Thursday, July 01, 2004

The Island (1987)

Greed for the gold of strangers
Feeds on the ancient slant-lit land, obscures
Hard truths, trades on illusions, lavishes
Praise on the safely dead.
In a loss of subtlety lies our shame:
Poor Emmett, here’s your epitaph:

A straggle of houses, a looming church,
An empty street with breeze-blown signs;
Here in the rural heart of Ireland,
Wild and wet and windswept,
See the locals dine on spuds and bacon,
Take a last quick look at the form sheet
And attack the cabbage.
By night, by God, in smoke-filled pubs
They sing the old and wild songs yet;
Still for themselves, not for the tourists,
And not for strangers
The haunting airs of the crossroad.

And in other pubs, not a score of miles
Across these dark and silent fields,
The same old songs rise up in the night
With the shots and sudden shouts of command
Of an alien army in the streets.
There it's the old and cruel Ireland
Where weapons take the place of words,
Where the past can still breed new fanatics,
New sorrows, new anger ...
New graves.

Are tales still told by the fireside,
Merry eyes in weathered gentle faces,
The caps pulled down, the drinks on the hob,
The smell of slowly burning turf?
No more, it seems, with the cars and the telly,
Plate-glass bungalows, home on the range;
But there's divil a change in the flow of the talk,
In the needling, cheerful banter,
And none in the love of the lilt of song,
The expectant silence that greets a verse:
Slaves are we still to the gods of language,
To the rush and the rhythm of eloquent words
That sweep all things before.

Flow over them with your waves and with your waters,
Mananaan, Mananaan McLir

Slipping out the door from Sunday Mass
As the priest begins his sermon:
A smoke on the steps, a chat with the lads,
Then back to the mumble of responses,
To the blend of incense and damp clothing.
Faith of our fathers, thirsty work,
But soon the pubs will open.
(The pubs will always soon be open.)
And soft the same familiar rain
Falls on the fields of vivid green,
On the grey, untidy streets.

At the door of T.P Flanagan’s
The smell of the porter would fell a horse:
'Sure, welcome home, and what'll ye have?'
Says the man himself behind the bar,
When wrapped around the remains of a pint
An oul' fella ups from the corner:
‘This counthry's gone to hell in a handcart
(Smiles of delight run around the room)
I'd leave meself only the age that's in it’.
From the bar: ‘True for you, John Joe!
Now hould yer whisht and have another’.

The pints, unbidden, line up on the bar.
If a man won't drink he should wear a badge
In a decent, sensible Irish way,
For an offer spurned is a terrible thing
Where there's little forgiven, even less forgotten.
‘God's curse on the IRA! -
(the oul' fella still in the corner)
‘Tis well for them Yanks to be sending them money,
Tis our lads do the dying’.
Our lads. Not me. And not these others,
Gone silent now, musing
On the wreck of a tribal dream
Defiled by murder.

On the cloud-touched cliffs of Dun Aengus,
See the woman old and lonely as she sits upon the lea,
White-haired, gazing on the great wide ocean.
O Cathleen, where is thy beauty now?
The ivory skin, the raven hair,
The lips like blood upon the snow?
Turn again those fine deep eyes,
Turn once again those fearless eyes
And look upon this land.