Silence gives answers’


Sufi is the name given to a practitioner of Sufism.  Sufism is a branch of Islam.  Sufism is the mystical, inner dimension of Islam.  Sufi’s form congregations around a master for spiritual meetings.  They believe that they are practicing perfection of worship in the truest original form of Islam.  There are some differing definitions of Sufism within and without Islam, for example, it may be considered a science or a philosophy universal in nature predating the rise of Islam and Christianity.

Some meanings of the word Sufi are; (1) from the Arabic word ” safa” which means purity (2) Suf “wool” which refers to the simple wool cloak worn by the early Muslim ascetics and (3) the word Sufi is derived from the Greek word sofia meaning wisdom.  The basic ideal of the Mystic Sufi is to quell the ego, the self, and through loving ardor for God it is possible to maintain a union with the divine in which the human self melts away.

Jalal-al-Din is the Moslem name of the mystic known as Muhammad Rumi or as he is known in the West, Rumi.  He was born 1207 in a small village in what is now Tajikistan, to native Persian speaking parents.  In the East Rumi is known as Mevlana which means Master.  So revered is this master of words of inspiration, whose quotations and verses have come to us through many centuries that The United Nations declared 2007 The Year of Rumi and celebrations were held worldwide.

Rumi’s father was a brilliant Islamic scholar and fearing a Mongol invasion the family moved to Konya a part of the Turkish Empire. Rumi received his early education from his father, followed by the teachings of top scholars of the time. He was initiated into Sufism through which he pursued the divine truth and immersed his mind and soul into the pursuit of heavenly wisdom and inspiration.

Rumi married and had two sons with his first wife and when, years later she died, he married again and had another son and a daughter.  Although he was a Sufi and a great scholar of the Qu’ran he was noted for his cosmopolitan and tolerant outlook as he studied other religions with care and understanding.  

The daily language of the time was Turkish, the scientific language was Arabic and Persian was the language of literature.  Rumi’s original books are all in Persian. 

Later they were translated into Turkish.  Rumi’s best known book of verse, Masnawi, contains twenty six thousand couplets in six volumes.  In this book there are stories inspired by the teachings of the Qu’ran about all that is created as well as the moral teachings of Mohammad.  Couplets containing few words contain immense wisdom.  The beauty of his poetry transfixes the reader who may then examine the meaning to gain wisdom.  Rumi’s inspiring poetry covers different ideas but the intrinsic theme is the longing and searching for the union within the divine.  

He uses unexpected imagery in his poetry such as ” drunk and intoxicated with ecstasy for his beloved”  in this meaning ” drunk” means bliss and overcoming the self as a means to the divine.  Rumi was a Dervish.  A Dervish  took a vow of poverty and begged so as to learn humility,  any gains had to be given to others.  The whirling dance associated with dervishes was performed to reach religious ecstasy.  In Turkey this is now used as a tourist attraction.  Rumi was a devout Muslim and his teaching of peace and tolerance has appealed to men and women of all sects and creeds from all parts of the world; Muslims, Jews, Christians and others.  Rumi is a point of unity for East and West.

There may be problems in life but Rumi teaches that no one can touch the core of an individual. The evolution of the Soul happens through growth and growth happens through struggle and past experiences.  So, welcome change.  The door for escape and expansion is there from our birth.  Choice exists.  Keep moving because the spark of evolution is timeless.  The open mind is the escape hatch so it is important not to get stuck . 

Rumi tells us that we take the core of experiences with us through life, experience and growth is the purpose of life and this we must share.  We absorb love from others.  The journey of the Soul is to grow in the process and that spirituality is the lifestyle of those on the evolutionary path. 

Rumi claims that the spiritual lifestyle has been turned into a system of control.  He tells us to welcome struggle but to rise above it. 

Rumi tells us that God lives in our hearts…You are God.  Through the struggle of controlling the self and becoming one with God, Wisdom, love and peace evolve in the human heart and soul.

Poems by Rumi

Translated from Persian by Coleman Barks with John Moyne.

The Guest House

This being human is a guesthouse.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

Chickpea to Cook

A chickpea leaps almost over the rim of the pot

Where it’s being boiled.

Why are you doing this to me?’

The cook knocks him down with the ladle.

Don’t you try to jump out.

You think I’m torturing you.

I’m giving you flavor

so you can mix with spices and rice

and be the lovely vitality of a human being.

Remember when you drank rain in the garden.

That was for this.’

Grace first. Sexual pleasure,

then a boiling new life begins,

and the Friend has something good to eat.

Eventually the chickpea

will say to the cook,

Boil me some more.

Hit me with the skimming spoon.

I can’t do this by myself.

I’m like an elephant that dreams of gardens

back in Hindustan and doesn’t pay attention

to his driver. You’re my cook, my driver,

my way into existence. I love your cooking.’

The cook says,

I was once like you,

fresh from the ground. Then I boiled in time,

and boiled in the body, two fierce boilings.

My animal soul grew powerful.

I controlled it with practices,

and boiled some more, and boiled

once beyond that,

and became your teacher.’

Who Makes These Changes

Who makes these changes?

I shoot an arrow right.

It lands left.

I ride after a deer and find myself

chased by a hog.

I plot to get what I want

and end up in prison.

I dig pits to trap others

and fall in.

I should be suspicious

of what I want.

A Zero-Circle

Be helpless, dumbfounded,

unable to say yes or no.

Then a stretcher will come

from grace to gather us up.

We are too dull-eyed to see the beauty.

If we say Yes we can, we’ll be lying.

If we say No, we don’t see it,

that No will behead us

and shut tight our window into spirit.

So let us rather not be sure of anything,

beside ourselves, and only that, so

miraculous beings come running to help.

Crazed, lying in a zero-circle, mute,

we will be saying finally,

with tremendous eloquence , Lead us.

When we’ve totally surrendered to that beauty,

we’ll become a mighty kindness.

Bibliography.: whirling dervishes

YouTube.: sharham shiva

Picture reference.: Faik Sarıkaya



James Joyce

The Art of Poetry

Birdthistle, Sheighle .Thesis M.A. 2003 James Joyce and the Construction of Self.

“Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo….” (Joyce, 1992:3)

This is a quotation from the novel “ A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” by James Joyce and it is the fictionalised story of the life of the author. In his novel, Joyce presents an early sketch of himself in the persona of Stephen Dedalus, from early childhood through the various stages to manhood. This is a good place to begin.

With James Joyce it is good to start at the beginning…Baby tuckoo was the baby Stephen Dedalus and the narrator with the hairy face was his father, Simon Dedalus.

These opening lines of “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” recount the life and genius that was Stephen Dedalus. As Baby tuckoo began to grow from infant to child, history would show that modern Ireland was in its infancy. History would also show how Stephen Dedalus became a renowned artist in the new era of modernity. While still a colony Ireland presented as the Caliban of Europe, the wild man, the Other. It would be difficult therefore for any young man to feel secure in a self that did not seem to conform to the notion of Irish youth as uncouth and uncultured. For someone of the sensitivity, candour and brilliance of James Joyce, it must have been a hell on earth as he struggled with the bondage of ignorance of things modern, that existed in Ireland.

Joyce was not just a great writer but also a great philosopher. His was a philosophy of the artist and his treatise is his work “ A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”.

Artistic endeavour, artistic commitment is explained in normal language, a language that flows like a fountain in full force. Joyce used language like breath which is necessary, for both writer and reader but inhaled and exhaled in a unique rhythm.

The Ireland that Joyce was born into was still suffering from the effects of the great potato famines of 1845-1851that had ravaged the country and decreased the population through both death and emigration. This emigration had created another Ireland in Britain and across the Atlantic in America. The Irish in America were instrumental in founding the Fenian Brotherhood from which eventually grew the Irish Republican Army. The Fenian Brotherhood, like the United Irishmen, bound it’s members by oath to secrecy and loyalty to the Irish Republic and was condemned by the Catholic Church. This opposition by the Church was part religious, part political.

It was considered sinful to be a member of a secret society and to forcefully attempt to overthrow the establishment. ( O’ Heithir 2000:43). The Church had achieved power through Daniel O’ Connell and feared that secularisation would deprive it of its hold on the Irish population. When the Land League was formed in October 1879 the Fenians became involved and enjoyed support despite the Church’s opposition.

Parnell through his expert and shrewd work within and outside parliament fought for the recovery of the land for the Irish. The previously unknown tactic of boycotting came into being and was used to great advantage. The Second Land Act of 1881 returned the land to the tenants and ultimately a conservative body of people developed within Ireland. This Act gave tenants the right of free sale and introduced a way of settling disputes resulting from increased rent. Parnell was on the brink of achieving Home Rule when he fell from grace in the eyes of the establishment throughout Britain. The Catholic Church publicly denounced Parnell because of his extra-marital affair with Kitty O’ Shea and Gladstone turned against him when he refused to stand down from the leadership of the Irish Party. In 1891 Parnell died, and his death seemed to increase the bitterness. There then followed a period of stagnation and deterioration of political standards in Irish life and the chance of uniting the people of Ireland as a whole, was lost.

The young James Joyce was nine years old when Parnell died. He was privy to the conversations and discussions of his adult relatives and friends as they argued the rights and wrongdoings of their political and clerical leaders. Within, and outside his family circle he would have observed the docile observance of Rome Rule amongst many while others mourned the loss of personal integrity and commitment.

The Joyce family had a brief time of prosperity before their economic status changed utterly and they sank into poverty, exacerbated by the father’s abuse of alcohol. Against this backdrop James Joyce became the man and writer of distinction.

James Joyce, the man recognises and accepts that he is part of a community; but at the same time he feels isolated from that community. It will be his task to examine that sense of isolation and the way in which it affects his race. Ireland is a colony of Britain but Stephen looks to the future and a time when the people of Ireland will have a voice of their own. He wants to create that voice, uniquely suitable to a people, whose culture is trapped between two languages the Irish language, which is dormant and the English language, which is the language of the coloniser. Stephen wants to create a new rhetoric, a narrative that would invoke the spirit of an independent people, whether colonised or not.

Dublin is the named place in Joyce’s novel but it could be any city in the world. The story told and the problems that are encountered, are personal in this instance, but they are universal ones. Joyce uses the technique of interior dialogue to allow the reader access to the mind of the narrator. At the close of the novel the narrator changes from the third person to a first person account. The author has accomplished what he set out to do; Stephen is self-begotten as he welcomes life and the experience of reality. The technique used by Joyce in “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” laid the foundation for his masterpiece, Ulysses.

James Joyce and the music of poetry.

Poetry was first an oral art, heard and listened to, before It became a written art. The music of poetry is its rhythm and rhyme and, of course its choice of form and subject matter.

The medium for a poem is the voice and each of us has a distinct personal voice with which to interpret the words of a poem. Poetry comes from the imagination and is presented in the language of the poet – transformed and honed and then voiced. The sound of the words, their placement and the voice of the reader all combine to make a poem. Think, and remember how clearly a piece of music can relay a vivid memory to the mind – physical emotion is activated and we can feel as though transported to another time and place.

When a poem is spoken aloud it has a similar power – it is always wise and necessary to read poetry, it is like food for the imagination, body and soul. When we recite the poem we have a potent piece of music with an imagined visibility – we can form pictures in the mind and present them aloud. Using these images we can recite a poem with feeling and understanding. Add to that, memorising the words enhances the experience. Reciting from memory excludes the interruption or intervention of having to read the poem from a book.

Reading poetry can be difficult and needs time and concentration and an understanding of the poem, in order to do it well. Memorising a poem helps to provide a better voicing. The poem finds its life its reality when shared between the speaker and the listener. The poem has its own identity and escapes ownership of the poet when it has a reader or a listener. The poem arrives as words placed together. When we read these words and read them aloud we form an understanding. The sounds and pauses are all directly involved in the meaning of the poem. Spoken or read aloud enables us to follow the music of the poem allows us to make a connection with the poem on an emotional level or intellectual level, or both. Listening, to another person reading enables a human connection and allows the words of the poem to sink into the consciousness

James Joyce. (1882-1941)

James Augustine[1] Aloysius Joyce (2 February 1882 – 13 January 1941) was an Irish novelist, short story writer, and poet. He contributed to the modernist avant-garde and is regarded as one of the most influential and important authors of the 20th century. The following poems are from one of his two collections of poetry.

The particular collection from which I have chosen, has been put to music by a number of composers.

In 1907, shortly after publishing a book of love poetry titled Chamber Music, Irish writer James Joyce penned a letter to his brother Stanislaus: “Some of the verses are pretty enough to be put to music. I hope someone will do so, someone that knows old English music such as I like.” A century later, a group of independent electronic, folk and rock musicians have done just that.

All 36 verses from Joyce’s book of poetry have been put to music by artists such as Peter Buck from R.E.M. and Lee Ranaldo from Sonic Youth. Producer James Nichols got the idea a few years ago while thumbing through Joyce’s poetry in a bookstore. He was so intrigued that he decided to find out more about the obscure collection of verses. He wasn’t the first:

Chamber Music

Strings in the earth and air
Make music sweet ;
Strings by the river where
The willows meet.

There’s music along the river
For Love wanders there,
Pale flowers on his mantle,
Dark leaves on his hair.

All softly playing,
With head to the music bent,
And fingers straying
Upon an instrument.

According to Ezra Pound ;
‘The quality and distinction of the poems in the first half of Mr Joyce’s Chamber Music … is due in part to their author’s strict musical training. We have here the lyric in some of its best traditions….’. In lyric poetry, the mood is musical and emotional. The writer of a lyric poem uses words that express his state of mind, his perceptions, or his feelings.

Pound goes on to note poem V111…Here, as in nearly every poem, the motif is so slight that the poem scarcely exists until one thinks of it as set to music; and the is so delicate that out of twenty readers scarce one will notice its fineness.

Who goes amid the green wood
With springtide all adorning her?
Who goes amid the merry green wood
To make it merrier?

Who passes in the sunlight
By ways that know the light footfall?
Who passes in the sweet sunlight
With mien so virginal?

The ways of all the woodland
Gleam with a soft and golden fire —
For whom does all the sunny woodland
Carry so brave attire?

O, it is for my true love
The woods their rich apparel wear —
O, it is for my true love,
That is so young and fair.

I choose to mention these two poems by Joyce because, in my opinion, here we have, what is called ‘the chicken and egg dilemma’ that is, which is first, or which is of greater importance. The words or the music of the words. In the poem, Strings in the earth and air make music sweet ; we are struck by the imagery of the words that immediately conjour up a poetic situation as if we could hear the sweet music of violins wafting through the air on an idyllic river walk. The metaphor of Love wandering alongside us bedecked with flowers adds to the musical scene, as he picks out music from his instrument.

James Joyce is known as a brilliant writer, however there was a part of Joyce that almost had an career as as a musician. Joyce’s training and musical skill, his love and appreciation of all types of music, infiltrated his writing in many ways. Joyce had a beautiful tenor voice richly clear and not at all strident. His relationship with both language and music greatly influenced his writing and especially the poetry of Chamber Music, which was written as a collection of love poems. Chamber Music was in fact, Joyce’s first published book in the year 1907. His second collection of poems Pomes Penyeach was published in 1927.

The music in the writings of James Joyce continues to entertain the world throughout the ages and gives us the readers, nutritious food for thought.

The Art of Reading and Writing Poetry

The Poetry Corner. May 2020

Poetry is for everyone. Not everyone chooses to be a poet and some consider poets to be pretentious and suspiciously obscure and yet in times of great joy or great grief or danger poetry becomes for many a secure haven. Poetry was being composed long before the written text existed and the fact that we are reading, listening, watching and performing poetry in the twenty first century surely makes a statement. Poems are always there, whether understood or not, but they are there to be enjoyed and given life. This life is conceived and birthed when the reader chooses to read the poem and ingest it with a personal understanding. A poet is a maker; the word poet comes from ‘ poiein,’ the Greek word for maker. The poet makes something from language; he chooses words, shapes them, pours emotion all over them and forms them into a poem.

Michael Longley, an Irish poet contemporary of Seamus Heaney, wrote,

” If I knew where poems came from, I’d go there.” I suggest that it is possible to find that place, it is within everyone of us, as the song sings we are all ” poetry in motion.” All we need to do is write it down and actually write it out of the conscious or subconscious. Then we awake to the people that we meet through friendship or accidentally and we become more aware of their voices and needs.

Heeding the needs of others often soothes our own hunger. In this poetic mode, streets buildings and sounds have a life of their own and of course nature’s colours are more vivid and startling. The beauty of love, the hurt of grief, the ache of stress are part of this concrete life that we all live. We can try to deal with all these issues through poetry and learn about ourselves through writing down our thoughts. Naturally, we hope that all our thoughts are happy ones full of fun and laughter and peace. Peace; Inner Peace, Family Peace, World Peace and finally, the kind of peace that settles us human beings, with a sense of calm and happiness. Award winning Portuguese poet Sophia de Mella Breyner Andressen explains ; “Poetry is my way of understanding the universe, my way of relating to things, my participation in reality.” We can try, and it can make a difference, the poet is a maker and not all things that are made, are perfect, so poetry is there waiting within us all, to be shaped and given a life by each unique poet.

The way we can read and write poetry today is due to the huge change wrought by Modernism at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. The change had started at the height of the Romantic Era when Wordsworth and Coleridge revolutionised poetry. These poets brought poetry within the reach of the average man and woman by writing in everyday language. Poetry was now the living voice. Poetry went through subtle changes through the Victorian Era, the Georgian Era, and various movements until a world, changed by the Industrial Revolution and The First World War gave birth to Modernism. Poetry is like life, it changes and changes. Modernism shattered fixed conventions that stated that only specific language and subjects were poetic. A melange of magnificence was created by calling on other cultures and by mixing alien and ancient materials. Picasso did this with the art of painting, mixing textures and introducing collage and fragmentation into painting. These changes advanced by Modernism also changed the popular audience for poetry. Some readers resisted the changes and preferred mainstream, easy to understand, poetry.

There is movement of thought and words in poetry so we read and move on through the poem. T.S. Eliot said ” We learn what poetry is – if we ever learn – from reading it.” The poet has crafted a poem within which words will delight or destroy the anticipation of the reader. A poem should stand free of intellectual examination and be interesting and good to read. If therefore, the words on the page please, the first step towards satisfaction is underway. The next thing to note is the form or shape of the poem. Is it a sonnet or a lyric poem? Is it a free verse or a rhyming poem? Everyone has a preference and may be attracted by a specific type of poem…it may simply be the length of a poem that attracts. Sometimes we want to read a short poem another time we require a fuller longer piece of poetry. There is, in fact an explanation for the reason for choosing a short poem, such as, the sonnet. The human brain is such that the fourteen lines of the sonnet suit the human psyche.  The ingenuity of its form contains the phenomenon of the golden section or the golden ratio.This fact is extremely interesting not only to mathematicians but to all of us who seek to know “the reason why” or the natural explanation of things that we take for granted. Poetry suits the changing mind. Next, does what the poet is trying to say make sense to the reader and is there a sense of agreement, appreciation or disapproval. Is there a premise in the poem that requires further study, are moral issues being interrogated?

All the above are considered like the interior of the human body. We see only the exterior body and we are either attracted or disinterested. When attraction occurs one continues the conversation. Same with poetry, it is possible to fall in love with a poem, just for itself, long before inquiring into its reasons it’s matter and explanation. We try to understand a poem through our personal knowledge and what we have learned without and within the particular poem. Like life, and living, we need to participate in the poem and bring it to life so that we seem to live in it.

Sometimes we find ourselves lost as we encounter difficulties of hidden nuances or the twists and subtleties of the words. Reading and re reading is the key. Poems can describe and try to explain life. If a poem sparks a thought or a memory in the reader the meaning in the poem may change, and become the reader’s version. The reader may take the poet’s words and see something new and exciting. That is the wonder of poetry. When we first read a poem, we need to like it and find something that makes another reading attractive. It may be the sound within the poem, its music or its whispering memories. It may simply be, how it looks on the page. Does the poem appeal to the senses? We need this reaction before looking for meaning.

Here are some useful tools that we can use to examine a poem and try to reach an understanding and add to our enjoyment of poetry.

Imagery is use of descriptions that appeal to the reader’s five senses. ie. The scent of a rose. The sound of the sea.

Metaphor is a comparison between unlike things. ie.The poetry of her life was a sonnet.
The wine is heavenly.

Simile is the same as metaphor but employs the use of ‘ like’ ie It is like the scent of a rose.
It is like the sound of the sea.

Personification is giving human characteristics to animals or non human things. ie. The trees listen to my words. The house knows when we are home.

Patterns; Repetition of words or phrases.

Feelings; Atmosphere of the poem.

Puzzles; Something or mysterious in the poem.

These definitions are useful when reading, and especially, when reviewing a poem. There are, of course many aspects of a poem to consider and that is why so many reviews differ. This is wholesome, as each reader may have a different interpretation

A critique of a poem from “The Toga and The Rose”. The Hand of God Gloved.

The Hand of God Gloved

A life that should have been yellow, coloured grey.
Cotton fields blazing sun and laughter
Singing in the cloisters like angels
The man swung his belt and blasted
The beauty from all time
As innocence lost its rhyme
They found a new reality.
A life that should have been yellow, coloured grey.
Black skin the only sin
Eyes dark as the blood soaked earth.
As the light dimmed and died
The singing in the cloisters of demons
Rattled the chains
Of hunger and thirst
A life that should have been yellow, coloured grey
Is now black.
The hand of god gloved.

I walked into a meadow
And asked a man for gold
He said that I was ugly
And that I should be sold
For half a pint of nothing.
A life that should have been yellow, coloured grey.
I was the Devil’s Agent, he said.  He took the child away.
The well is deep.  How harsh the sleep
There is no anodyne for pain
The constant gnawing strain
For a life that should have been yellow, coloured grey.
The hand of god still gloved.

(c)2014 Sheighle Birdthistle (The Toga and The Rose)

Attention is immediately drawn to the title of the poem. A gloved hand lacks intimacy so the inference is of a God who is distant or uncaring. The poem opens, telling of a life that should be happy ..yellow is a bright colour think of sunshine and warmth, but here we have a metaphor for a life no longer happy. The colour grey…dullness, drab grey, colours this life with misery instead of happiness. Then we have the simile of the person or persons singing like angels as the tone changes suddenly and we realise through the use of the plural pronoun that the life being lived is more than one. The cruelty of the man takes away the innocence of those singing as they realise that their reality is indeed grey and without joy. The repetition of the line “a life that should have been yellow, coloured grey” serves to state firmly the damage being done. Over and over again.

We know now that this first stanza is about abuse, global abuse of race. “Black skin the only sin” We read of hunger and thirst and the spilling of blood and the only reason is the colour of those at work in the cotton fields.

The second stanza is told in the first person making the conversation with the reader a personal interaction. “I walked into a meadow and asked a man for gold”. Walking into a meadow, a field of grassland often covered with wild flowers sounds gentle and easy but this premise is quickly shattered by the man’s reaction. Asking for gold…this is a metaphor for help, for assistance. But his response “half a pint of nothing” is that “I” am worthless …devoid of all respect …the Devil’s Agent.
“I” am the temptation that cannot be resisted, but he is the one who destroys the innocent without remorse. There is no solution for the abused, the depressed for the tortured sleeplessness of the injured. This person longs for a life that should have been a normal happy life. It is still a damaged grey because the hand of God is still gloved. The poem closes as it opened with a metaphor of colour for the good, and the bad, experienced in life. “A Life that should have yellow coloured grey.”

Some poems for you to enjoy.

Undiluted dismissal …

Oh to be and not to be
when too tired to try
To please the world
Or the little world
Of those you love
Unresisting the slights
Expiring the breath
Of undiluted dismissal
And losing it, losing it
As night snores on you
And the moon seems to
Cloud over and sneer
Oh to be and not to be
When tomorrow may
Put on it a different
Veneer of life or death
And it might be too late
To care whether or not
It matters or not
To be or not to be.

(c) Sheighle Birdthistle.

The Kiss

The sea is a flirtatious lover
It rolls in and kisses the rocks
Rolls out again waving gently

In those moments I glimpse eternity
On it goes its power exploding
Like the love in my broken heart

My gaze takes flight  beholds a ship
My soul finds its wings to rest aboard
And sail safely in the ocean’s kiss

(c) Sheighle Birdthistle


She looks out through the window pane
Sea and sky have blended to one
Yachts moored with tall moaning masts
In the harbour of discontent
Reflect the feel of the nation
And the blasting inertia rains on limbs.
As the wealthy prepare to sail.
The sunrise is perfect delight
Sunset is a fire raging mad
Class war is hidden in purple rage
As nations pretend to vote again.

Sheighle Birdthistle.

Astley, Neil (Ed.,) 2002 Staying Alive real.poems for unreal times Bloodaxe Books Ltd.

Highgreen, Tarset, Northumberland.NE48 IRP. UK.


I Am a Whisper in the Wind

Who am I….what am I?
So unlike the others
That I have become
The other….that one
Who does not agree
With the words voiced
Or thoughts unveiled

The idea of being
Matter in existence
Relenting my essence
Of spiritual thinking
Existing in the mundane
No more I; who am I?

I am a whisper in the wind.
Sheighle Birdthistle.

Irish Culture and Poetry.

This my granddaughter Daisy who was invited to sing at the opening of  St. Patrick’s Day Concert in the  U.K.

Daisy is singing here.

She is singing an old Irish Song, Poem, Prayer. ‘ Céad Míle Fáilte.’

These words in the Irish language mean ‘ Welcome.’

My Ireland

I am Sheighle and I am Irish and I want to tell you about my dreams of my ancient days and lead you into the reality of the present.  More than five thousand years have passed since my community of the Stone Age built our most famous temple called Newgrange.  Newgrange is a large circular mound with a stone passageway and chambers inside and  a retaining wall at the front and it is ringed by stones engraved with artwork. It is older than the Egyptian Pyramids.

Here we practised our ceremonial rites and worshipped our gods.  We revered the Sun and other elements and accepted them as our notion of god…we worshipped the wonder and strength of Nature.  When we built Newgrange about the year 3200 BC we aligned it with the rising sun and the sun’s light still floods the chamber during the Winter Solstice.  We were farming people we grew crops and raised cattle wherever we settled and all our tools were made out of stone, wood, animal antler or bone.  Building Newgrange was a major achievement.

Culture changed and people developed new skills and about the year 500 BC as the Bronze Age in Ireland drew to a close, the Celts arrived in Ireland with a new cultural influence.  Celtic influences spread across much of central Europe and into Iberia and the British Isles. The Celts used iron and so had the technological ability to spread as they did.  Over the course of a few hundred years the Celts obliterated the existing culture in the island and Celtic culture became way of life in Ireland. The language spoken was Celtic and the first written Irish appeared. It is called Ogham, the script consists of a series of grooves on the corner of a stone.

In many ways, it was a culture based around war.  Ireland was divided into multiple kingdoms and disputes were settled by a battle.  The blacksmith, druids and poets were held in high esteem within these kingdoms; the blacksmith made the weapons, the druids made the prophesies and soothsaying and the poets put into verse the exploits of the warriors to be sung around the cooking fires.  Tara in County Meath was an important site throughout the Celtic period as it was a royal centre and ultimately, the seat of the High Kings of Ireland.  Celtic art and crosses are still to be seen in modern Ireland and the Celts built large earth works of various kinds and burial mounds and large circular enclosures.  The Celts believed that demons and spirits were everywhere and they depended on the druids (their priests) to protect them.  The druids performed all the religious rites and acted as philosopher doctor and lawyer in Celtic society.  The Celts loved music; they loved to boast and to make up stories, especially about fairies and leprechauns.

*My memories of so much heritage cannot be told in one long fable so I encourage you to visit my country of mists and magic and U2 and Riverdance.*

Ireland is a small island in the vast Atlantic Ocean off the north-western coast of mainland Europe and next stop to the west is the land mass of the Continent of the Americas.  Ireland is a Republic of 4.6 million people whose history is long and complex and this presentation will involve only a small amount of historical fact.

Since Ireland was first conquered by the Normans in 1167 this Atlantic Ocean Island has risen with its people over and over through centuries in the fight to regain its right of identity.

Through many centuries Ireland served England, as an experiment, as England attempted to use its neighbour Ireland, as a foil for its supposed sophistication, naming Ireland, as a fantasy land of fairies and dreamers.  Ireland’s island status acted as a protection against invasion of England by sea, so it played an important part in England’s security plans.  England conquered Ireland and steadfastly set about changing its culture, language and ultimately its religion. The Irish language was forbidden and English was employed throughout.  Native Irish words, expressions and nuances crossed over from Irish to English mixing the Celtic language and the Anglo Saxon language to become spoken as Hiberno English. (This means that the language retains some native words and has some grammatical differences.)

During the intervening centuries until the present, Irish Rebellions were a constant irritation for England and Ireland was aided frequently by foreign forces especially the French.  There was massive emigration from Ireland following the devastating famines of the 1840’s.  This dispersed hundreds of thousands of Irish men and women throughout the major cities of the world, of Britain, North America, South America and Australia while a million of Irish citizens died from starvation.  Very sadly, today, those same countries and more are welcoming young Irish citizens due to the latest famine, a major financial famine.

During the nineteenth century many Irish exiles, like Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw who were the shining stars of London’s culture considered that it would be through contact with the Art of other countries that a modern Irish culture would be formed.  Back in Dublin, the plan was to reinstate the Irish language as a protest against being anglicised.  The revival began the desire for political independence.  The Gaelic League was founded in the 1800’s and its members painfully studied and repossessed the Irish language while continuing to speak English in public life.  W.B. Yeats followed Wilde and Shaw to London in the 1880’s.  This was the route to fame for artistic endeavour at the time.

Yeats, however, was sickened by being considered a form of entertainer in London, rather than a serious Celtic Poet.  He made the decision to return to Dublin to create there, his foundation for a Cultural Revival.  Both James Joyce and W.B. Yeats agreed that the Irish needed to have a clearer sense of identity but disagreed on how this should be achieved.  Yeats was fascinated by the past and wanted to craft a uniquely Irish style in literature with a Celtic tradition.  Yeats looked to folklore and myth and the idea that part of Ireland’s future must come from its past.  Joyce, on the other hand, saw Ireland’s past as a hindrance to Ireland’s progress.  Ultimately, Joyce considered it necessary to leave his county in order to forge a new identity for his race.

The Irish Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney grew up in a divided landscape…he was drawn to both the Irish and English poetic traditions.  He lived through the death of the rural world into which he was born as Ireland emerged as a global modern country.  Seamus Heaney was an Irish Nationalist in a country where gunmen grew vegetables, a contradiction of existence.

Life in Ireland today in 2020 is, to a certain extent, a contradiction of existence.  After a brief moment of artificial wealth, a period referred to as The Celtic Tiger, Ireland was one of the first countries to suffer from the global financial crisis.  External and internal forces of greed, corruption and irresponsible banking literally drained the life from the body and soul of many Irish men and women.  But, we have struggled and we are reviving and Ireland is the first country in Europe to show a return to normality.  Much of this has to be due to the Irish mentality of “Sure everything will be alright”.

And sure things are looking good; something is working when top global companies decide to settle in Ireland.  Global companies have many good reasons for setting up in Ireland; we have a well educated workforce, Ireland is the only English speaking country in the Euro zone, our tax laws are favourable, laws that were in situ when we joined the European Union in the year 1973 and it is accepted that the country and its people offer a pleasant environment in which to work.  (There is a long list of companies that operate from Ireland.  Amazon, Apple Inc., Baltimore Technologies. Cisco, Dell Ireland, Dropbox, EBay, EMC, Facebook, Google Ireland, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel Lindkin, Microsoft Ireland, Oracle, PayPal Twitter, Kentz, Pfizer, at the moment Yahoo is negotiating to move to Ireland.)

As I told you earlier the Celts loved music and story telling and we Irish continue in this tradition with our writers and poets and our love of both traditional and modern music. Ireland has become a venue for major music acts throughout the year..  Festivals celebrating the Arts take place all year round in Ireland with many workshops lead by writers and musicians. Sporting events enjoy a very full calendar of Gaelic Games such as hurling and Gaelic football, soccer and rugby.

Very often it is in times of difficulty that readers turn to poetry for help in understanding a situation, or in an effort to sort out inner feelings.  Sometimes only poetry can clearly say the words that we struggle to find when faced with either some dilemma or delight.  It is unfortunate that poetry may be considered by some as irrelevant or by others, with a sense of fear. Worst of all, is when poetry is considered elitist and beyond the scope of our everyday conversation and understanding.

Poetry can cope with every aspect of life and it is well worth the effort required to inform ourselves and to set about enjoying the magnificent art of poetry.  Believe in the truth of these words when you see the beauty and wonder of nature or the simple majesty of innocence.  Examine your thoughts and feelings and you may find that many times you have brought to mind some poetic work that still works its wonder on your memory.

The poem is the product and work of the poet whose craft is the formation of words in a way to excite the imagination of the reader just as the conception of the poem has excited the poet.  The poem must stand on its own merit.  A thing apart. Only when we have read a poem, and pondered on its existence and perhaps tried to analyse its intent, should we turn our attention to the constructer or builder of this piece of art, that is, the poet.

Too often, the life of the poet is the thing that is scrutinised to the detriment of the poem and on many occasions the media is hugely responsible for this distraction.  Celebrity has become a sensation of modern living and again too often the person and the humanity of the person has been obliterated by the fashion of scandal as a way of life.  In my opinion, this is why some critics have called Heaney’s poetry bland.  The have confused the words of the poet with the life that he has led.

Seamus Heaney in 1995 won the Nobel Prize in Literature “for works olyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past.”

Seamus Heaney was a celebrated poet, a Nobel Laureate.  A celebrity of the highest calibre.  He was a poet who lived and worked in the limelight but never sought to be centre stage nor sought to outshine his contemporaries, but did so, through his natural talent.  Heaney loved poetry and he understood and admired poetry in all its guises.  He could understand and enjoy ancient works and classics and still be moved by both modernity and the poetry contained in Rap.  He was a normal everyday man.  He was warm and kind and a giant scholar with an authentic intelligence always willing to share his words and his time.  This fact has been recorded over and over by people throughout the world.  Seamus Heaney made being a great poet look easy through his captivating sense of delight in the ordinary.  His poetry, like the man, lacks arrogance and makes us look at our ordinary lives and the ordinary things that happen each day and cause us to wonder and delight in just being alive.

Most of all, to delight in the ordinary, in communication with others and the sharing of experience to elevate the normal ordinary understanding to a new level, that of the extraordinary.  For instance, time taken to watch the sunset and to share that experience, or hearing a piece of music or simply sharing time with a friend can all be extraordinary if we allow it to be so.  Through his poetry, his choice of words, his subject matter and clarity of thought Seamus Heaney is telling us that all things, all time and all situations can be amazing.

Heaney struggled with contradictions all his life.  He grew up in a divided landscape…he was drawn to both the Irish and English poetic traditions.  He lived through the death of the rural world into which he was born as Ireland emerged as a global modern country. Seamus Heaney was an Irish Nationalist in a country where gunmen grew vegetables, again, a contradiction of existence. He was also able to understand both sides of the political and emotional conflict that haunted Northern Ireland without being harnessed as a spokesman for either side… these lines explain it all “Two buckets were easier carried than one. I grew up in between.”  And also.  An IRA sympathiser has his demands for political commitment refused and angrily demands as to when will Heaney write something for the IRA.

The poet retorts. “When I do write something, whatever it is, I’ll be writing for head…from the “inside out”. He said that he could hear a word, a phrase or have an idea, and he would let it germinate in his imagination until it became the root of a poem. In other words, it was his interior world that fashioned his poetry. This was the technique that gave substance and quality to the craft of writing poetry. A craft and technique that won for him the Nobel Prize in Literature

Seamus Heaney was born April 13th. 1939 at the family farm called Mossbawn near Castledawson Northern Ireland, about thirty miles from Belfast.  He was the eldest of nine children.

His father, Patrick as well as being a farmer was also a cattle dealer and a very popular figure at cattle markets and fairs throughout the district.  His mother Margaret was a member of the Mc Cann family from Castledawson many of whom worked in the local Clark’s linen factory.

Heaney’s family was Catholic and he was raised in the Irish Nationalist tradition.  Seamus attended the local primary school which was a short distance from his home.  When he was twelve years old he won a scholarship to Saint Columb’s College, a Catholic Boarding School in Derry.  There he excelled in English, Irish and Latin.  In 1957 Heaney began his study of English language and literature at Queen’s University Belfast and he also began to write.  During his third year at University his poems began to appear in the University’s literary magazines.  On graduating he trained as a teacher and after some time teaching and lecturing be became, in 1966, a lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast.

Seamus Heaney is one of the world’s best-known poets, his work encompasses, not alone poetry but literary criticism and translation.  He has held prestigious teaching positions in Europe and the USA.  In the words of the Nobel Academy Heaney creates “works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past” Heaney is a wise poet.  He talks about the beautiful and the monstrous.  He climbs out of the earth and takes us with him never losing touch with the reality of life and death.  Seamus Heaney is regarded as the elder statesman of poetry; he has received the T.S. Eliot Prize (2006) Nobel Prize for Literature (1995) Whitbread in 1996 and 1999.  He was both the Harvard and Oxford Professor of Poetry and was made a Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres in 1996.

The first poem that we will read is “Digging” written during the summer of 1966.  Heaney has said that it was “the first poem I wrote where I thought my feelings had got into words and the first place where I felt I had done more than make an arrangement of words: I felt that I had let down a shaft into real life”.


Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.


Under my window, a clean rasping sound

When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:

My father, digging.  I look down


Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds

Bends low, comes up twenty years away

Stooping in rhythm through potato drills

Wherehe was digging.


The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft

Against the inside knee was levered firmly.

He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep

To scatter new potatoes that we picked,

Loving their cool hardness in our hands.


By God, the old man could handle a spade.

Just like his old man.


My grandfather cut more turf in a day

Than any other man on Toner’s bog.

Once I carried him milk in a bottle

Corked sloppily with paper.  He straightened up

To drink it, then fell to right away

Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods


Over his shoulder, going down and down

For the good turf.  Digging.


The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap

Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge

Through living roots awaken in my head.

But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.


Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests.

I’ll dig with it.


“Digging” is one of Heaney’s earliest poems written when he was twenty seven years old.  It is essential Heaney, rooted in the earth and place.  He invites the reader into the private world of his family.  We can see through the images that he paints with the pen and the atmosphere that he creates with his words.  He enters time dimensions of the present, the past and the future.

The title of the poem is in the present active tense and we can imagine something happening, something being done, as we read the poem.  Digging.  We can imagine a young person, interrupting his writing (the young Heaney) the pen is held between finger and thumb “The squat pen rests” the writing is stopped – the pen rests as the writer hesitates and contemplates what is occurring outside, outside in nature and outside the realm of his thoughts.

The first two lines introduce us to the poet writing but also to something else, he uses a simile to remind us of his surroundings, the North of Ireland.  “the squat pen” “snug as a gun” Nothing more, but our minds take on board the subtle inference that there are guns in existence nearby.

Next, we are invited to learn about the poet’s father as he digs and digs, a farmer bent low, digging potato drills.  We can see the man’s foot on the edge, the lug of the spade as he pushes down into the earth for the potatoes the hard cold potatoes that the children love to pick.  Heaney changes the tone of the poem and takes us from the present into his family’s past as he tells us that his father handles the spade with skill just as his father did before him.

A picture is painted for us of his grandfather cutting turf, great amounts of turf and we see a man so immersed in his toil that he can hardly stop to drink the milk carried to him by his young grandson “corked sloppily with paper” we feel the energy of the man neatly cutting and heaving the sods out of the earth and over his shoulder.  He digs deeper and deeper, “for the good turf”

The smell of potato mould and the sound of turf cutting make their way through the roots formed in the earth.  The roots of family and place and a sense of belonging, all these roots swarm into the psyche of this poet and he is “taken aback” for a moment.  He has not chosen to dig the land as his father and his father’s father have. He acknowledges that his planting of roots will take a different form.  He brings us with him once again from the past to the present “But I’ve no spade to follow men like them” Heaney tells us with conviction what his future will be; he will dig and plant with words.  “Between my finger and my thumb the squat pen rests.  I’ll dig with it”.

The poem “Digging” was a kind of initiation for Heaney; his is a work of excavating the past, he unpeels layers to reveal, veiled and unveiled the misty remembered past.  Digging is at the heart of his work.


Sheighle Birdthistle.

(They Toga and The Rose.  Demons and other Friends.  Mine and Mine.)

I was born in Limerick. Ireland, a long time ago.  My parents had eight children four boys and four girls. I am number seven. My school days were a mixture of joy and disorder.  Poetry and Ballet were my passion and occupied most of my life.  For me, poetry put my ballet parts into words.  Sandy and I married at a young age and we had our four children,a son and three daughters in quick succession.  We now have seven grandchildren, who delight us just as our own children delighted us.

I studied English and Philosophy for my Batchelors Degree and Women’s Studies as a Post Graduate. I have a Master of Arts Degree in Modern Literature.  Harvard Summer School was a wonderful experience. A semester studying the work of Sylvia Plath and the work of Anne Sexton, while attending readings of poetry and enjoying the playful squirels in the College grounds.

Coming to live in France and founding The Poetry Corner encouraged me to publish my third collection of poems.  I am still passionate about writing and research and love to have discussions about my poetry.



This was even better,

a full stop privacy.


It was there.  There,

in the middle of the vineyard


stark in the midday sun.

Like a hangman’s dream


it loomed into her consciousness

taking over her compliant existence.


Her adult life was a quest laid out

by a higher order, or so it seemed.


Lack of control over so many circumstances

and nothing to help.


Her well of ideas floundered every time

That was one of her problems


lack of freedom to think and find a way

to explain ones particular existence.


And a way to accept and choose ones part,

a player in the amazing dramas of life.


Thoughts like these flitted through

her consciousness, escaped and returned.


Who does not search for explanations

the existentialist question about life


and reality of existence, ones  particular life

and the why and wherefore of everything?


Hers was a mind that hungered for answers.

She thought that everyone else had the answers.


She sat under the tree shaded

by its dark gaunt branches…


she sought trees with this kind

of architectural growth …


a Beckett tree, she privately mused.


Slowly, she drank from the bottle

Clutched tightly, in her tired hand.

(c) Sheighle Birdthistle

My Love


My first love was complicated

In fact so is all my love story

His eyes compelled me

As he sauntered past my home

A firm mix of Elvis and Paul Newman.

I longed to kiss his sardonic lips

And so calm my beating heart  and

The warmth that set my body afire

Now we still catch a look and smile

What might be or has been loved

We are both less and more of whom

We were when he was a cute eighteen

And I had my first passionate kiss

A girl of thirteen and still warm

With the touch of his passionate kisses.


(c) Sheighle Birdthistle

The magic of an Ancient Stone Circle Near Lough Gur. Co. Limerick. Ireland;


I walked into the hazel parch

And plucked a bough from the bush

Inhaled the scent of sorrow

In that place of hush and secret

Ordered  by a strange power

With bough outstretched,

To ramble over fertile green,

Over bog of rich dark turf

Alive in its death shell, warmly

Nourishing the perfection

Embalmed within its depths.

As moonlight crept from clouds

And crows cawed their way home

To nests in high dark trees,

Cows lowed in meadows

That now seemed ominous.

Darkness clawing at my soul

That strange power urged

Me onwards to a place

Where stones heaped on stone

Rose in a circle

A wide wide circle.

Gossamer fog fell

As I fell to my knees

And prayed and scourged

My innermost soul

For understanding.

(C)2013 Sheighle Birdthistle

Ogham is an Early Medieval alphabet used to write the early Irish language, Primitive Irish. Evidence shows that Ogham was in use since at least the 4th century, long before the arrival of the Latin alphabet to Ireland.


The ancient Ogham script (pronounced ‘oh-am’) is most often found on Ogham stones that date back to the third century. Most examples of the writing is found on Ogham stones of which there are over 350 found mostly in southern Ireland as well as in Scotland, the Isle of Man, Cornwall and Wales.

The transition to the use of the Roman alphabet took place about the sixth century. Most examples of Ogham writing confer the name of person that they represent, thus the stones are often memorial symbols. When carved on stones the first letter was at the base and the inscription read from the bottom up. Ogham is occasionally called the ‘Celtic Tree alphabet’ as many of the letters of Ogham refer to trees.

The origin of Ogham is unclear with some scholars suggesting that the language was invented to allow the native Irish communicate in code that the Roman Britons would not understand. Other scholars contend that the language is of Christian origin and exists as a means of religious communication.

Poems written in Ogham.  An old Irish poem attributed to Amergin, the chief Druid of the Milesians in Irish mythology. This, along with four other poems by Amergin, appears in the Lebar na Núachongbála (The Book of Leinster) a 12th century manuscript which contains some ogham script.

Ogham Alphabet.

The Five Vowels. A E I O U

Click on the above image to see my name in Ogham.

And finally ……



Come take my hand and let us go

And roam through the desert of life

Listening to the whisper of the wind

And the chuckle of birds who watch.

Grab the vines trailing and fly, if only

For a moment in time, fresh and free.


Sense movement plump your skin

Hair tousled flying wild and weightless.

Then scramble across rocks barefoot

Feeling layers of origins touching us

And lie down in bogland and hear whispering,

The voices of our ancestors and their breath

Mingling in our senses like flowing blood.

Capture then the wind, and hover over lands

Unvisited and shed tears for battled lives unlived.

Let the wind gather us in harmony and song,

Or scream, with the horror and wonder of freedom.

I am your voice and your inner child I am dead

But I live.  Dance with me, lie with me. Love me.

I am the shadow that escapes the sun.

(c) Sheighle Birdthistle.


Sometimes the poet

Takes a deep breath

Puts the pen aside

And sighs and sighs.

A grey world looms

Sun barely shines

Grass stops growing

Poet stops knowing.

Corruption reigns

Money the new God

Of religion spurning

The loved and beloved.

(C)2016 Sheighle Birdthistle

The Poppy Fields of France

The fields are full of poppies; my heart bleeds

Deep in my field of dreams, in my sad soul,

They stretch on and on. Far away

I see wooden crosses of men and boys

Slain on fields of green, turned poppy red

With blood of the ordered man.

The stem of the delicate flower

Is strong, as the obedient soldier

It sways in the breeze, persisting.

Can you hear the cry of the dead?

Listen! The scream of the living

Tells of the greatness of survival

The slaughter of death.

Of the longing to be home

To see in the fields, the poppies

Growing wild and free.


(C) 2014 Sheighle Birdthistle (The Toga and The Rose)

World Poetry Day 2015


I found something in the garden.
Sitting on a bench soaking hot
Drenched in a sense of awe.
Afternoon light, bright beams
Filtered by strands of green
Different shades of green.
Fine, dark and shrouded shadows
All green, hanging, creeping,
Lush in arrogant tresses.
Walled garden safe and silent
Only the thrilling fountain
Drip feeding my thirst.
It happened that day
I found something in the garden.

(C)2013 Sheighle Birdthistle (The Toga and The Rose pg.11)

Celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of W.B. Yeats

Celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the birth of W. B. Yeats

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)


About the Author:

photo[1]Sheighle Birdthistle is an Irish poet living in Provence France. While studying at the University of Limerick she spent a semester at Harvard Summer School studying the poetry of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. Sheighle has a Masters Degree in Modern English Literature and is Director/Founder of The Poetry Corner in Aix en Provence. France.

This complete article can be downloaded here:  The Poetry Corner – W.B.Yeats

A Word from the author:

This photograph shows a plaque in Rapallo commemorating William Butler Yeats who lived in this building from 1928 to 1930. I am holding a bag from Book in Bar. Aix en Provence where I present The Poetry Corner on the last Friday of each month. The photograph was taken April14th. 2010


The Poetry Corner.

William Butler Yeats. (1865-1939)

William Butler Yeats was born in Dublin June 13th. 1865. He was the eldest of six children born to John Butler Yeats and his wife Susan Pollexfen. Susan was part of a wealthy family from

Sligo in the west of Ireland. Her family welcomed John B. Yeats who was the son of a Protestant churchman, who like his father and grandfather had studied at Trinity College Dublin. However, they were dismayed when John Butler Yeats abandoned his career as a barrister in favour of being a portrait artist. Unfortunately he was never financially successful as an artist. The family moved from home to home between Ireland and England in pursuit of this artistic career. Instead of financial security the young Yeats family, had challenging conversation and encouragement in the discovery of their talents. So it was that as a boy, attending High School in Dublin, W.B. Yeats was accustomed to genteel poverty as were many Irish writers of the time. Willie, as he was called, travelled each morning by train with his father Willie, to school and his father to his studio. They discussed and enjoyed poetry during these daily journeys. When the time came to choose a career W.B. decided to attend The School of Art in Dublin rather than Trinity College Dublin, thus breaking with family tradition. There, he met and was impressed by other writers and artists such as James Clarence Mangan and Standish O’Grady and so it was not surprising that he decided that he wanted to be a poet. He began to use the beautiful folk tales of Sligo that his mother had told him and his siblings when they were children. John Yeats encouraged Willie by recklessly saying, that a gentleman should follow his desires regardless of money considerations. From a young age Willie was interested in nationalism and translations of Irish writing into English and as he matured so did this interest in Irish literature. He thought that he could recreate Ireland’s forgotten intellectual heritage. It was while he attended the School of Art that some of his first poems were published in the Dublin University Review.

In March 1888 John Butler Yeats once more moved his family from Dublin to London. The family was almost destitute, both money and food were in short supply. Willie’s small amounts of money from magazine publications paid almost all the household expenses. When his sister Lily began working in an embroidery shop earning ten shillings a week, it was a cause for celebration. Around this time Mrs Yeats suffered a stroke. She virtually gave up on life when there followed a second stroke, and she died in 1900.

Yeats was twenty fours years old when he met, and fell in love, with Maud Gonne. She was tall and beautiful a revolutionary and an actress. Born in England and educated in France, Maud Gonne was an amazing and energetic woman, she had a son who died in infancy and a daughter Iseult, they were the children of her liaison with a married French rebel politician Lucien Millevoye. It was in France that Maud Gonne began her lifelong interest and fight for the Irish nationalist cause. Yeats wrote poetry for Maud Gonne and a play, The Countess Kathleen. The poetry was full of love and longing. Melancholia invades and invests the poetry of Yeats from the moment her meets Maud Gonne. His lifetime of unrequited love pulsates in his words – so many words cherishing and exalting this beautiful woman. Maud Gonne was a contrast of soft beauty and ruthless rebel and this touched the soul of Yeats. He proposed to her in 1891 and was refused with the words that the world would thank her for not marrying him. Yeats repeated his proposal many many times but she continued to refuse. They remained lifelong friends and she continued to figure in his poetry. Years later Yeats proposed to Gonne’s daughter Iseult and she also refused him. Iseult married the highly controversial writer Francis Stuart they had two children but the marriage did not survive. Francis Stuart later married a German woman and after her death he married, in the 1980’s the Irish artist Fionnuala Graham who was more than forty years younger than Stuart. I remember Fionnuala Graham the budding artist we shared the same classroom in my convent school in Ireland.

Maud Gonne witnessed the cruel evictions that took place on a regular basis in Ireland and was deeply moved by the plight of the poor Irish people. She became involved in the Irish struggle for Independence and is buried in the Republican plot with the other Irish patriots. Her husband John Mac Bride was executed with James Connolly after the 1916 Easter Rising. Maud Gonne and John Mac Bride had a son Sean who was born in Paris in 1904. His first language was French. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974 and the Lenin Peace Prize in 1975. He died January 15th. 1988.

Yeats was hugely influenced by Gonne’s revolutionary ideals and he impressed her with his view that his literary movement would work equally alongside her battle to forge an Independent Ireland. Yeats’ early poetry was romantic, modelled on poets such as Spenser and Shelley and the Pre-Raphaelites. As his own personal style developed he found that in Ireland he had a huge store of subject matter. His familiarity with the west of Ireland, and Sligo in particular where fairy and folk tales dealt with the mysterious otherworld, with ghosts and the supernatural, gave Yeats inspiration and fascinated his imagination. He delved into ancient Irish legends and already by the age of twenty three he had begun to grow into an original and accomplished poet.

It was from the sense of homesickness for Sligo that Yeats wrote “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”. With this poem Yeats considered that he had found his own articulation, his own music. The poem has a musical rhythm with its lines of uniform feet. The lines flow easily one on to the next in a fluid telling of the story within the poem. Yeats had found his voice and a place in poetry. He also began to forge a sense of self dignity a composure, which contrasted greatly with his father’s lack of grace and willpower. Although he began to expand his horizons Yeats’ career progressed slowly. In Dublin he had been published in Irish magazines and now in London he had to start again in London’s literary life. He began to be published in the Scots Observer and the National Observer and he did much editing including editing Blake whose work appealed to him.

Yeats was very interested in the Occult and the Supernatural. He was always searching within and without for answers to the questions of existence. He joined the Theosophists, who sought knowledge of the Absolute, through intuition and spiritual ecstasy. However, Yeats was asked to leave the society as he continued to demand and desire evidence. Yeats was continuously pulled between his desire to believe and his ever anxious questioning. There was a lull in Irish politics after the death of Parnell 1891 (the leader of the Irish Parliamentary party) and Yeats considered the time right for launching a literary movement. His form of revolutionary work was to be done through writing whereas Maud Gonne his beloved muse was ultra political. This revolutionary literature was to dignify Ireland’s sense of self and make Irish readers aware of their heritage of a Gaelic civilization. It would be a new literature not dominated by political rhetoric but abundant in its return to past traditions. In 1892 Yeats published The Celtic Twilight and it gave its name to the Irish Literary movement as well as showing Yeats’ great intellect and leadership. The Irish Literary Renaissance came into being. Yeats’ work took many shapes and forms as it moved forward. He moved from his desire to write popular poetry to poetry that was intense and rarefied. He wrote beautiful language with delicacy and style. The tone of his love poetry changed and he wrote epic poetry and poetry about the difficulty and hard work that goes into writing poetry that seems simple and spontaneous.

Yeats was very hurt and surprised when in 1903 Maud Gonne married John Mac Bride, another revolutionary. Now he could only record memories and old hopes of his love and pay tribute to her great beauty and he compares her to Helen of Troy.

Yeats became disillusioned with Irish politics and returned to his ambition to create an Irish theatre. He was helped in this by Lady Gregory the widow of an Anglo-Irish landlord. He spent many summers at Coole Park her house in Co. Galway and it was the perfect ambience for his creative writing and poetry. With determination and able assistance from Lady Gregory he brought a national theatre into being. Yeats plays were performed, including Cathleen Ni Houlihan with Maud Gonne in the leading role. When the Abbey Theatre was established in 1904 Yeats became its production manager until 1910. His was an unselfish role as manager. He encouraged younger dramatists as the theatre moved away from his idea of poetic drama to a drama of realism. Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World in 1907 caused uproar as it was considered a slur on Irish manhood. Despite hostile audiences, Yeats continued to stage the play. Yeats next volume of poetry was one of completely different poems lacking its former mysticism. He used savage satire and attacked the ungrateful philistines in defence of Art. He wrote contrary to his normal style and denigrated some of his earlier work through extreme form and style. He was venting his frustration and frustrated passion for Maud Gonne through poetry.

The Easter Rising of 1916 took Yeats completely by surprise and the revolutionaries whom he had come to despise, now attained heroic stature. A terrible beauty was born. Maud Gonne’s husband, from whom she was separated, was one of the sixteen leaders executed and Yeats went to France and proposed to her once again. Again he was refused both by Maud and Iseult. In October 1917 he married Georgie Hyde Lees and his marriage gave a serenity and order to his life. Through his interest in unusual and extensive reading, and the mixture of his romantic and realistic poetry, his work seemed to have a rebirth a renaissance. He wrote with authority and could blend the beautiful and the tragic. He gave significance to the ordinary things and events of life that he had avoided earlier and his voice spoke to the people.

Yeats was made a Senator of the Irish Free State and was active and constructive in his role as Senator and he was listened to with respect. In 1923 William Butler Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and this gave public recognition of his work. He bought his first house in Co. Galway and called it Thoor Ballylee it was a medieval Norman tower and he and his wife restored it and they lived there with their son and daughter. Yeats work continued to shine and mature and he wrote with fervour and energy despite illness and impending age and death.

He died in France and was buried in Roquebrune in January 1939. His body was brought to Ireland and interred at Drumcliff in September 1948.


Jeffares, A. Norman., (1990) (end) W.B. Yeats Selected Poetry. Pan Books Ltd., London.

Jeffares, A. Norman., (2000) York Notes Advanced. W.B. Yeats Selected Poems. York Press. London.

Shortall, Barry. (2002) Willie & Maud   The Collins Press. Cork.

Birdthistle, Sheighle. (2001)   U.L. Notes. Ireland.