Saying “My Story”

Saying “My Story”, this is an Irish poem from the 7th-13th century. The author is unknown. This is translated by Brendan Kennelly. From the Penguin Book of Irish Verse.

A simple poem, but you can feel the winter “snarling” in these simple lines. It’s not very cold in Paris yet, but winter is coming. What’s more, our heating is broken down. Tomorrow we’ll get it repaired.

The thought of saying words, even a translation, that date from more than a thousand years ago; strange to think these fragments of a civilisation from so long ago. Fragments that come to us over the ages, here is it the story of the land? Whose story is it?

I am learning all of these poems and thinking of the desires and wishes that the poems contain. The time that these poems cross to come down to us. How something so fragile can cross time is a marvel… Can we leave things for others to find? Can we cross to others through time? Messages that cross through time and space…

The photo on this page is of the Gallarus Oratory, one of the earliest Christian buildings in Ireland, dating from 6th – 7th century. It is in Kerry on the Dingle Peninsula.

My Story

Here’s my story; the stag cries

Winter snarls as summer dies.


The wind bullies the low sun

in poor light; the seas moan.


Shapeless bracken is turning red,

The wildgoose raises its desperate head.


Birds’ wings freeze where fields are hoary.

The world is ice. That’s my story.


Anonymous from the 7th-13th century. Translated by Brendan Kennelly. From the Penguin Book of Irish Verse.



Saying This Be The Verse by Philip Larkin

Saying This Be The Verse this week. An easy poem to learn by Philip Larkin with a simple rhyming scheme offset by the message.

I have always seen this poem as a joke, very black, gallows humour. The poet tells you to “get out of life as early as you can”.

Growing up I heard this from my uncles and aunts at family get togethers chuckling over the opening lines. It was first published in the New Humanist in August 1971.

Now that I remember, it must have been funny to my aunts and uncles surrounded by nephews and nieces… Thinking about getting out… Thinking back on them at that time it reminds me of Larkin’s other great poem High Windows.

This Be The Verse is an incredibly popular poem and is so easy to remember that people can take the poem, learn it themselves and change the words.

It has the status of a poem like a nursery rhyme (albeit rather older kids…)

Having walked around the streets with this poem it is so easy to get inside of and yet like all simple things, it is only deceptively simple. The message in the poem is very deep.

Best Laid Plans, Yet Containing Synchronicity

I had intended to read this at an open microphone session where some of my friends would have been. But instead of an open microphone session there were some musicians. Their name made me chuckle : Père & Fils. They sang songs of rebellion.

So even there we would be fucked up… This is what Philip Larkin is getting at in the poem, that no matter how good we are and we try to be we are still going to fuck up our children.

This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.
By Philip Larkin.




Saying Mirror by Sylvia Plath

This week I learnt Mirror by Sylvia Plath. Here I am reciting this poem from memory.

Free and Easy

Although it is written in free verse I found it much easier to learn than other poems. I have always liked this poem. The poem is very sure of itself. The poem is the mirror speaking and the structure of the poem reflects this, with a symmetrical form.

Yet at the same time, all is not as it seems. It reflects everything “just as it is” but how can you reflect on the inner worlds and the outer worlds? The woman rewards the mirror with tears and an agitation of hands for its faithfulness. This is what the mirror thinks. But perhaps the mirror cannot see the real reason for the woman’s distress.

Can you look yourself in the mirror?

“At least I can look myself in the mirror…” is an expression we often hear. It means that I, unlike other people, have respected my integrity. I am able to look at myself in the mirror. Maybe some people can look at themselves physically in the mirror but they never hold that mirror up to their inner self. And notice that we say the mirror and not a mirror. This mirror is the mirror you look in at home.

The two stanzas reflect each other. They are mirror images. The stanzas contain no obvious beats or rhymes. There is no real feeling of certainty or reward. This is in contrast to the very sure way in which the mirror speaks about itself.

This poem sounds very nice, it sounds so natural and effortless. Here is Sylvia Plath talking about the poets she likes : “The poets I delight in are possessed by their poems as by the rhythms of their own breathing. Their finest poems seem born all-of-a-piece, not put together by hand; certain poems in Robert Lowell’s Life Studies, for instance; Theodore Roethke’s greenhouse poems; some of Elizabeth Bishop and a very great deal of Stevie Smith (‘Art is a wild  cat and quite seperate from civilisation’).”

Inner and Outer selves

It is a beautiful little poem which can stand as it is without too much explanation. However, knowing Plath’s life and her outward appearance as a polite and decorous woman and her lively, raging inner creative self we can also imagine this piece as a meditation on the hidden selves inside all of us. The difference between our inner and outer appearances. The woman comes to the mirror every morning. She searches its reaches for what she really is.

The mirror itself is not as fixed as it claims to be. In the second stanza it transforms into a lake…

And in the final line we can see that the mirror holds within itself a monster.

You can hear Sylvia Plath’s voice reading Tulips here.

How I say it

I say the poem in as simple a fashion as possible. Strangely enough as I recorded it my phone got stuck. You can hear the poem but the face is immobile.

Technical glitch that actually serves the poem.


I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful ‚
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

By Sylvia Plath.