“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.







“Be Still”, Agnes Hunt RHSM – poem in Glencomeragh, Co Waterford.

“Be Still”, Agnes Hunt RHSM – poem in Glencomeragh, Co Waterford.

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I have posted photos of Glencomeragh in February and photos of Glencomeragh in August. Glencomeragh was a Rosminian retreat centre near Kilsheelan (which is in Tipperary, but Glencomeragh is across the Suir in Waterford) which has more recently been home to the Holy Family Mission.

This poem is on a slightly faded board near Glen Falls, at the end of a boardwalk. On the other side of the board there is another poem I will perhaps post sometimes. The slideshow above shows each stanza as it is laid out on the board. This is just beside Glen Falls:


Agnes Hunt is the winner of the 2012 Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty Humanitarian Award for her work for the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas:

The grounds for the Award were quoted as follows: Agnes was the first woman to be appointed to the chaplaincy in a male prison in England, 34 years ago; she continues to keep contact with long term prisoners up to the present time and she was nominated due to her commitment and empathy towards prisoners abroad and their families at home.


Anyhow, here is the poem:


Be still –

In fair Glencomeragh

where mighty oaks

from tiny acorns grow.

Majestic trees

Whose silent roots

Nourish with sap

The life of branch and shoot.


Be still – where willows droop

to kiss their image

in a shady pool

and water lilies

raise their heads

to glimpse the playful petals

on a dappled bed.


Be still –

where mountain streams

cascading from the heights

glint gold and silver,

as the rising sun,

lights up their daybreak dance

and with a sunkist blessing

sends them on their way

to dance their mirthful dance.


Be still –

where pond on pond

pour out their waters

in a joyful bond.

And passing pilgrims

on their earthbound way

atop a footbridge

are inspired to pray


Be still –

where standing stones

rise stately from the earth,

statue-like and solid

as the rocks

that gave them birth.

Keeping vigil night

and morn

firm ‘gainst sun and wind and storm.


Be still-

Praise God

For lordly oak

For drooping willow

For stately standing stones

For dappled ponds

For blessed abundance.

Be still,

in fair Glencomeragh.

For the heart of God

is beating all around.

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“The knowledge of a raven’s head” – Celtic language T-Shirts from Mireog, Ring, Waterford

“The knowledge of a raven’s head” – Celtic language T-Shirts from Mireog, Ring, Waterford


I recently came across Mireog, a company based in Ring, Co Waterford . I first came across their T-shirts  but they have a whole range of products.

More info on Mireog:

 Mireog is run by illustrator Shona Shirley Macdonald and artist and educator Ciaran O Nuallain. We design and handprint our products in our studio in Ring, Co. Waterford, and our greeting cards are digitally printed in Ireland.
Living in the Gaeltacht we started up Mireog with the aim of promoting the Irish language by creating unique designs in Irish and other Celtic languages, much inspired by folklore, the natural environment, and also the language itself.
Running a sustainable and environmentally friendly business is also very important to us, and so we print onto organic cotton EarthPositive t-shirts, manufactured solely using sustainable energy. Our tea towels are Fairtrade organic cotton, and our notebooks are made in Ireland from 100% recycled paper.

I can vouch that their T-shirts are also very comfy! I was particularly drawn to this raven design:


There is a red version on the Mireog page, and my T-shirt is grey (my phone is recalcitrant in not charging, so I can’t inflict my own photos on you) Here is the explanation of the words from the website:

This raven design includes the Scottish Gaelic saying ‘Tha fios fithich agad’ and the Irish translation ‘Fios cionn fiagh’, which means, ‘you have the knowledge of a raven’s head’ or just ‘the knowledge of a raven’s head’.

The t-shirt comes in a handsome box cardboard box with a bit more info:


This raven design includes the Scottish Gaelic saying ‘Tha fios fithich agad’ and a simiilar Irish version,  ‘Fios cionn fiagh’, meaning, just ‘the knowledge of a raven’s head’.

The raven is known for its intelligence, and across cultures features heavily in myth and folklore. There is a tale from the Scottish Hebrides that to give a child its first drink from the skull of a raven grants the child the gift of wisdom and prophecy. In Celtic and Norse myth ravens are associated with many deities, including The Irish Triple Goddess, the Morrigan who could turn into a raven, as well as The Cailleach, ‘Hag of Winter”, from Scottish folklore. Odin was also said to have had two ravens Huginn and Muninn, who brought him news of Midgard.

However the raven is also associated with battle and death, as they eat carrion and would have been a common sight on a desolate battle ground. This has earned them their sinister reputation and mythic status, as prophetic messengers of the other world.

I drew on these varying aspects of raven lore in my story “Lackendarra”  , most of which was set not too far away at all from Ring. Here is a video on the real Lackendarra Jim:

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/88099742″>Lackendarra</a&gt; from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user10104938″>Tom Fitzpatrick</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

A while back I did a post on songs about corvids. Disappointingly, the YouTube link there for the hammy Lou Reed / Willem Defoe version of Poe’s “The Raven” is broken …. but here is another:












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.

“The Faber Popular Reciter”, Introduction by Kingsley Amis

In a letter of 12 August 1977 to Robert Conquest, Kingsley Amis wrote:

The Faber Book of Non-Trendy Verse has been easier and is going faster: a careful look through the Dict of Quots took me most of the way, then hymnals and old-fashioned anthologies.

“The Faber Book of Non-Trendy Verse” is The Faber Popular Reciter, edited and introduced by Amis (the “Dict of Quots” is the dictionary of quotations; obvious to most readers no doubt, but I was initially thrown!) Here is the blurb, which along with the Conquest letter quote, gives a good sense of the thing:

I have never quite taken to Martin, but the elder Amis is an interesting figure. I previously noted his judgments, too easy to dismiss as crustily reactionary, can be surprising. “Stanley and the Women” contains, amongst other things, one of the best, most realistic and least sentimental portrayals of schizophrenia in a novel. Anthony Powell commented of him that “his hatred of pretension was itself a form of pretension.”

His introduction to The Faber Popular Reciter is a splendid, at times tendentious, always interesting little essay in its own right. There are few poems I can think of since the 1930s that could possibly be considered recitation pieces in Amis’ terms (as opposed to poetry reading performances) – perhaps Heaney’s “Mid-Term Break.” As the book is out of print and I cannot find any trace of this introduction online, I have taken the liberty of reproducing it in full below.

The book itself is a splendid collection of splendid, and very non-trendy (to the degree they may have a trendiness of their own again) poems. There are five Wordsworth poems, despite Amis’ words below. There are two Yeats, the Lake Isle of Inisfree which I would expect and Easter 1916, which I wouldn’t (I would have thought The Second Coming, or The Ballad of Father Gilligan, or many others, were more recitation pieces…. but a terrible beauty is born is a great phrase I suppose)

When I was a schoolboy before the Second World War, the majority of the poems in this book were too well known to be worth reprinting. If they were not in one anthology they were in a couple of others; they were learned by heart and recited in class, or performed as turns at grown-up gatherings; they were sung in church or chapel or on other public occasions. Some were set as texts for classical translation, an exercise that gives you insight hard to achieve by other means: the fact, noted by my fellow and me, that Mrs Hemans’ ‘Graves of a Household’ went into Latin elegiacs with exceptional ease encourages a second look at that superficially superficial piece.

Most of that, together with much else, has gone. I suppose hymns are still sung here and there, classical verses written and – another way of gaining insight – poems learned by heart and recited. But in any real sense the last could only happen in school, as part of an academic discipline. Any adult who commits a poem to memory does so for personal satisfaction; if he utters it in company he does so to share it with like-minded friends (or as a harmless means of showing off), and as one who quotes, not as one who recites.

I should be sorry, the, if readers of this book were to be confined to those in search of material for what we usually understand by recitation. ‘Reciter’ is a nineteenth-century term used here for a collection of characteristically nineteenth-century objects: poems that sound well and go well when spoken in a declamatory style, a style very far indeed removed from any of those to be found at that (alas!) characteristically twentieth-century occasion, the poetry recital, with all its exhibitionism and sheer bad art. If recitation has died out in the family circle, reading aloud has not, and it is as material for this that my anthology is ideally intended; let me remind the doubtful that here is a third way, less troublesome that the first two, of finding out more about a piece of writing and so enjoying it more. Others will perhaps be glad to have within one binding a number of old favourites now obscured by changes in taste or fashion; yet others, younger than the other others, may make a discovery, if only that poetry need be none the worse for being neither egotistical nor formless.

I mentioned just now the nineteenth century as the main source of my selection, and sure enough is drawn from authors born either in its course or so soon before as to have done the larger part of their growing-up within in, between 1788 and 1888. More than this, the pieces from longer ago are very much of the sort that the nineteenth-century poetical outlook could accept without strain: Shakespeare at his most direct, Milton on his blindness, ballads, hymns, the patriotic, the sententious (https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-character-of-a-happy-life/Wotton, Gray). Thus the Elizabethan period and the years immediately following contribute more than the major part of the seventeenth century, and there is one solitary poem in the Augustan heroic couplet.

No age of course has a single poetical outlook, always half a dozen. I was talking about the kind of person of that time who was intelligent and educated without having we would now call literary tastes, who liked poetry without finding it in any way a necessity and much of whose contact with it would have been through recitation and song, both sacred and profane. What our man, or woman, required is what first verse for rendering in those ways: absolute clarity, heavy rhythms and noticeable rhymes with some break in the sense preferred at the end of the line. (Outside Shakespeare, understood to be a special case, there are only two blank-verse pieces here, both by Tennyson, a different special case) Subject-matter must suit the occasion by being public, popular, what unites the individual with some large group of his neighbours. The emotional requirement is that the reader, or hearer, be stirred and inspirited more than illuminated or moved to the gentler emotions: love poetry, for instance, can often be recited effectively, but not in the course of the kind of recitation I have described. For another set of reasons, comic poetry is likewise inappropriate.

The exclusions necessitated by all this obviously exclude a very large part of the best poetry in the language, even of that written in the nineteenth century. For instance, I have felt bound to omit Wordsworth, the poet of Nature: ‘The Solitary Reaper’ gets in because it takes an untypically detached, almost a townsman’s, view of the central figure. Shelley, Browning and Arnold are among those less than fairly represented; Charles Kingsley, Alfred Austin and Austin Dobson are not greater poets than Coleridge, Keats and (Some would add) Hopkins, who are altogether left out. Perhaps popular poetry, outside the accidental contributions of poets whose critical esteem rests on other achievements, can never be anything but what George Orwell called good bad poetry.

The phrase occurs in his entertaining and valuable review-article on Kipling, whose works he describes as ‘almost a shameful pleasure, like the taste for cheap sweets that some people secretly carry into middle life’. Orwell goes on to give other examples of good bad poetry, half of which I have included here, and remarks, accurately enough on his terms, that there was no such thing until about 1790. The characteristics of this kind of poetry, he says, are vulgarity and sentimentality, though he softens the latter term by adding: ‘ A good bad poem is a graceful monument to the obvious. It records in memorable form – for verse is a mnemonic device, among other things – some emotion which nearly every human being can share. The merit of a poem like ‘When All the World Is Young, Lad’ [‘Young and Old’] is that, however sentimental it may be, its sentiment is ‘true’ sentiment in the sense that you are bound to find yourself thinking the thought it expresses sooner or later, and then, if you happen to know the poem, it will come back into your mind and seem better than it did before,. Such poems are a kind of rhyming proverb ….’ Sentiment is usually considered different from and higher than sentimentality, and an example with almost universal appeal (which is perhaps a nice way of saying ‘vulgar’) hardly seems to deserve being called bad, even good bad. Not all popular verse, again, is in the Kipling manner; perhaps that manner deserves to be called vulgar and sentimental, though to me it does not in principle, but I can find nothing of either quality in , say, ‘The Old Squire’ 1887‘, ‘Ha’nacker Mill’ or the poems of the Great War that close the volume. Indeed, to anyone not blinkered by political prejudice, from which category I would exclude Orwell, ‘The Soldier must surely be counted one of the greatest poems of our century.

And yet … Well, I have included ‘Horatius‘ entire; I could not bear to cut so much as a single stanza; even to glance at it in the course of preparing the book sent a thrill through me; it is probably the best and most characteristic we have of military-patriotic popular verse – in it, Rome of course has the appeal of a golden-age England, though there are English notions in the ranks of Tuscany too. And yet there is something unreal, something almost ritualized about it, not vulgar not sentimental as those words are normally applied, something not of pretence but of let’s pretend. The brave days of old belong to the time when all the world was young: this is what used to be called a boy’s poem, founded on values that are few, simple and certain. They are none the less valuable for that, and certainly none the less fundamental. The distinction of Macaulay’s magnificent poem is that it enables the adult reader, or hearer, to recover in full some of the strong emotions of boyhood, an experience which is not a lapse from maturity but an endorsement of it.

For a number of reasons, a poet of our own day cannot write like that – in fact, during the 1930s, this entire literary genre quite suddenly disappeared, never to return. Such a poet would certainly lack in the first place the required skill and application. Should he possess these, he would even so find himself using a dead style and forms. Clarity, heavy rhythms, strong rhymes and the rest are the vehicles of confidence, of a kind of innocence, of shared faiths and other long-extinct states of mind. The two great themes of popular verse were the nation and the Church, neither of which, to say the least, confers much sense of community any longer. Minor themes, like admiration of or desire for a simple rustic existence, have just been forgotten. The most obvious case of it all is the disintegrative shock of the Great War.

I thought at first of grouping the poems by subject, but was defeated by a shortage both of categories and of poems that fitted squarely into one and only one. (I should perhaps explain here to readers under forty that the generous selection of war and battle pieces is due not so much to national belligerence as to the fact that their fellow-countrymen used to feel peculiarly united at such times. The feeling persisted for some years after it had become impossible to write patriotic verse.) So – the poems are arranged chronologically instead, according to the year of their authors’ births. Although this is not a perfect plan, it has the advantage of offering a view not only of literary developments but also parts of our history. Read in this way too, some poems shed an interesting, even ironical, light on those that follow them.