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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807 – 1882
What the Heart of the Young Man Said to the Psalmist
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
“Life is but an empty dream!”
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
“Dust thou art, to dust returnest,”
Was not spoken of the soul.
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Finds us farther than to-day.
Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!
Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,–act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing
Learn to labor and to wait.
When you get what you want in your struggle for pelf,
And the world makes you King for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that guy has to say.
For it isn’t your Father, or Mother, or Wife,
Who judgement upon you must pass.
The feller whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the guy staring back from the glass.
He’s the feller to please, never mind all the rest,
For he’s with you clear up to the end,
And you’ve passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If the guy in the glass is your friend.
You may be like Jack Horner and “chisel” a plum,
And think you’re a wonderful guy,
But the man in the glass says you’re only a bum
If you can’t look him straight in the eye.
You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years,
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But your final reward will be heartaches and tears
If you’ve cheated the guy in the glass.
Reasons to be cheerful: Novelist Joseph O’Connor sees good in the Irish recession. This is from 2010 but still a great poem.
REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL
(After Ian Dury)
Lately we’re worried. We need advice.
We were Boomtown rats. Now we’re poor church mice.
Fretful, anxious, broke and fearful
But still –
there’s reasons to be cheerful:
Conor McPherson. Daniel Day Lewis.
Sebastian Barry readin’ to us.
Morrissey. Carolan. Marina Carr.
The Beach Boys. Mozart. Rory Gallagher on guitar.
Van Morrison’s Moondance. Séamus Heaney.
Brendan Kennelly. Paul Henry. Puccini.
Aul fellas in a pub drinking pints and blathering.
Flann O’Brien. Anne Enright’s ‘The Gathering’.
Brittas, the Burren, the Cliffs of Moher,
The Green Glens of Antrim; Cul Aodh; Gweedore,
The slow-rolling waves of Galway Bay.
U2 singing ‘It’s a Beautiful Day’.
The Gate, the Abbey, Miss Pauline McLynn.
The Project; Rough Magic; Cork Dry Gin.
Robbie Keane. Colm Tóibín.
Office romances in Stephen’s Green.
Elvis singin’ Blue Suede Shoes
When there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues.
McCabe, McGahern, bank holiday Monday.
Dublin and Wexford in Croker this Sunday.
Roddy Doyle and REM.
John Kelly’s programme on Lyric FM.
The dawn in Connemara, the cliffs of Dooneen,
And Sean Keane from Galway singing Revenge for
You may travel far, far from your own native home,
But where would you find a Patrick Kavanagh poem;
Sweet treasure for all, if only we want it.
A canal-bank walk we take for granted.
No need for frenzy. No need for fury.
Sweet Gene Vincent by Ian Dury.
Turn it up loud, play the air guitar.
Jimi Hendrix. Johnny Marr.
Hugo Hamilton’s book ‘Disguise’.
Deirdre Madden. Sunset skies.
Brahms. The Beat. Dún Laoghaire pier.
Nelson Mandela’s 91st year.
Muddy Waters singin’
‘Got My Mojo Workin’.
Read a page of James Joyce.
Read a poem of Paul Durcan.
Read Marian Keyes or Samuel Beckett
Or Edna O’Brien, or the prayer-book, shure FECK it,
We may as well do it since the books are cheap
And they can’t stop us reading. So read it and weep.
Binchy or Banville, whatever you feel.
Dermot Bolger. Brian Friel.
See it ain’t all bad, there’s still reason to chuckle:
Des Bishop speaking the cúpla focail.
Dara O’Briain. Jimmy Magee. ‘Aprés Match’ on RTÉ.
So Leinster House is out of touch
But whoever’s in office don’t matter that much.
Recession, depression, the figures, the facts,
But there’s stuff they can’t touch, there’s stuff they can’t tax.
Oh they would if they could, but they can’t, so they’re piqued.
They’re hurried, they’re worried, they’re fazed, they’re freaked,
Cos we laugh up our sleeve at their pride and ambition,
We do what we want and don’t ask their permission
Or be told how to vote by irrelevant fellas.
Listen to Martha Reeves and the Vandellas
Singin ‘Summer’s the time for dancing in the streets’
And we’ll all still be here when they lose their seats.
When your daddy was young there were hungry years.
There were slums in the cities, there were emigrant tears,
So the boom is a bust but we’re not going back
So don’t get depressed. It’s not that black.
Yeah, we live in a country where it rains and it pours
But we don’t have tsunamis, we don’t have wars.
We don’t have a famine, a huge national debt,
Fianna Fáil don’t water-board us – at least not yet.
We got Marian Finucane, the Phoenix Park.
The lions in the zoo and they roaring after dark.
We’re not living in England at the time of emergence
Of a deeply troubling Tory resurgence.
Not up there with your Swedens,
Your Denmarks, your Hollands,
But it’s a free country, kind of,
Thanks to Michael Collins,
And the provos are gone, it’s peace in our homes.
And Martin McGuinness is writin’ poems.
And the Reverend Ian, notwithstanding his pride,
Has discovered his softer, feminine side.
There’s a pain in the wallet, a strain on the purse
But all things considered – it could be worse.
We’re a shook-up, mixed-up, post-Tiger Nation
Somewhat in need of consolation.
But look around, you’ll see it’s here.
A kiss at midnight on Barna Pier.
Our loved ones. Families. Our kids. Our mates.
The National Library’s exhibition on Yeats.
The Electric Picnic. Don’t be downhearted,
George bloody Bush will soon be departed!
Glendalough in summer. The National Museum.
We got reasons to be cheerful –
You just have to see ’em.
– Joseph O’Connor. Check out his website: http://www.josephoconnorauthor.com/
I once counted my girlfriend use the word “like” 93 times in the space of 15 minutes. She wasn’t happy that I counted but I couldn’t help notice it. I became fixated on it! I remember that at at the time, for some reason the word just kept coming out, like a nervous tick, even just to fill the gaps, like.
Anyway, this poet Joseph O’Connor is great. He has lots of great and accessible poems. Check him out. This is his website: http://www.josephoconnorauthor.com/about-long.html
A friends son is doing a state exam this year. I was in my friends house and saw a copy of his English book and so decided to check if the poems I studied in school are still part of the curriculum. Sure enough, I rediscovered this poem by Siegfried Sassoon. I remember being introduced to this poet by my English teacher in third year. In this poem the poet condemns officers indifference to soldiers on the front line while they guzzle and gulp at the best hotels!
Like so many of Sassoon’s poems “Base Details” is sarcastic and utterly derisive of the establishment that supported the continuation of the Great War while displaying little regard for the soldiers who had to fight in it. Sassoon served for the British Army during the Great War so had first hand experience of this. Perhaps things haven’t changed that much?
Base Details by Siegfried Sassoon
If I were fierce, and bald, and short of breath,
I’d live with scarlet Majors at the Base,
And speed glum heroes up the line to death.
You’d see me with my puffy petulant face,
Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel,
Reading the Roll of Honour. ‘Poor young chap,’
I’d say—‘I used to know his father well.
Yes, we’ve lost heavily in this last scrap.’
And when the war is done and youth stone dead,
I’d toddle safely home and die — in bed.
“If—” is a poem by British Nobel laureate Rudyard Kipling, written in 1895. To be honest I’m not actually a great fan of poetry but there are some poems that I’ve read over the years that I find moving. This is one of them. There are actually some great recitations of this poem on Youtube. I’ve shared two of these at the bottom of this post.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
“Invictus” is a short poem by English poet William Ernest Henley (1849–1903). It’s something I come back to from time to time. I find it quite settling and imagine that its words have the power to stir up even the most weary souls!
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.