John Montague: Quotations

The Trout
All Legendary Obstacles
Like Dolmens Round My Childhood ...
A Lost Tradition
A Grafted Tongue
Bog Royal;
A New Litany
Sea changes
A Flowering Absence;
Home Again
Speech for an Ideal Election
Regionalism [...]”
Last of the House
A Good Bye
The Scribes in the Woods
Demolition Ireland
“The Family Piano”
“An Occasion of Sin”
“Living for Ireland”
Oliver Goldsmith
Ulster regionalism
Ulster renaissance?
Modern Ireland
19th-century Ireland
Province or region?
Wordsworthian dream?
The maternal landscape
The poet in Ireland
Speaking for his tribe
“Well Earthed”
“The Bag Apron”
Dialogue through poetry
Youth and Age
A poet’s contemporaries
‘Monuments to Mangan’
Word known to all men

‘“What is wrong with you” pronounced a young Ulster poet as we locked friendly antlers over a bourbon bottle, “is that you have saddled yourself with Modernism”.’ (Opening remark in review of Helen Carr, The Verse Revolutionaries, in The Irish Times, 23 Jan. 2010, Weekend Review, p.12.

Herbert Street Revisited

A light is burning late
in this Georgian Dublin street:
someone is leading our old lives!

And our black cat scampers again
through the wet grass of the convent garden upon his masculine errands.

The Locket” (Montague’s poem to his mother)

Sing a last song
for the lady who has gone,
fertile source of guilt and pain.
The worst birth in the annals of Brooklyn,
that was my cue to come on,
my first claim to fame.

Naturally, she longed for a girl,
and all my infant curls of brown
couldn't excuse my double blunder
coming out the wrong sex,
and the wrong way around.
Not readily forgiven,

So you never nursed me
and when all my father's songs
couldn't sweeten the lack of money,
when poverty comes through the door
love flies up your chimney,
your favourite saying,

Then you gave me away,
might never have known me,
if I had not cycled down

to court you like a young man,
teasingly untying your apron,
drinking by the fire, yearning

Of your wild, young days
which didn't last long, for you,
lovely Molly, the belle of your small town,
landed up mournful and chill
as the constant rain that lashes it
wound into your cocoon of pain.

Standing in that same hallway,
Don’t come again. you say, roughly,
I start to get fond of you, John,
and then you are up and gone;
the harsh logic of a forlorn woman
resigned to being alone.

And still, mysterious blessing,
I never knew, until you were gone,
that, always around your neck
you wore an oval locket
with an old picture in it,
of a child in Brooklyn.

—Posted on internet by Paul Perry in an expression of sorrow at Montague's death on 10 Dec. 2016.

Sybil’s Morning


She wakes in a hand-painted cot,
chats and chortles to herself,
a healthy small being, a happy elf,
sister to the early train whistle,
the bubbling dawn chorus along
the wisteria of Grattan Hill.

No complaints as yet, enjoying
through curtains the warm sunlight,
until she manages to upend herself.
Then the whine starts. Is it anger
or lust for the bottle?

Lift her up, warm and close
or held at arm’s length —
that smell, like a sheep pen,
a country hedge steaming after rain.
As the bottle warms the decibels increase,
the scaldie’s mouth gapes open;
head numb, coated tongue,
cortex ends squealing, no
thirsty drunk at a bar, nursing
a hangover, manages such concentration.

Daughter, dig in, with fists like ferns
unfurling, to basic happiness!
Little one, you are now

nothing but the long music of the gut,
a tug of life, with halts
for breathing, stomach swelling.


On your throne afterwards
bang your heels, examine your new
and truly wonderful hands,
try out, warm up, your
little runs of satisfaction.

Day by day they also grow,
sound experiments in the laboratory
of the self, animal happiness,
the tonal colour of rage, cartoon
attempts to communicate, eyes beaming,
burbles rising. Best of all when

like any bird or beast waking,
you wail to yourself, with whoops,
finger stuffed gurgles, and my reward
for the morning, your speciality
(after the peristaltic hiccup)
when you smile and squeal with
sudden, sharp whistles —
O my human kettle!

—from Mount Eagle, in New Collected Poems, Gallery, Oldcastle, Co. Meath, 2012; given on Facebook at Eavan Boland, Inside History [10.12.2016].


The Trout”, A Chosen Light (1967; Collected Poems 1995, p.213): ‘Flat on the bank I parted / Rushes to ease my hands / In the water without a ripple / And tilt them slowly downstream / To where he lay, tendril-light, / In his fluid sensual dream. // Bodiless lord of creation,/ I hung briefly above him / Savouring my own absence, / Senses expanding in the slow / Motion, the photographic calm / That grows before action. // As the curve of my hands / Swung under his body / He surged, with visible pleasure. / I was so preternaturally close / I could count every stipple / But still cast no shadow, until // The two palms crossed in a cage / Under the lightly pulsing gills. / Then (entering my own enlarged / Shape, which rode on the water) / I gripped. To this day I can / Taste his terror on my hands.’

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All Legendary Obstacles”, A Chosen Light [5] (1967; rep. in Collected Poems 1995 p.217):‘All legendary obstacles lay between / Us, the long imaginary plain, / The monstrous ruck of mountains / And, swinging across the night, / Flooding the Sacramento, San Joaquin, / The hissing drift of winter rain. // All day I waited, shifting / Nervously from station to bar / As I saw another train sail / By, the San Francisco Chief or / Golden Gate, water dripping / From great flanged wheels. // At midnight you came, pale / above the negro porter’s lamp. / I was too blind with rain / And doubt to speak, but / Reached from the platform / Until our chilled hands met. // You had been travelling for days / With an old lady, who marked / A neat circle on the glass / With her glove, to watch us / Move into the wet darkness / Kissing, still unable to speak.’

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Like Dolmens Round My Childhood ...”, The Rough Field [I: ‘Home Again’; poem 5]: “A Severed Head” (1972; rep. Collected Poems, 1995, p.13: ‘Like dolmens round my childhood, the old people. // Jamie MacCrystal sang to himself, / A broken song without tune, without words; / He tipped me a penny every pension day, / Fed kindly crusts to winter birds. / When he died, his cottage was robbed, / Mattress and money-box torn and searched. / Only the corpse they didn’t disturb. // Maggie Owens was surrounded by animals, / A mongrel bitch and shivering pups, / Even in her bedroom a she-goat cried. / She was a well of gossip defiled, / Fanged chronicler of a whole countryside; / Reputed a witch, all I could find / Was her lonely need to deride. // The Nialls lived along a mountain lane / Where heather bells bloomed, clumps of foxglove. / All were blind, with Blind Pension and Wireless. / Dead eyes serpent-flickered as one entered / To shelter from a downpour of mountain rain. / Crickets chirped under the rocking hearthstone / Until the muddy sun shone out again. // Mary Moore lived in a crumbling gatehouse, / Famous as Pisa for its leaning gable.Bag apron and boots, she trampled the fields / Driving lean cattle from a miry stable. A by-word for fierceness, she fell asleep / Over love stories, Red Star and Red Circle, / reamed of gypsy love-rites, by firelight sealed. // Wild Billy Eagleson married a Catholic servant girl/ When all his Loyal family passed on: / We danced round him shouting “To hell with King Billy,” / And dodged from the arc of his flailing blackthorn. / Forsaken by both creeds, he showed little concern / Until the Orange drums banged past in the summer / And bowler and sash aggressively shone. // Curate and doctor trudged to attend them, / Through knee-deep snow, through summer heat, / From main road to lane to broken path, / Gulping the mountain air with painful breath. / Sometimes they were found by neighbors, / Silent keepers of a smokeless hearth, / Suddenly cast in the mould of death. / Ancient Ireland, indeed! I was reared by her bedside, / The rune and chant, evil eye and averted head, / Fomorian fierceness of family and local feud. / Gaunt figures of fear and friendliness, / For years they trespassed on my dreams,Until once, in a standing circle of stones, / I felt their shadows pass // Into that dark permanence of ancient forms.’ (Collected Poems, 1995, pp.12-13.)

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A Lost Tradition”, The Rough Field [IV: “A Severed Head”; poem 2] (1972; rep. Collected Poems, 1995, p.33): ‘All around, shards of a lost tradition: / From the Rough Field I went to school / In the Glen of the Hazels. Close by / Was the bishopric of the Golden Stone; / The cairn of Carleton’s homesick poem. // Scattered over the hills, tribal – / And placenames, uncultivated pearls. / No rock or ruin, dun or dolmen / But showed memory defying cruelty / Through an image-encrusted name. // The heathery gap where the Rapparee, / Shane Barnagh, saw his brother die - / On a summer’s day the dying sun / Stained its colours to crimson: / So breaks the heart, Brish-mo-Cree. // The whole landscape a manuscript / We had lost the skill to read, / A part of our past disinherited; / But fumbled, like a blind man, / Along the fingertips of instinct. // The last Gaelic speaker in the parish / When I stammered my school Irish / One Sunday after mass, crinkled / A rusty litany of praise: / Tá an Ghaeilge againn arís ... // Tír Eoghain: Land of Owen, / Province of the O’Niall; / The ghostly tread of O’Hagan’s / Barefoot gallowglasses marching / To merge forces in Dún Geanainn / Push southward to Kinsale! // / Loudly the war-cry is swallowed / In swirls of black rain and fog / As Ulster’s pride, Elizabeth’s foemen, / Founder in a Munster bog.’ [Cf. ‘Like shards / Of a lost culture, the slopes / Are strewn with cabins, deserted /In my lifetime ...’; “The Road’s End”, op. cit., p.32.]

Epilogue” to The Rough Field: ‘[...] Our finally lost dream of man at home / in a rural setting! ... with all my circling a failure to return / to what is already going, / going, / GONE. [END]’ (Collected Poems, p.81.)

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A Grafted Tongue”, The Rough Field [IV: “A Severed Head”; poem 5] (1972; rep. Collected Poems, 1995, p.37): ‘Dumb,/ bloodied, the severed / head now chokes to / speak another tongue // As in / a long suppressed dream, / some stuttering garb – / led ordeal of my own) // An Irish / child weeps at school / repeating its English. / After each mistake // The master / gouges another mark / on the tally stick / hung about its neck // Like a bell / on a cow, a hobble / on a straying goat. / To slur and stumble // In shame / the altered syllables / of your own name: / to stray sadly home // And find / the turf-cured width / of your parents’ hearth / growing slowly alien: // In cabin / and field, they still / speak the old tongue. / You may greet no one. // To grow / a second tongue, as / harsh a humiliation / as twice to be born. // Decades later / that child’s grandchild’s / speech stumbles over lost / syllables of an old order.’

Allegiance”, The Great Cloak [III: ‘Anchor’] (1978; rep. Collected Poems 1995), p.116.: ‘Beyond the village / herds browse peacefully / behind a barred wooden gate, / a warm Constable scene / of swirling shadows & silence; / a river’s murmuring presence. // In their cumbrous circle / the huge stones stand, / completing the plain, / attending the dawn, / dew on granite, damp / on a sword blade. // Slowly, in moonlight / I drop on one knee, /solemnly as a knight /obeying an ancient precept, / natural as cattle / stooping in river mist.’

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Process”, The Dead Kingdom [I: ‘Upstream’] (1984; rep. Collected Poems 1995, p.132): ‘The structure of process, / time’s gullet devouring / parents whose children / are swallowed in turn,/ families, houses, towns, / built or battered down, / only the earth and sky / unchanging in change, /everything else fragile / as a wild bird’s wing; / bulldozer and butterfly, / dogrose and snowflake / climb the unending stair / into God’s golden eye. /// Each close in his own / world of sense & memory, / races, nations locked / in their dream of history, / only love or friendship, / an absorbing discipline / (the healing harmony / of music, painting, poem) / as swaying ropeladders / across fuming oblivion / while the globe turns, /and the stars turn, and /the great circles shine, / gold & silver, // sun & moon.’ [Cf. ‘Mutability,/dark Lady of Process,/our devouring Queen’; ibid., p.133.]

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Bog Royal”, The Dead Kingdom [II: ‘This Neutral Realm’] (1984; rep. Collected Poems 1995, p.136): Across the Bog of Allen / (a sea of black peat, / our land’s wet matrix) / showers mizzling until / over scant brush, /necklaced / with raindrops, our reward: / a great clock torn into /tatters of light, the warm / colours of heather deepened, / dyed to near violet, all / the air trembling, lambent, / slashes of rain, then sun / with some small waves running in / on some reed-fringed island; / Lough Gowna or Sheelin,/ Derravarragh or Finea. [...]’

A New Litany”, The Dead Kingdom [V: ‘A Flowering Absence’] (1984; rep. Collected Poems 1995, p.184): the impulse in love / to name the place as / protection and solace; / an exact tenderness. // ... That we are here / for a time, that / we make our lives ./ carelessly, carefully, / as we are finally / also made by them; / a chosen companion, /a home, children; / on such conditions / I place my hopes / beside yours, Evelyn, / frail rope-ladders / across fuming oblivion. // A new love, a new / litany of place names ... powers made manifest, / amulets against loneliness, / talismans for work: a flowering presence?’

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Sea changes” [4: ‘The Wine Dark Sea’], Tides (1971; rep. Collected Poems 1995, p.255: “Wine Dark Sea”], , ‘For there is no sea / it is all a dream there is no sea / except in the tangle / of our minds: / the wine dark / sea of history on which we all turn / turn and thresh / and disappear.’ (Coll. Poems, p.255.)

Windharp (for Patrick Collins)”: ‘The sounds of Ireland, / that restless whispering / you never get away / from, seeping out of / low bushes and grass, / heatherbells and fern, / wrinkling bog pools, / scraping tree branches, / light hunting cloud, / sound hounding sight, / a hand ceaselessly / combing and stroking / the landscape, till / the valley gleams / like the pile upon / a mountain pony’s coat.’ (O’Hara Ireland Page 2004: link.)

A Flowering Absence”, ‘Year by year, I track down / intent for a hint of evidence /seeking to manage the pain - / how a mother gave away her son.’ [ //…; p.180]; ‘There is an absence, real as presence. / In the mornings I hear my daughter / chuckle, with runs of sudden joy. / Hurt, she rushes to her mother, / as I never could, a whining boy.[…] And the hurt ran briefly underground / to break out in a scholroom /where I was taunted by a mistress / who hunted me publicly down / to near speechlessness.’ […; p.181]; ‘And not for two stumbling decades / would I manage to speak straight again. / Grounded for the second time / my tongue became a rusted hinge / until the sweet oils of poetry // teased it and grace flooded in.’ [End.] (Collected Poems, 1995, p.880-82).

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Home Again”: ‘Through half of Ulster that Royal road ran, // Lisburn, Lurgan, Portadown, / Solid British towns, lacking local grace. / Headscarved housewives in bulky floral skirts / Hugged market baskets on the recine seats / Although it was near the broders of Tyrone - / End of a Pale / beginning of O’Neill - / Before a stranger turned a friendly face, / Yarning politics in Ulster monotone. / Bathos as we bumped all that twilight road, / Tales of the Ancient Order, Ulster volunteers: / Narrow fields wrought such division, / And narrow they were, though as darkness fell / Ruled by the evening star, which saw me home.’ (Quoted [in part] in George Watson, ‘Landscape in Ulster Poetry’, in Gerald Dawe & J. Wilson Foster, eds., The Poet’s Voice, QUB/IIS 1991, pp.10-15; cited in Gertrude Patterson, ‘Unless Soul Clap its Hands and Sing: Literature, Cultural Heritage and a Divided Society’, in Irish Studies Review (Spring 1996), pp.26-29; p.28; also in Mark Hughes, ENG507, UUC 2002.)

Replay”: ‘The fuchsia hedge trembles. / Peer closely. All those small / Scarleet petals are shivering: / A mass of bells silently pealing, / Where the honeybees are clmabering; / Like uniformed schoolboys swarming / Up the slope of Armagh Cathedral. / Or a more profane, modern image, / Striped players ceaselessly scoring / Inside those green and scarlet meshes / While the whole hedge trembles.’ (The Irish Times, Weekend, 10 July 2004, p.11.)

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Bitterness: ‘This bitterness / I inherit from my father, the / Swarm of blood / To the brain, the vomit surge / Of race hatred.’ (The Rough Field) [Quoted in Joseph Lee, Ireland 1912-1985, Politics and Society, Cambridge UP 1989, p. 10].

Speech for an Ideal Election”: ‘Who today asks for more / -Smoke of battle blown aside- / That the struggle with casual / Graceless unheroic things, / The greater task of swimming / Against a slackening tide?’ (Selected Poems, Wake Forest Edn., 1982, p.10; Elmer Andrews, Contemporary Irish Poetry, Macmillan, 1992, p.8.)

Regionalism, or A Portrait of the Artist as a Model Farmer”: ‘Wild provincials / muttering into microphones / Declare that art / Springs only from the native part; / That like a potato it best grows / Planted deep in local rows. / Local loam and local air / Local sods and horse manure, / Watered by a local rain, / good for vegetable brain / This potato I plant deep / In my candid garden heap / And like a sympathetic farmer / Shield from all might harm her, / Foreign beetles and exotic weeds / Complicated continental breeds, / And when my baby tuber / To its might has grown / I shall come into my provincial own / And Mutter deep / in my loving sleep / Of the tradition that I keep / That I keep, / My tiny spud will comfort me / In my fierce anonymity.’ (See Donald Carroll, ed., New Poets of Ireland, Denvir: Alan Swallow 1963 [ded. Liam Miller], 112pp.; p.89. Further, “Dirge of the Mad Priest”: ‘God watches from the cracked mirror on the wall … And the mirror in my hands cracked …’ [p.88].

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Last of the House”: ‘The mountains drowse / around us, each evening. / We almost understand them. // Their gorse-tough slopes, / where more has happened / than we can grasp: // In this valley, no one / lifts a fiddle, and no / one speaks Irish // Though we once heard / Mount Gabriel singing / for an O’Driscoll dying. // The last of his house. / Even the sheep, still / as boulders on the slopes, // Lifted their heads / to attend this numinous sound, / Interweaving voices, male // And female, echoing / from the mountain side, / a spectral opera / Of loving sorrow; / fierce calamity, / stubborn continuity.’ (In The Irish Times, 3 July 2002, Weekend.)

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A Good Bye”: ‘Rene Hague, you endured your hospital bed / with thin rolled cigarettes, and mild soldier’s curses, / until they informed you that your wife was dead / and your own disease, terminal. Then you turned / your lean face to the wall, after a formal farewell: // You gave me back the books you had borrowed, / George Herbert’s The Temple, and Dante’s Paradiso, / then, lifting my hand to your sere lips, / sighed Good bye. The memory of such grace / is like a rare liqueur from which memory sips.’ (Times Literary Supplement, 7 Feb. 2003.)

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The Scribes in the Woods”: ‘After so many years, I cannot translate / a word they are saying, signals they’re exchanging. / Long conferences on telephone wires: / twittered alarms, melodious monotony.’ (Quoted in Kevin Kiely, review of The Drunken Sailor, in Books Ireland, Feb. 2005, p.13.)

Demolition Ireland” ‘Riverbanks, so slowly, lushly formed, / haunt of the otter and waterhen, / bulldozed into a stern, straight line; / dark trout pools dredged clean / so that doomed cattle may drink any time.’ (Quoted in Kevin Kiely, review of The Drunken Sailor, in Books Ireland, Feb. 2005, p.13.)

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“Legerdemain”, in Times Literary Supplement (9 May 2003), p.19: ‘The wind pushes my body, back. / We are on the way home from Clarkes / And the winter night streams black // Rain, while gusts whip across / The whins, thorns, flailing sallys, / And all those stories we have heard // Grouped around that glimmering fireside / As the turf ash fell and glowed, / Now haunt this lightless road. // The knocks in that Coneen household / That stalked them across the known world / The farmhand hanging in the yard. // And, the mysterious brass-bound book / From which howling demons awoke / Like the headless, headlong horseman // Or the rush of the death coach. / Which now shudders behind us / Beyond the circle of our tiny torch.’

“The Family Piano”: ‘My cousin is smashig the piano / He is standing over its entrails / swinging a hatchet in one hand / and a hammer in the other / like a plundering Viking warrior [...]’. Note: the poem was read by Montague himself in a reading of his poetry by participating writers at Poésie et Prose, a 3-day festival at the Irish College, Paris (Oct. 2009).

The Long Hangar”: ‘The long hangar of the turf shed / faces the Broad Road, where cars whine. / There our winter warmth is stored, // As all summer long the small carts / come lumbering down from / what we still call The Mountain: // High-packed cribs, painted sides & wheels, / a jangle of harness along narrow lanes, / as winkered Tim plods stolidly home. [...]’ (For full text, see attached.)

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An Occasion of Sin”: ‘[...] Her husband had nearly split his sides laughing when she asked what that meant. And yet, despite his education and travel, he was as odd as any of them. From the outside, he locked completely normal, especially when he left for the office in the morning in his neat executive’s suit. But inside he was a nest of superstition and stubbornness; it was like living with a Zulu tribesman. It emerged in all kinds of small things: the way he avoided walking under ladders, the way he always blessed himself during thunderstorms, the way he saluted every church he passed, a hand flying from the wheel to his forehead even in the thick of city traffic. And that wasn’t the worst. One night she had woken up to see him sitting bolt upright in bed, his face tense and white. “Do you hear it?” he managed to say ...”It’s a banshee,” he said. “They follow our family. Aunt Margaret must be going to die.” All through the funeral, Kieran kept looking at Francoise reproachfully, as if to say you [181] see! And now the disease was beginning to get at her, sending her to stalk through the night like a Mauriac heroine, melancholy eating at her heart.’ (In The Death of a Chieftain and Other Stories, London 1964, pp.125-26; quoted in Patrick Sheeran, “The Novels of Liam O’Flaherty: A Study in Romantic Realism”, Ph.D., UCG 1972, p.182.)

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Living for Ireland”, contribution to Dermot Bolger, ed., Letters from the New Island, 16 on 16: Irish Writers on the Easter Rising (Raven Arts Press 1988), 47pp., pp.17-19: gives account of meeting in Tyrone where the non-sectarianism of his brother, a lawyer, pleading for civil rights, was violently reproved by a die-hard Irish Catholic Republican (‘There was a cold silence in the room before the senior statesman present rose to speak, if he had ever mentally sat down.’); recounts the rejection of his “Patriotic Suite” [‘Puritan Ireland’s dead and gone ...’] by the Jesuit editor of Studies, who called it ‘putrid’ and refused to surrender the manuscript or print it either; issued as a pamphlet by Liam Miller, my bearded publishing pal, linking a section of “The Rough Field” for the first time with the Derrick illustrations; ‘Tom Kinsella at Carbondale was amused by the parody of Reidy’s Band as savage woodkernes on the cover and provoked enough by the contents to produce “Nightwalker” as his, much less playful response’; ‘One can speculate that 1916 should not have happened, but it did, and we cannot ignore it [...]. Nevertheless, it gave dignity to aspects of Irish life that one does not find in Wales, or worse, in Scotland, where one can smell the defeat. Small matters, in deed, but I am glad to sport an IRL plate, glad to see my country’s representatives in London, or Bruxelles. But we should live, not die for Ireland; the necrology of the hungerstrike, the blast of the timed explosive devise is the opposite, a thwarted impulse turned cancerous. Living in Ireland is a complex process [...].’ (p.18.)

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Oliver Goldsmith:‘I think he was the first to state this great theme. In his case the enclos[ur]es had changed the villages. His lament has got many strange aspects, but it’s a lament for a way of life, but a celebration of it at the same time. So from that point of view “The Rough Field” is in the tradition of Goldsmith’s “Deserted Village”.’ (Eavan Boland [interview], ‘John Montague, A Tribal Poet’, Irish Times, 20 March 1973; cited in Terence Brown, Northern Voices, 1975, p.159.)

Ulster regionalism: ‘[T]he Ulster regionalism bit got my goat because it usually meant writing about your cottage in the country or, indeed, only people east of the Bann. So the whole doctrine seemed to me spurious, F. R. Higginsy.’ (Dennis O’Driscoll, ‘Interview with John Montague’, in Irish University Review, 19, 1 (Spring 1989), p.60; cited Michael Parker, ‘Irish and American Influences on Seamus Heaney’s Wintering Out, 1972’, in New Hibernia Review, 2, 3, Autumn 1998, pp.16-35; p.28, ftn.)

Ulster renaissance?: ‘the final judgement on the new Ulster Renaissance may well depend on their ability to learn a style from despair: it is the last quarter of the century we are entering, not the Georgian first.’ (review of Penguin Book of Irish Verse, 1972; quoted in Tony Curtis, ‘A More Social Voice: Field Work’, in Curtis, ed., The Art of Seamus Heaney, Poetry Wales Press Ltd. [rev. edn.] 1994, p.99.)

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Modern Ireland: ‘[...] Ireland is at present in the awkward semi-stage between provincialism and urbanisation, and the writing that will best serve should deal with the problems of the individual against this uneasy, semi-urban setting. ... The age of the melodramatic gesture is past, however, and he would choose to leave because he [the young writer] could work better in another country.’ (essay in ‘The Young Writer’ [a symposium], The Bell, Vol. XVII, No. 7, Oct. 1951, p.10); ‘What I am trying to say is that the Irish landscape is a kind of primal Gaeltacht, and that anyone brought up in it has already absorbed a great deal of the language ... The racial aspect of a poet’s inheritance must be unconscious’ (“A Primal Gaeltacht”, “An Ghaeltacht Inniu”, “A Seacht”, Irish Times, 30 July 1970); ‘In Gaelic poetry, Ireland appears both as a maiden and a hag, a sort of national muse, and her hold is still strong, especially now that her distinctive culture is being submerged.’ ([Kinsella, ‘Note on John Montague’], Contemporary Poets of the English Language, p. 764); ‘An Irish poet seems to me in a richly ambiguous position, with the pressure of an incompletely discovered past behind him, and the whole modern world around [...] A tradition, however, should not be an anachronistic defence against experience.’ (Montague, Introduction to The Faber Book of Irish Verse, London: Faber & Faber, 1974, pp.37-38. [All cited in Terence Brown, Northern Voices, Gill & Macmillan 1975.]

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19th-century Ireland: ‘[A]nd yet this is what happens to Irish poetry in the nineteenth century, after the native tradition seemd to peter out in the doggerel of Raftery. So what we find in the work of Mangan, Walsh, Ferguson, Callanan, is a racial sensibility striving to be reborn; is it strange that it comes through with a mournful sound, like a medium’s wail? The true condition of Irish poetry in the nineteenth century is not silence, as Thomas Kinsella has argued, but mutilation [...]. Loss is Mangan’s only real theme, and in Ferguson’s most original ballad the choice proposed to the Lynnot Clann, between castrations and blindess, might be a symbol of the plight of a subject people.’ (John Montague, Introduction, Faber Book in Irish Verse, London, 1974; cf. Thomas Kinsella, Divided Mind.)

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Province or region? ‘There has been some criticism in the Republic of the way Ulster writers tend to look to London as their literary capital, and it is true that the poems of Mahon, Longley, Heaney and Simmons share an epigrammatic neatness which shows the influence of a limiting British mode [...] What is striking in all the Northern writers is how well they write.’ (Preface to The Faber Book of Modern Irish Verse; q.p.)

Wordsworthian dream? ‘[…] although living in Berkeley introduced me to the debate on open-form from Paterson, through Olson to Duncan, I was equally drawn to rooted poets like MacDiarmid [...]. No Wordsworthian dream enchants me here [Garvagh, &c.]’; (Preface to The Rough Field, as printed in Collected Poems, 1996.)

The maternal landscape: ‘An Irishman may travel, but the memory of his maternal landscape persists.’ (Remark in connection with Denis Devlin, the ‘cosmopolitan’ poet, in [Montague,] ‘The Impact of International Modern Poetry on Irish Writing’, Seán Lucy, ed., Irish Poets in English, Cork: Mercier 1972, pp.144-58. p.144.)

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The poet in Ireland: ‘The real position for a poet [in Ireland] is to be a global-regionalist. He is born into allegiances to particular areas or places and people, which he loves, sometimes against his will. But then he also happens to belong to an increasingly accessible world. [...] So the position is actually local and universal.’ (‘Global Regionalism: Interview with John Montague’, in The Literary Review, Vol. 22, No. 2, Winter 1979, p.174; cited in Peter van de Kamp, op. cit., 1991, p.143.)

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Speaking for his tribe: ‘I speak for my tribe as an Indian would ... While it’s a tribal poem I see their defeat as well.’ (interview with Eavan Boland, ‘The Tribal Poet, John Montague’, in The Irish Times, 20 March 1973; cited in Terence Brown, Northern Voices, 1975, q.p.).

Expiation: ‘You are expiating your connection with them, you’re cleansing it. And that means that they are also present. Even if they’re not there as spirits, your own mother and your father ... are actually present inside you and therefore you must come to terms with them.’ (Cited epigraph in final chap. of Michael Parker, Seamus Heaney: The Making of a Poet, Gill & Macmillan 1993.)

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Well Earthed’, review of Heaney, Open: Ground Poems 1966-1996 (Faber 1998), in Magill (Oct. 1998): quotes Heaney’s conversational remarks on Prologue to Canterbury Tales as examples of good writing to be followed in the twentieth century’; quotes Heaney, ‘To begin with I wanted that truth to life to possess a concrete reality, and rejoiced most when the poem seemed most direct.’; speaks of his poems in comparision with Kavanagh’s, ‘but with a heavier palette and a more conscious art’. Comments on Heaney’s “Requiem for a Croppy”: ‘Kinsella often scoffed when I repeated our Chaucer discussion, arguing like Theodore Adorno, that our sensibilities had changed since Auschwitz […]’ Further, on the Heaney’s “Bog Poems”: ‘[In] his second phase, his Northern sensibility turns Nordic: the harshness of the Sagas, the ritual victims of Jutland. Since ritual sacrifice and bog burials bulk so little in Irish history, I find the central myth unsatisfactory, but it yield poems of loaded grace [here quotes]. What has always touched me in Heaney is the hesitating balance between light and dark, sureness and uneasiness, definition and doubt. Why has this Hamlet figure become the best-known poet now writing in English […] above all, in historical terms, it was a case of the man and the moment meeting - a gifted young Ulster Catholic spreading his wings as the firing starts.’ (Magill, Oct. 1998, p.54.)

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The Bag Apron: The Poet and his Community’ [inaugural lecture as Professor of Poetry given at QUB Nov. 1998], in Fortnight [‘Literature Special’] (Jan. 1999), pp.19-22. Montague discusses ‘finding your voice’; ‘What Myles called the “gentle art of Kafka-ing and Rilke-ing” was necessary for survival in literary Dublin. Or as my friend Brendan Behan said of our generation: “only a few hours out of the bog, and they’re up to their arses in angst”’. (p.20.) Speaks of his father, home from America, building shelves to accommodate books and the Andre Gide’s Journals that he did not dare [20] open for fear that they would offend his [i.e., his father’s] Catholic purity. Quotes Gide: ‘il faut cultiver nos obsessions.’

Further, ‘Sometimes that intense feeling for the Ulster and Irish landscapes trembles towards an ideal patriotism, what one calls tir grá in Irish, or love of country. […] In this connection, I recall a fierce discussion I had with Ted Hughes in Listowel, County Kerry, before he accepted the laureateship. I maintained that no one could be a simple patriot anymore, and quoted his own poem, “Out”: ‘Let England close / Let the great sea anemone close’. He suggested that I was misreading the poem, which was really about the abomination of war, and began to speak of the British crown as a symbol of the unity of the tribe, like some ancient British chieftain: Arturus, Dux Britanorum [...]. As [if] Ted Hughes was the Merlin of the lost kingdom of Elmet.’ (See full text, infra.)

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Dialogue through poetry: ‘Almost all of The Rough Field had already appeared in pamphlets and magazines in Ireland long before it was published in 1972. I felt through it and my Faber anthology I was engaged in a dialogue with an audience, especially my fellow writers, as the situation worsened […] I was engaging with a public through the compositionof the poem, so I scattered parts of it around.’ (Letter from Montague to Michael Parker; cited in Parker, ‘Irish and American Influences on Seamus Heaney’s Wintering Out, 1972’, in New Hibernia Review, 2, 3 Autumn 1998, pp.16-35; p.29.)

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Youth and Age: ‘It is like a fairytale, the little child who was sent away being received back with open arms. But while awed at the reappearance of this golden cradle to rock my dotage, I am grateful to have explored Ireland so intimately. Standing-stones and streams are not part of Brooklyn, nor are cailleachs. To judge by my contemporaries I would probably have been a writer, certainly a journalist, had I stayed in America. But who cut the long wound of poetry into my youth? Was it my mother who chose for her own good reasons to cast me off?’ (‘The Figure in the Cave’, quoted by Gerald Dawe, ‘Invocation of Powers: John Montague’, in Neil Corcoran, ed., The Chosen Ground: Essays on the Contemporary Poetry of Northern Ireland, Brigend, Mid Glamorgan: Seren Books; Dufour 1992, p.17-18.)

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A poet’s contemporaries: ‘I would say that my contemporaries are not just the Irish poets I admire but those with whom I feel an affinity elsewhere, Ponge in France, Octavio Paz in Mexico, Gary Snyder and Robert Duncan in San Francisco. I seem to be advocating a deliberate programme of denationalization, but all true experiments and exchanges only serve to illuminate the self, a rediscovery of the oldest laws of the psyche’ (‘The Impact of International Modern Poetry on Irish Writing’, in Sean Lucy, Modern Irish Poets, Mercier, 1973; rep. in Figure in the Cave, p.219.)

Monuments to Mangan’ [feature-review], in The Irish Times (26 April 2003), Weekend, p.10: ‘An autobiographical aside here: the first poem of Mangan that I read was not one of his political/historical visions. I was, after all, brought up in the North of Ireland, so British war poetry was more likely to be on the syllabus; echoes of that early training can still be heard in much Northern Irish poetry. Whereas my Southern contemporaries were subjected to dirges like “O’Hussey’s Ode to the Maguire”, and, of course, “Dark Rosaleen”. Those visionary poems are extraordinary; lurid light plays over an often arid landscape, and the language is infected with a hectic glitter, as if the poet were drunk or drugged. But I fell in love with a love poem, as I trudged through the woods of south Dublin, chanting to myself: “I saw her once, one little while, and then no more: ’Twas Paradise on Earth awhile, and then no more. / Ah! what avail my vigils pale, my magic lore?”’ (See further under James Clarence Mangan, supra.)

Word known to all men: ‘[U]nderneath these tribal preoccupations beats a more personal struggle, the effort to affirm lovingly, to salvage some order, in the face of death and change [...] my effort to understand as much of the modern world as possible serves only to illuminate the destruction of that small area from which I initially came, and that theme in turn is only part of the larger one of continually threatened love.’ (Notes in Contemporary Poets, quote by Martin Dodsworth; cited in Peter Sirr, review of Agenda, Vol. 40, 1-3, 2004 [“Irish Issue”], in The Irish Times (17 Aug. 2004), Weekend, p.10.

Jonathan Swift
Review of Parodies, Hoaxes, Mock Treatises: Polite Conversation, Directions to Servants and Other Works by Jonathan Swift (Cambridge UP), in The Irish Times (1 Oct. 2013).

[ Sub-heading: A Swift mind buzzing with excruciating puns, hoary hoaxes and brilliant bagatelles - available - online; accessed 11 Dec 2016. ]

Dublin was until recently an 18th-century city. When Patrick Kavanagh strode or shambled, depending on the hour, into McDaids, his first salutation was usually the Swiftian, “What’s news?” He would have been delighted by some of the wicked notes sounded in this most recent volume of the Cambridge edition of the works of Jonathan Swift, gathered under the playful subtitle Parodies, Hoaxes, Mock Treatises, followed by Polite Conversation, Directions to Servants and Other Works. Swift at play, in other words, under the ludic banner of what the French call la bagatelle.


See full review in RICORSO > Criticism > Reviews - via index or as attached.
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