Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

One of my favourite poets is Michael Hartnett. I admire more than just his poetry though. He was a man of and for Ireland. He loved his country and he made a pledge to ONLY communicate in Irish and during that time all his works were published in his mother tongue. I’m going to start with my all time favourite of his.

That Actor Kiss

I kissed my father as he lay in bed
in the ward. Nurses walked on soles of sleep
and old men argued with themselves all day.
The seven decades locked inside his head
congealed into a timeless leaking heap,
the painter lost his sense of all but grey.
That actor kiss fell down a shaft too deep
to send back echoes that I would have prized—
‘29 was’ 41 was ‘84,
all one in his kaleidoscopic eyes
(he willed to me his bitterness and thirst,
his cold ability to close a door).
Later, over a drink, I realised
that was our last kiss and, alas, our first.

Poet Michael Hartnett pictured on the banks of the River Arra in Newcastle West in May 1975

Photo of Michael Hartnett – Poet


Two things to know before reading this next poem. 1. Michael lived with his grandmother during his childhood. 2. When Michael related the story of the Wrens landing around his neck/upper chest area, his grandmother replied, “Oh you’ll be a point then. He was 6 or 7 at that time and wrote his first poem 8 years later, the rest being history. 🙂

A Necklace of Wrens

When I was very young
    I found a nest
Its chirping young
     were fully fledged.

They rose and re-alighted
    around my neck,
Made in the wet meadow
     a feather necklet.

To them I was not human
    but a stone or tree:
I felt a sharp wonder
     they could not feel.

That was when the craft came
    which demands respect.
Their talons left on me
    scars not healed yet.

This next poem Michael wrote for his daughter, Lara when she was but 10 years old.

Poem for Lara, 10

An ash-tree on fire
the hair of your head
coaxing larks
with your sweet voice
in the green grass,
a crowd of daisies
playing with you
a crowd of rabbits
dancing with you
the blackbird
with its gold bill
is a jewel for you
the goldfinch
with its sweetness
is your music.
You are perfume,
you are honey, a wild strawberry:
even the bees think you
a flower in the field.
Little queen of the land of books,
may you always be thus
may you ever be free
from sorrow-chains.

Here’s my blessing for you, girl,
and it is no petty grace –
may you have the beauty of your mother’s soul
and the beauty of her face.

The following poem was written about his love for his grandmother:

Death of an Irishwoman

Ignorant, in the sense
she ate monotonous food
and thought the world was flat,
and pagan, in the sense
she knew the things that moved
all night were neither dogs or cats
but hobgoblin and darkfaced men
she nevertheless had fierce pride.
But sentenced in the end
to eat thin diminishing porridge
in a stone-cold kitchen
she clenched her brittle hands
around a world
she could not understand.
I loved her from the day she died.

She was a summer dance at the crossroads.
She was a cardgame where a nose was broken.
She was a song that nobody sings.
She was a house ransacked by soldiers.
She was a language seldom spoken.
She was a child’s purse, full of useless things.

There you have it! Four great poems from a true son of Ireland!

Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona duit!!



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