Saturday, March 7, 2009

Dear, Dirty Dublin

I found this poem by an anonymous author in Japan, and thought I'd post it here. It beautifully captures our dear, dirty Dublin with its rare flashes of beauty amidst the squalor, tourists and wet.

The Irish Cycle: Baile Átha Cliath

Dublin, sweet and slow,
I come and go
up and down your cobbled streets
as the rain, insistent,
dampens down the lights
and throws an orange fuzzy sheen
over half-seen sights,
over places I have been.
Grafton Street and Stephen’s Green,
so near and yet so far:
The Coombe, the Castle, Temple Bar,
shadows under the Traitors’ Gate.
Now crowds of loud young English
shout and laugh, then urinate
prodigiously, here on the street,
beside the peagreen Liffey
(sweet Anna Livia Plurabelle).
Never mind, they’re not in uniform,
and it's a great deal worse we’ve seen before:
insurrection, bloodshed, famine, war.
We have a fine collection of bullet holes
in our central city monuments.

So let the hen parties heave their guts out,
here, on the raincold cobbles:
let them stagger home and say,
what a wild fuckin time we had in Dublin!
And let them come back in ten years or so
with their fourth or fifth bloke,
let them come with all their kids in tow
and have another drink, another smoke,
and perhaps, perhaps, they'll have some peace
(for peace comes dropping slow)
and understand these words of MacNeice:

This never was my town,
I was not born or bred
Nor schooled here and she will not
Have me alive or dead
But yet she holds my mind
With her seedy elegance,
With her gentle veils of rain
And all her ghosts that walk
And all that hide behind
Her Georgian facades -
The catcalls and the pain,
The glamour of her squalor,
The bravado of her talk.

Sweeney’s, the chemist,
where Bloom forgot Molly’s lotion
is still in Lincoln Place
and so is the old post office
down on Westland Row:
O you naughty naughty boy!
I do not like that other world.
And please will you tell me
what perfume does your wife wear?
Bloom smell-sipped his glass of burgundy
at Davy Byrne’s, on Duke Street,
a disappointing place these days,
all gentrified. I well remember
how one of the old barmen
was kill’t telling me how Joyce, yer man,
would be writing away at the back table,
dat filthy buik, Allergies, or wha’ever.
Ah, would you fuck off, says I.
Yeh bleedin bowzy, says he,
I took yeh for a fuckin Yank.

Come to Amazing Tourist Dublin.
Stay at our three-and-a-half star hotels.
Eat like a pig, drink like a fish!
Later lumber along
our lazy languorous streets.

Buy things!

On your ambling aisy rambles
you can squint up the arses,
the cool marble behinds,
of female statues
at our staid and steady National Museum.
Bloom did, our wandering Jew,
so too can you.
No money, honey;
but even stone hearts slowly melt,
so smile, unbuckle your money belt,
and make a voluntary contribution.
Oops, sorry, Yanks,
no Dollars, thanks,
there’s an exchange-rate revolution!
Hang on to your cash, you’ll need it.
Do ye be jokin’ or wha’? indeed it
does seem strange, no proper answer,
comes like a dropkick in the balls
from a weedy reedy ballet dancer.

We stack up, still, the dead
next to my grandfathers,
my maiden aunts, cousins and uncles,
in the wild old sprawl of Glasnevin.
Poor poor Paddy Dignam!
(“No home is complete
without Plumtree’s Potted Meat”).
Poor poor betrayed Parnell.
O’Donovan Rossa.
Ah, Michael …
Macushla! … cut down at thirty-one,
our greatest chieftain since O’Neill!
Cut down, I might add,
by one of our own.
Why do we do this?
Ask Jonathan (Gulliver) Swift
who suggested, politely,
that the English should eat Irish babies,
help with the balance of payments,
keep the population down.
England thought he was serious,
and so did some of the Irish.
“Where can I sell me baby, sorr?”
Ah, fuck it, Michael.
We need you for our republican myths.
Maybe it was a good thing
you were killed so young.

Yerra, Carolan!
Tabhair dom do lamh.*
Give us an oul’ song!

Up on the flinty North Side,
Drumcondra, Marino, Whitehall,
sits my old local, The Goose,
just there by Sion Hill.
I’d be away three years, maybe more,
and I'd stroll into the gaff
and the lads’d say, where ya been?
Japan. O yeah? Me, I went to Benidorm,
two weeks with the new girlfriend,
fuckin magic! Right, it's my round,
and we’d talk and sing and laugh.
Sometimes An Taoiseach lounges in,
good old Bertie himself, backed up
by hard-looking thugs. “Yo!” says I,
“is it the Prime Minister or his bleedin twin?”
“Ah, Malachy!” says he, priding himself
on a memory for names, a head like tin.
“No,” says I, “isn’t it me myself?”
“O, Jayz, the astronomer … the geographer,
or was it the stamp collector?”
“B-b-b-bertie! You got it in one!”
After that, a pint, a good long chat,
here at home in Dublin Central:
he may be the grand prime minister,
but he knows where his home is at.

On Bridge Street, down by the City Walls
sits an ancient pub, the “Brazen Head”,
and many a time and oft have I lingered,
langered, within its stout-built chambers:
this is the oldest pub in Dublin, 1198.
About fifty yards away is the bridge,
the – ‘Atha Cliath’ – the Ford of the Hurdles
from which the city takes its name,
a river crossing on the ‘Sli Cualann’,
one of the five ancient roads of Ireland,
the path from Tara to Glendalough.
That helps explain the licence plates:
we are the citizens of “Baile Atha Cliath”,
and “Dubh-Linn”, which is also Irish,
is not where we live at all.

In the mean little streets near Christchurch,
winding and awkward to this day,
a government spy called Major Sirr
cornered the rebel Lord Fitzgerald,
and got himself stabbed for his pains.
Thirty-odd thousand died that year, 1798,
and thousands more were transported
in creaking hulks to Australia.
A bleak new setting for Irish prisoners
became the springboard of a new nation,
a new continent to transform:
America, America ...
not the same, but that came later.

Not many years before
the poor mad dean of Saint Patrick’s,
(the cathedral looms just down the road)
that entrepreneur, that pamphleteer,
that purveyor of roasted Irish babies,
was laid to rest, and now his epitaph
fairly bounces off the wall:
Hic depositum est corpus
Huyus Ecclesiae Cathedralis
Ubi saeva indignatio
Cor lacerare nequit
Abi Viator
Et imitare, si poteris
Strenuum pro virili
Libertatis Vindicatorem **

God, it’s an old country,
yet the weight comes down like a feather.
Nothing seems heavy, it drops down so lightly.
Freedom. Freedom, more than any other thing
is central. Central. You can go back through
all the old stories, the legends, the epics,
the Annals of the Four Masters, local histories,
and you can listen to the voices of the rebels,
all those who fought and died
four hundred, two hundred, one hundred years ago,
right on down to recent times.
You sense this will never change,
You know this will never change.

All the tubby little accountants,
the cross-looking women in large automobiles,
the fierce young sporting men,
the giggling schoolgirls,
the languid poets and philosophers,
the businessmen in suits,
the regulars in the pubs,
the girl secretaries,
the skangers and headbangers,
the bus drivers,
the radio and TV executives,
the Nigerians, the Chinese,
the actors, the musicians,
the polite young Poles,
the flower sellers,
the asylum seekers,
the Spanish students

can gather in the streets, burn down embassies.

Ancient city of an ancient land,
ringed right round by the ocean sea;
world powers may rise and fall around us,
and do as they like, just leave us be.

Brief notes:

- Dublin by Louis MacNeice

-- Turlough O’Carolan, blind harper (1670-1738). The title of this composition is “Give Me Your Hand” in English.

-- Bertie Ahern, Irish PM (An Taoiseach – The Leader)

-- The Brazen Head Pub

-- “Dubh-Linn” translates as Black-Pool, the remains of which (now drained) can be seen behind Dublin Castle.

-- Swift’s epitaph, translated from the Latin by W.B. Yeats:

Swift has sailed into his rest.
Savage indignation there
cannot lacerate his breast.
Imitate him if you dare,
world-besotted traveller.
He served human liberty.

-- Annals of the Four Masters, Irish chronicles, ca. 2000 BC - 1616 AD