The little boats beneath the Norman castle,
The pier shining with lumps of crystal salt;
The Scotch Quarter with a line of residential houses
But the Irish Quarter was a slum for the blind and the halt.
—From “Carrickfergus” (1937), by Louis MacNeice
The curse of Oliver Cromwell, four hundred years of tit-for-tat sectarian violence, the blessings of the peacemakers, and an Irish priest’s vision of a “doorway to a new beginning,” were all poised, alongside the shibboleths and twisted lives, in the troubled funereal air of the Protestant cathedral of St. Anne’s, Belfast, on April 24. Lyra McKee, a well-liked twenty-nine-year-old journalist, had been shot and killed by a New IRA gunman while reporting on unrest in the city of Derry the previous week.
Moving eulogies, uttered with tenderness and hope, were broadcast to the congregation: “I plead with you to take the road of nonviolence to achieve your political ends.” That was from Father Martin Magill, a Catholic parish priest of West Belfast and a friend of the slain journalist, during the ecumenical service. “Why in God’s name does it take the death of a twenty-nine-year-old woman with her whole life in front of her… to get to this point,” he asked—and received a standing ovation.
A woman beside me buried her face in a crumpled white handkerchief, the order of service squeezed under her left arm. The crowd gathered outside in Writer’s Square, under tall, shimmering birch trees, also applauded. Inside, occupying the front rows, senior representatives from Northern Ireland’s dysfunctional government at Stormont, accompanied by Irish and British political leaders, rose hesitantly to their feet.
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Filed under History, News
By Wendell Berry
Originally published in Fall/Winter 1991 on page 62
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Filed under History, Poem, Study
The American Howard Nemerov’s wonderful short poem Because You Asked about the Line Between Prose and Poetry is a gem.
It’s a poem about a winter scene. A poem about rain imperceptibly turning into snow.
It’s also, as the title suggests, a poem about the act of poetic creation. Nemerov creates a single image into which is crushed an intensity of meaning.
A simple scene that many of us will have witnessed transformed into a flight of the imagination that few of us will have considered.
Last week, Simon Armitage was announced as the new poet laureate, replacing Carol Ann Duffy.
Whether we need a poet laureate, I’m not sure. That we need poetry, at this time, more than ever – of that I’m certain.
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Filed under News, Poem, Study
He has many names. In the West, people call him Li Po, as most of his poems translated into English bear that name. Sometimes it is also spelled Li Bo. But in China, he is known as Li Bai. During his lifetime (A.D. 701–62), he had other names—Li Taibai, Green Lotus Scholar, Li Twelve. The last one is a kind of familial term of endearment, as Bai was twelfth among his brothers and male cousins on the paternal side. It was often used by his friends and fellow poets when they addressed him—some even dedicated poems to him titled “For Li Twelve.” By the time of his death, he had become known as a great poet and was called zhexian, or Banished Immortal, by his admirers. Such a moniker implies that he had been sent down to earth as punishment for his misbehavior in heaven. Over the twelve centuries since his death, he has been revered as shixian, Poet Immortal. Because he was an excessive drinker, he was also called jiuxian, Wine Immortal. Today it is still common for devotees of his poetry to trek hundreds of miles, following some of the routes of his wanderings as a kind of pilgrimage. Numerous liquors and wines bear his name. Indeed, his name is a ubiquitous brand, flaunted by hotels, restaurants, temples, and even factories.
In English, in addition to “Li Po,” he once had another pair of names, Li T’ai Po and Rihaku. The first is a phonetic transcription of his original Chinese name, Li Taibai, the name his parents gave him. And Ezra Pound, in his Cathay—his collected translations of classical Chinese poetry—called Li Bai “Rihaku” because Pound had translated those poems from the notes left by the American scholar Ernest Fenollosa, who had originally studied Li Bai’s poetry in Japanese when he was in Japan. Pound’s loose translation of Li Bai’s “The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter” has been included in many textbooks and anthologies as a masterpiece of modern poetry. It is also one of Pound’s signature poems—arguably his best known. For the sake of consistency and clarity, let us stay with the name Li Bai.