.
Christ! for that liberty they took
There was the ancient deuce to pay!

The deuce in all his bravery,
His girth and gall grown no whit less,
He swarmed in from the fatal sea
With pomp of huge artillery
And brass and copper haughtiness.

He cracked up all the town with guns
That roared loud psalms to fire and death,
And houses hailed down granite tons
To smash our wounded underneath.

And when at last the golden bell
Of liberty was silenced—then
He learned to shoot extremely well
At unarmed Irish gentlemen!

Ah! Where were Michael and gold Moll
And Seumas and my drowsy self?
Why did fate blot us from the scroll?
Why were we left upon the shelf,

Fooling with trifles in the dark
When the light struck so wild and hard?
Sure our hearts were as good a mark
For Tommies up before the lark
At rifle practice in the yard!

Well, the last fire is trodden down,
Our dead are rotting fast in lime,
We all can sneak back into town,
Stravague about as in old time,

And stare at gaps of grey and blue
Where Lower Mount Street used to be,
And where flies hum round muck we knew
For Abbey Street and Eden Quay.

And when the devil’s made us wise
Each in his own peculiar hell,
With desert hearts and drunken eyes
We’re free to sentimentalize
By corners where the martyrs fell.

          —Dermot O’Byrne
A Dublin Ballad and Other Poems,
             The Candle Press, Dublin, 1918.
             (Suppressed by the British censor in Ireland.)

*Ninety-eight = referring to the popular Irish ballad
which begins “Who fears to speak of Ninety-eight,”
composed to commemorate the brief Irish uprising of 1798.

 Irish Surfers

(Arnold Bax, Third Piano Sonata, second movement)

For this brief “idyll, calm and broad in design,”
the splendid visions blend in one fine tune,
G major, sky-incising a perfumed line
by which we follow (yet can’t follow soon
even so apt a guide) into That World,
an Avalon, a Celtic Otherrealm,
all shifting greens, rose-violets cloud-enfurled,
bliss veiled most mournfully behind yew and elm
—then enharmonic pivot on that same G

to E-flat major solace: tears will stand,
eyelashes brim yet hold. Consolingly
the hymnal sings to us; as Ireland
need never blush for its more “ordinary”
velvets, russets, nevertheless a blush
tinges the maiden sky cheek: virgin Kerry?
Mortal contentment, ample summer hush
—but oh yes, there’s one volatile storm-clad moment
for even that gentlest melodic germ to foment.
So be it. Sing again, hymnal, make no hurry
—time enough to remount this music’s fury.

                           —St. Patrick’s Day 2018 

Today’s LittleNip:

You that would judge me, do not judge alone this book or that, come to this hallowed place where my friends’ portraits hang and look thereon; Ireland's history in their lineaments trace; think where man’s glory most begins and ends and say my glory was I had such friends.

—William Butler Yeats


Our thanks to Tom Goff today for his fine poems! For “17 of the Most Beautiful Quotes from Irish Writers”, go to For more about The Ring of Kerry, go to

Speaking of Irish writers, Medusa has had them on her mind lately, with SnakePal Eamonn Stewart last Friday, and a new Pal—Steve Denehan—coming up next week, and now Tom's musings on same. Watch the Kitchen for plenty of green.


 Bunnies in the Green (Note Shamrocks)
(Celebrate poetry from around the world!)

Photos in this column can be enlarged by clicking on them once,
then click on the X in the top right corner to come back
to Medusa.