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Featured Poet: David Wheatley

Eyewear is very glad to welcome Irish poet-critic David Wheatley - pictured above - to its wind-blown pages this blustery November day.  Wheatley, one of Ireland's impressive younger literary figures, was born in Dublin in 1970, and is the author of four poetry collections with Gallery Press: Thirst, Mocker, Misery Hill and A Nest on the Waves. He has edited the work of James Clarence Mangan, also for Gallery, and Samuel Beckett’s Selected Poems for Faber and Faber. He often reviews for, among others, The Guardian Review section - where his reviews tend to be judicious and thoughtful, and non-representative of his edgier side.  Wheatley is - as many of his Irish generation are - an outspoken opponent of the Catholic Church, and a far-ranging (sometimes madcap) satirist, at least on the Internet, where he has run a lively blog.  In his combination of erudition,  sense of play, and seriousness, he makes a tantalising offer to the future, of growing into the next important Irish poet after Muldoon - though his own style is notably different.  He lives in Hull where he lectures.  This poem is a translation (see his note below) taken from the impressive new anthology, Patrick Crotty's The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry.

Poem by Anonymous

Eochaidh Ó hEodhasa (?1560-1612) was court bard to three successive chieftains of the Maguire clan in Co. Fermanagh. He exemplifies the aristocratic (rather than folk) tradition in Irish poetry that would come to an end with the defeat of the Gaelic chieftains at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601. He is best known to readers in English through James Clarence Mangan’s ‘O’Hussey’s Ode to the Maguire’, and is the subject of James Carney’s 1958 study ‘The Irish Bardic Poet’. This anonymous elegy observes the convention of comparing poetry to a woman, who suffers loss of symbolic authority and status on the death of the poet. The original Irish text can be found in Osborn Bergin’s Irish Bardic Poetry.

On the Death of a Poet (composed during the last illness of Eochaidh Ó hEodhasa)

Poetry is touched by decline:
how can we come to her aid?
She is sure all hope is gone
in her poorly state.

Consider poetry’s plight,
fit only for the sickbed
as word of Eochaidh’s death is brought
to her who was his bride. 

It is hard to witness the honour
once hers turn to scorn:
woeful indignity drawing near,
the cloud of abasement come down.

To Eochaidh above all men she gave
the flower in its prime
of her artistry and love;
and all to nourish him.

The hidden ore of his poet’s craft
burned with a gemlike flame
lighting up the art he left;
much died with his name.

Well he knew the schoolmen’s work,
who sat among the wise;
poet of the golden cloak,
a great lament shall be his.

He stumbled on the hazel of knowledge
in its secret grove,
and left its branches hung with flesh,
stripping the nutshells off.

Out of words both dark and subtle
the poet makes his art
with perfect ease, and in recital
omits no part.

It is no small help to his work
to add the gold relief
of learning to his every word:
such is the way of the beehive.

Bees all over brim their hoard
with the juice they collect 
from the oozings of a milky gourd
or a flower unpacked.

They are examples to the bard
whose craft none can match;
no flower or fruit, soft or hard,
escapes his search.

It is he resolves the doubts
of those already skilled;
he who settles all debates,
he to whom all yield.

Who has not been touched by sorrow
at the master’s loss of life?
This disease goes to the marrow
and pierces like a spike.

Like a cow parted from her calf,
my wits are overthrown;
I make melody from my grief,
who now am orphaned;

and poetry is a widow unless
Maoilseachlainn’s son returns;
no-one can make good her loss
but the man she mourns.

poem translated by David Wheatley from an anonymous poet; from The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry; reprinted with permission of the author.

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