Extinct in Ireland, 20th September, the Woodlark

From Pádraic Fogarty‘s Whittled Away:


Formerly common along the Eastern counties, it had disappeared as a breeding bird by the start of the twentieth century.

Gerald Manley Hopkins attempted to turn the Woodcock’s song into verse:

Teevo cheevo cheevio chee:
O where, what can tháat be?
Weedio-weedio: there again!
So tiny a trickle of sóng-strain;
And all round not to be found
For brier, bough, furrow, or gréen ground
Before or behind or far or at hand
Either left either right
Anywhere in the súnlight.
Well, after all! Ah but hark—
‘I am the little wóodlark.

I am a big fan of Hopkins, but this does not strike me as one of his more successful efforts. Robert Burns made a more successful job of his Address To the Woodlark:

O stay, sweet warbling woodlark, stay,
Nor quit for me the trembling spray,
A hapless lover courts thy lay,
Thy soothing, fond complaining.
Again, again that tender part,
That I may catch thy melting art;
For surely that wad touch her heart
Wha kills me wi’ disdaining.
Say, was thy little mate unkind,
And heard thee as the careless wind?
Oh, nocht but love and sorrow join’d,
Sic notes o’ woe could wauken!
Thou tells o’ never-ending care;
O’speechless grief, and dark despair:
For pity’s sake, sweet bird, nae mair!
Or my poor heart is broken.

However, spoilsport Wikipedia suggests that Burns may have been writing about the wrong bird:

The Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote of the bird’s “melting art” in his poem “To the Woodlark”.[17] As there are currently no woodlarks in Scotland, and Burns never travelled south of Carlisle, many have speculated that Burns never came in contact with the bird and was in fact writing about the tree pipit, which was commonly referred to as the woodlark in Scotland.[18] The woodlark’s song is also thought to be melodious[11] while Burns’ poem has an “underlying sense of grief” which may be attributed to the languishing notes at the end of the tree pipit’s song.[18][19] However, the woodlark has been spotted in Scotland on occasion[20] and it is possible that Burns was writing about this bird. This is backed up by the entry of a minister from Clinic, Perthshire in the Old Statistical Account, which reads “The notes of the wood-lark are heard, delightful along the banks of the Lunan in spring and autumn; its nocturnal song has a dying cadence peculiarly melodious and has often been mistaken for the song of the Philomel [nightingale].”[18][21]


“The most prosaic man becomes a poem when you stand by his grave at his funeral and think of him.”

“The most prosaic man becomes a poem when you stand by his grave at his funeral and think of him.”

I came across the above quote from Thomas Hardy’s notebooks via the latest post on Stephen Pentz’s blog First Known When Lost

Pentz highlights a poem by F T Prince inspired by this aphorism:

Last Poem

Stand at the grave’s head
Of any common
Man or woman,
Thomas Hardy said,
And in the silence
What they were,
Their life, becomes a poem.

And so with my dead,
As I know them
Now, in his
And her
Long silences;
And wait for, yet a while hence,
My own silence.

F. T. Prince (1912-2003), Collected Poems: 1935-1992 (The Sheep Meadow Press 1993).

Pentz remarks on Prince’s twist on Hardy’ “prosaic”, changed to “common.” Perhaps for metrical or musical reasons? Hardy’s observation captures exactly a feeling I have long had, as some of my graveyard focused posts might suggest.

So here are some gravestones… as you do.






A prayer of gratitude for creation – Fiona Murdoch, Eco-Congregation Ireland

A prayer of gratitude for creation – Fiona Murdoch, Eco-Congregation Ireland

On the Irish Franciscan’s Praying Nature page,  there is a section of “eco prayers”:

A Franciscan presence and spirit requires living a way of life that cherishes Gospel values as St. Francis understood them. Francis tried to live as Christ lived, especially as peacemaker, as one in solidarity with the poor, as living lightly on the earth and as a brother to all creatures. Franciscan presence and spirit is also about prayer especially prayers of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for His love, for the gift of life and for the world we inhabit. The word ‘eco’ derives from the Greek word oikos meaning ‘house’, and so eco-prayers could mean house prayers or prayers for the world, our house in this life.

Here is a prayer of gratitude for creation by Fiona Murdoch of Eco-Congregation Ireland:

God of the universe,

We thank You for Your many good gifts –

For the beauty of Creation and its rich and varied fruits,

For clean water and fresh air, for food and shelter, animals and plants.
Forgive us for the times we have taken the earth’s resources

for granted

And wasted what You have given us.

Transform our hearts and minds

So that we would learn to care and share,

To touch the earth with gentleness and with love,

Respecting all living things.
We pray for all those who suffer as a result of our waste,

greed and indifference,

And we pray that the day would come when everyone has enough

food and clean water.

Help us to respect the rights of all people and all species

And help us to willingly share your gifts

Today and always. Amen.

A resting blessing from the Carmina Gadelica

From Alexander Carmichael’s collection of the Scottish oral tradition Carmina Gadelica , a resting blessing


AN ainm an Tighearn Iosa,
Agus Spiorad ìocshlain aigh,
An ainm Athar Israil,
Sinim sios gu tamh.

Ma tha musal na dusal,
Na run air bith dhomh ’n dan,
Dhia fuasgail orm is cuartaich orm,
Is fuadaich uam mo namh.

An ainm Athar priseil,
Is Spiorad iocshlain aigh,
An ainm Tighearn Iosa,
Sinim sios gu tamh.
*         *         *         *
Dhia, cobhair mi is cuartaich mi,
O ’n uair ’s gu uair mo bhais.


IN name of the Lord Jesus,
And of the Spirit of healing balm,
In name of the Father of Israel,
I lay me down to rest.

If there be evil threat or quirk,
Or covert act intent on me,
God free me and encompass me,
And drive from me mine enemy.

In name of the Father precious,
And of the Spirit of healing balm,
In name of the Lord Jesus,
I lay me down to rest.
*         *         *         *
God, help me and encompass me,
From this hour till the hour of my death.

Non-Binary Review call for submissions on Dante’s Inferno (deadline 24th Oct 2018)

More info here:

NonBinary Review is a quarterly digital literary journal that joins poetry, fiction, essays, and art around each issue’s theme. We invite  authors to explore each theme in any way that speaks to them: re-write a  familiar story from a new point of view, mash genres together, give us a  personal essay about some aspect of our theme that has haunted you all  your life. We also invite art that will accompany the literature. All submissions must have a clear and obvious relationship to some specific aspect of the source text (a character, episode, or setting). Submissions only related by a vague, general, thematic similarity are unlikely to be accepted.

We are open to submissions which relate to Dante Alighieri’s 14-century epic poem The Inferno, which you can find herePlease bear in mind that we’re looking for pieces that relate to the BOOK ONLY. References movies or television shows will not be accepted.

Submissions which do not tie into the plots or make use of characters/settings from the book WILL NOT be considered–there needs to be a clear connection to the source material. 

We want language that makes us reach for a dictionary or a tissue or  both. Words in combinations and patterns that leave the faint of heart a  little dizzy.

Chicken Words and Chicken Music : BBC Radio 3’s “Hey, Little Hen” – featuring Christina Rosetti, Edward Lear, Gary Whitehead, Elizabeth Bishop, Henry Vaughan

I used to quite enjoy BBC Radio 3’s “Words and Music” programme on a Sunday evening. Driving through Northern Ireland allowed me to listen to it again after a bit of a hiatus (yes, I know the internet means that this is a bit absurd, but still..)

Today’s edition was on the initially unlikely-seeming theme of chickens . 

Initially unlikely, as it turns out there is a rich seam of chicken (and egg) related works, as a listen to the programme via the link above should reveal.


I was expecting P G Wodehouse’s Love Among the Chickens,  but the other literary selections were pretty much new ones on me (though I kinda knew there would be some Ted Hughes. There was the deceptive simplicity of Christina Rossetti’s A White Hen Sitting:

A white hen sitting
On white eggs three:
Next, three speckled chickens
As plump as plump can be.
An owl, and a hawk,
And a bat come to see:
But chicks beneath their mother’s wing
Squat safe as safe can be.

There is the whimsy (with a bit of depth, for once) of Edward Lear’s O Brother Chicken! Sister Chick!:

O Brother Chicken! Sister Chick!
O gracious me! O my!
This broken Eggshell was my home!
I see it with my eye!

However did I get inside? Or how did I get out?
And must my life be evermore, an atmosphere of doubt?

Can no one tell? Can no one solve, this mystery of Eggs?
Or why we chirp and flap our wings,—or why we’ve all two legs?

And since we cannot understand,—
May it not seem to me,
That we were merely born by chance,
Egg-nostics for to be?

OK, that is an awful pun … which confirms my iffyness re Lear. Moving on to more contemporary work, here is Gary Whitehead’s A Glossary of Chickens (which opens the programme):

There should be a word for the way

they look with just one eye, neck bent,

for beetle or worm or strewn grain.

Gleaning,” maybe, between “gizzard”and “grit.”

And for the way they run

toward someone they trust, their skirts

hiked, their plump bodies wobbling:

“bobbling,” let’s call it, inserted

after “blowout” and before “bloom.”

There should be terms, too, for things

they do not do—like urinate or chew—

but perhaps there already are.

I’d want a word for the way

they drink,head thrown back,

throat wriggling,like an old woman swallowing

a pill; a word beginning with “S,”

coming after “sex feather” and before “shank.”

And one for the sweetness of hens

but not roosters. We think

that by naming we can understand,

as if the tongue were more than muscle.

Elizabeth Bishop’s “Roosters” is too long to fully quote here… so here is  selected excerpt (the show also excerpted it at more length than here):

At four o’clock
in the gun-metal blue dark
we hear the first crow of the first cock
just below
the gun-metal blue window
and immediately there is an echo
off in the distance,
then one from the backyard fence,
then one, with horrible insistence,
grates like a wet match
from the broccoli patch,
flares, and all over town begins to catch.
Cries galore
come from the water-closet door,
from the dropping-plastered henhouse floor,
where in the blue blur
their rustling wives admire,
the roosters brace their cruel feet and glare
with stupid eyes
while from their beaks there rise
the uncontrolled, traditional cries.
Deep from protruding chests
in green-gold medals dressed,
planned to command and terrorize the rest,
the many wives
who lead hens’ lives
of being courted and despised;
deep from raw throats
a senseless order floats
all over town. A rooster gloats
over our beds
from rusty iron sheds
and fences made from old bedsteads,
over our churches
where the tin rooster perches,
over our little wooden northern houses,
making sallies
from all the muddy alleys,
marking out maps like Rand McNally’s:
glass-headed pins,
oil-golds and copper greens,
anthracite blues, alizarins,
each one an active
displacement in perspective;
each screaming, “This is where I live!”
Finally, poetry-wise, Henry Vaughan’s Cock-Crowing.  There is an unexpected spiritual and near-erotic charge to this poem, which concludes:
Only this veil which Thou hast broke,
And must be broken yet in me,
This veil, I say, is all the cloak
And cloud which shadows Thee from me.
This veil Thy full-eyed love denies,
And only gleams and fractions spies.

O take it off! make no delay;
But brush me with Thy light that I
May shine unto a perfect day,
And warm me at Thy glorious eye!
O take it off, or till it flee,
Though with no lily, stay with me!

As for the music, I did expect Haydn’s Hen Symphony and There Ain’t No Body Here But Us Chickens… the rest however was a pleasant surprise.

“Sibhse ghabhas tríomsa, cuiridh uaibh gach dóchas” – Dante’s Divine Comedy as Gaeilge

“Sibhse ghabhas tríomsa, cuiridh uaibh gach dóchas” – Dante’s Divine Comedy as Gaeilge

Recently I acquired a copy of Padráig de Brún’s translation into Irish of “Inferno”. de Brún translated the whole Divine Comedy. The fly jacket of my copy states that “it is hoped to publish the remaining two volumes … in the future”

My thanks to Seán Mac Labhrai for getting me this book. de Brún was one of those polymathic clergymen who are now oft-forgotten. Born in Grangemockler, Co Tipperary, near the Kilkenny border and a place I drive through every day on the way to work, de Brún also wrote the well known poem “Tháinig long ó Valparaiso” (or rather translated Oliver St John Gogarty’s “The Ship”, a translation which improved on the original), known to to generations of Irish school children. Or at least it was known.

Anyhow, while had I world enough and time typing out Monsignor de Brún’s translation canto by canto would be a pleasure, it may not be possible. So I will give a taster which includes the best known line of the Inferno, if not the whole Comedy – abandon all hope ye who enter here.

This comes at the beginning of Canto 3 – a sort of invocation inscribed on the entrance to the “città dolente” of the underworld. In the original, the lines are :

Per me si va ne la città dolente,
per me si va ne l’etterno dolore,
per me si va tra la perduta gente.

Giustizia mosse il mio alto fattore;
fecemi la divina podestate,
la somma sapïenza e ’l primo amore.

Dinanzi a me non fuor cose create
se non etterne, e io etterno duro.
Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate’.

de Brún:

“Is tríom a trialltar ar an gcathair mhairgneach
Is tríom a trialltar ar an dólás síoraí
Is tríom a trialltar ar an gcine damanta.

An Ceart a chuir mo Dhúileamh tréan ag gníomhú;
Do rinne an tAthair mór lena uile-chomhact mé
‘S an Eagna is aoirde réim is toil an Phríomh-ghrá.

Éinní dár cruthaíodh riamh ní raibh ann romhamsa
Ach rudaí síorai; is buan go síoraíocht siar mé:
Síbhse ghabgas tríoma, cuiridh uaibh gach dóchas”

From the Columbia Digital Dante page linked to above, here are the English translations, firstly of Mandelbaum:




and of Longfellow:

THROUGH me the way is to the city dolent;
Through me the way is to eternal dole;
Through me the way among the people lost.

Justice incited my sublime Creator;
Created me divine Omnipotence,
The highest Wisdom and the primal Love.

Before me there were no created things,’03
Only eterne, and I eternal last.
All hope abandon, ye who enter in !”

Rather poignantly, my copy is ex libris St Malachy’s College Library, 36 Antrim Road, Belfast and seems never to have been taken out :

Finally an amusing aside from this 2016 review by Tim Parks of a life of Dante
. After the article proper, we have these two letters:

Vol. 38 No. 15 · 28 July 2016

Tim Parks begins his piece on Dante by asking how the Divine Comedy would have fared these days, when if you ‘put real people in a work of fiction … you immediately face libel and privacy issues’ (LRB, 14 July). That reminded me of the time when in a pleasant Chester-le-Street bookshop (no longer in existence) I was offered a paperback translation of Inferno which assured me that it was a work of fiction containing no reference to actual persons living or dead. Some time later I bought Ciaran Carson’s translation of Inferno on the basis of a killer sales pitch that it was ‘the first ever version by an Irish poet’.

George Schlesinger

Vol. 38 No. 17 · 8 September 2016

George Schlesinger fell for an over enthusiastic sales pitch (Letters, 28 July). Ciaran Carson’s translation of Dante’s Inferno wasn’t ‘the first ever version by an Irish poet’. The Irish cleric and poet Henry Boyd published his version in 1785 (and then added the Purgatorio and the Paradiso some years later).

Peter Jackson

Of course, between Boyd and Carson, there was de Brún.