Poem on Ballymanus Mining Disaster, 1943

On May 10th, 1943, a stray mine washed ashore in the Rosses of Donegal. What happened next is recounted in this Irish Times piece on a memorial unveiled in 1999:

Many watched the mine from the shore for several hours as it bobbed in the water. When it finally came ashore, they rushed to see what it was, despite warnings to keep clear.
Some climbed on top of it while others banged on it with stones in an attempt to crack its shell, unaware of what lay inside. Without warning, the mine exploded, killing 17 young men ranging in ages from 14 to 34, including three brothers. Two more died in hospital soon afterwards. The explosion was so loud it was heard over 40 miles away in Letterkenny.

Among those who died were two of my grand-uncles.

At the Donegal Heritage blog there is posted a poem by author unknown on the tragedy. I note that it refers to 18 deaths, not 19 (or 17) which I wonder may help with dating it.

Oh weird and wild the wail of woe now borne

Upon the startled night-winds from the west-

Deep gasps of grief and soul-sighs from men torn

By death, grim hideous unbidden guest-

From where great breakers piling on the shore

Awaken eerie echoes o’er the dunes. Fell waves!

Foul, treacherous for-ever more-

While lethal-laden, chanting […]

the rest is at The Mine at Ballymanus 1943 — Donegal Heritage

“Water”, Philip Larkin

If I were called in
To construct a religion
I should make use of water.

Going to church
Would entail a fording
To dry, different clothes.

My liturgy would employ
Images of sousing
A furious, devout drench.

And I should raise in the East
A glass of water
Where any-angled light
Would congregate endlessly.

There’s an interesting discussion here between poets A E Stalling and Daisy Fried. They rather good humouredly accuse themselves of “overthinking” at one stage, which is probably true, but there are some good insights:

Because art has many motivations and requirements which aren’t necessarily thematic. The poet wants that image. Or has some other desire more to do with aesthetics or formal necessities than with thematic content. Larkin may not have been much invested in constructing a religion at all. Poems aren’t necessarily made because we have something to get off our chests, or because we’re after a factual recording of experience. Maybe Larkin wanted to build contrast across the poem. Sousing and fording and drenching—those big-muscle, full-body actions—followed further on by the crystallization of light in water, in a contrastingly tiny vessel.

And maybe he wanted the beautiful inflection of “any-angled” and the way that multitude of angles fits into the tiny vessel. Could he have wanted everybody in the whole world who ever lived (“congregate endlessly”) also to fit in that glass?

Maybe the whole thing adds up to a simultaneously strenuous and weightless vision—and maybe that’s where the authentic experience of religion lies in this poem, or rather, an authentic desire for what religion might be. So that freshness or derivativeness of the ideas in “Water” may not be as important to Larkin as achieving the energies and contrasts in the poem, which seem to me to translate emotionally and (maybe) spiritually in a struggle both towards and away from faith.

Poems on the wind – John Hewitt, Patrick McDonagh, Wallace Stevens

From First Known When Lost:

In the meantime, we have the wind.  And poems about the wind.

Providence

White roses shatter, overblown,
by the breath of a little wind undone,
yet the same air passing scarcely stirs
the tall dark green perpetual firs.

John Hewitt, Scissors for a One-Armed Tailor: Marginal Verses 1929-1954 (1974)

“Providence” feels like a haiku:  a report on experience.  (To borrow from Edmund Blunden.)  However, a word such a “providence” would likely be avoided by a haiku poet.  Too subjective.  Of course, I am completely open to the possibility that what the wind does may well be “providence”:  I am not in any way criticizing Hewitt’s use of the word.

Hewitt, like a good haiku poet, tells us exactly what he saw.  The difference is that he gives us a hint.  A haiku poet would leave us to draw our own conclusions.  Or, better yet, would leave us to draw no conclusions at all, but only see the World as it is, or, perhaps more accurately, as the haiku poet saw it in a moment of passing time.

Enough of that.  I do not wish to create the impression that I am quibbling about “Providence”:  I think it is a lovely poem.  As is this, another poem about the wind of Ireland.

Afterpeace

This wind that howls about our roof tonight
And tears live branches screaming from great trees
Tomorrow may have scarcely strength to ruffle
The rabbit’s back to silver in the sun.

Patrick MacDonogh, Poems (edited by Derek Mahon) (The Gallery Press 2001).

Of course, poets cannot help but bring humans into their apostrophes about the wind.  Thus, for instance, they say that the wind “sighs” or “moans” or “cries.”  This is to be expected.  All poetry, all art, is an attempt to place ourselves into the World in the hope of making sense of things, however briefly.  It is not surprising that, in doing so, we see ourselves (or come upon ourselves) in the World.

Moreover, we mustn’t forget that the beautiful particulars of the World include human beings.  The wind.  People.

The Wind Shifts

This is how the wind shifts:
Like the thoughts of an old human,
Who still thinks eagerly
And despairingly.
The wind shifts like this:
Like a human without illusions,
Who still feels irrational things within her.
The wind shifts like this:
Like humans approaching proudly,
Like humans approaching angrily.
This is how the wind shifts:
Like a human, heavy and heavy,
Who does not care.

Wallace Stevens, Harmonium (Alfred A. Knopf 1923).

We are the wind and the wind is us.  The wind is us and we are the wind.

From “The Poetry of Thought”, George Steiner

We do speak about music. The verbal analysis of a musical score can, to a certain extent, elucidate its formal structure, its technical components and instrumentation. But where it is not musicology in a strict sense, where it does not resort to a “meta-language” parasitic on music – “key”, “pitch”, “syncopation” – talk about  music, oral or written, is a suspect compromise. A narration, a critique of musical performance addresses itself less to the actual sound-world than it does to the executant and the reception by the audience. It is reportage by analogy. It can say little that is substantive of the composition. A handful of brave spirits, Boethius, Rousseau, Nietzsche, Proust and Adorno among them, have sought to transfer the matter of music and its significations into words. On occasion, they have found metaphoric “counterpoints”, modes of suggestion, simulacra of considerable evocative effect (Proust on Vinteuil’s sonata). Yet even at their most seductive their semiotic virtuosities are, in the proper sense of the idiom, “beside the point.” They are derivative.

Flies Like Thoughts – Innokenty Annensky (1855-1909)

Flies Like Thoughts

 

Flies, like black thoughts, have not quit me all day … – A N Apukhtin

I’ve grown weary of sleeplessness, dreams.

Locks of hair hang over my eyes:

I would like, with the poison of rhymes,

to drug thoughts I cannot abide.

 

I would like to unravel these knots ..

Or is the whole thing a mistake?

In late autumn, the flies are such pests –

their cold wings are horribly sticky.

 

Fly-thoughts crawl about, as in dreams,

they cover the paper in black …

Oh, how dead, and how dreadful they seem …

Tear them up, burn them up – quick!

  • translated by Boris Drayluk