Irish Love Poems

Irish Love Poems

Poetry is a strange companion, dipping in and out of our lives with the wilfulness of confident friend. Our first books are full of rhymes and poetry, and when we travel to school we do so with our heads full of metre and rhyming couplets. Even our early learning in maths and spelling are cushioned by tunes guaranteed to reinforce the times tables. And who can forget learning to spell using Mrs P, Mrs O, Mrs E, Mrs TRY. (actually, forget that one as I could never get the hang of inserting Mrs prior to whatever letter was due to come next).

Poetry stays with us through our school days. Love it or hate it, the curriculum ensures that we taste sonnets, Irish poets, limericks, haiku and pastoral ballads. Come the leaving certificate, we can quote vast tracts of poetry and, push come to shove, can probably still do it. And during the busy years of puberty, there is many a solitary poet lurking in their bedroom thinking and writing doggerel, most of it inspired by the great power of love. Simultaneously spouting spots and stanzas, poetry will out.

But once we leave academia, poetry is one subject we often leave behind. For many people reading continues but poetry remains a largely untouched topic. That is, until like the confident but independent friend, it pops into our lives again. Typically, this reintroduction can be timed to a tee when romance strikes.

What is it about love and relationships that makes the mind turn to poetry? Even greeting cards are now checked for the verse inside – not too soppy and not too smart, maybe a little bit funny and to the point.

So which is why I found the recent book form O’Briens so interesting. Entitled Irish Love Poetry, it is edited by A Norman Jeffares, and pulls together an impressive range of Irish poetry from fourteen centuries of Irish writing. In a nutshell, it does just what is needed for the indolent reader. An opportunity for dipping in and out a single book with lots of scope for finding the obligatory nugget. Perfect for reading while snuggled on your love, Love Story style.

I particularly liked a number of the poems. One by George Farquhar (and Shrek fans will be able to pronounce this name) entitled Thus Damon Knocked at Celia’s door has the lover knocking without success at first at his loved one’s door. She resists initially saying that she is a maid. But he persists and the closing stanza is very lovely and very droll:

‘At last his sighs and tears made way,
She rose and softly turned the key
Come in, she said, but do not stay, do not stay,
I may conclude, you will be rude;
But if you are you may:
I may conclude, you will be rude,
But if you are you may’

Another droll poem is Les Lendemains from Sir William Wilde. The maid, both capricious and avaricious, demands payment for her kisses. She receives thirty sheep for a single kiss, but the following day, such is his amour, he receives thirty kisses for one sheep. And finally, she succumbs to the rogue and would lose all for his kisses.

‘Next day she’d have given all she possessed
(when had pride such a terrible fall?)
Her sheep, dog, and crook, for the kiss the rogue pressed
On Lisette’s lips for nothing at all’

Another more romantic poem, with secret undertones, comes from John Boyle O’Reilly.

A White Rose

‘The red rose whispers of passion,
And the white rose breathes of love,
O, the red rose is a falcon,
And the white rose is a dove.

But I send you a cream-white rosebud
With a flush on its petals tips;
For the love that is purest and sweetest
Has a kiss of desire on the lips.’

Philosophical thoughts are raised by Richard Murphy. In Moonshine, he thinks and loves in equal portions. When alone he thinks of love and together, well sometimes together he’d prefer to be alone and thinking of love. Is the thought of love stronger than the reality?

‘To think
I must be alone:
To love
We must be together.

I think I love you
When I’m alone
More than I think of you
When we’re together

I cannot think
Without loving
Or love
Without thinking

Alone I love
To think of us together
Together I think
I’d love to be alone.’

And then there is the very humorous and tongue in cheek poem from LAG Strong. Called The Brewer’s Man, it goes:

‘Have I a wife? Bedam I have!
But we was badly mated.
I hit her a great clout one night
And now we’re separated.

And mornin’s going to me work
I meets her on the quay:
‘Good mornin’ to you, ma’am!’ says I,
‘To hell with ye!’ says she.’

But just in case you think all the poems are laced with vinegar, I leave you with the opening stanza of The Kiss by Thomas Moore. What could be more delicious than this?

‘Give me, my love, that billing kiss
I taught you one delicious night
When, turning epicures in bliss,
We tried inventions of delight.’

A really interesting read with lots to entertain, provoke and possibly even inspire.