What Says the Clock?

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Algy hopped back down onto the beach, keen to try as many different kinds of perch as he could find in this exciting new environment. He noticed that the local birds seemed to be masters of all perches, but when he tested some of the more unusual options he discovered that some were a wee bit more challenging for a fluffy bird than others, requiring a high degree of acrobatic skill and an advanced sense of balance which he had not had a chance to develop adequately…

As he wobbled from side to side, trying not to look foolish – and above all, not to fall off – in full view of the cackling sea birds who were watching him from the water, a loud sound tolled out from behind him, with a deep, clear note. The repeated tone was mesmerizing, and with the tide crawling slowly out further beyond the beached boats, he was inevitably reminded of some verses by one of his favourite poets, which he had noted especially because he had feathers instead of hair…

Saddle and ride, I heard a man say,
Out of Ben Bulben and Knocknarea,
What says the Clock in the Great Clock Tower?
All those tragic characters ride
But turn from Rosses’ crawling tide,
The meet’s upon the mountain-side.
A slow low note and an iron bell.

What brought them there so far from their home.
Cuchulain that fought night long with the foam,
What says the Clock in the Great Clock Tower?
Niamh that rode on it; lad and lass
That sat so still and played at the chess?
What but heroic wantonness?
A slow low note and an iron bell.

Aleel, his Countess; Hanrahan
That seemed but a wild wenching man;
What says the Clock in the Great Clock Tower?
And all alone comes riding there
The King that could make his people stare,
Because he had feathers instead of hair.
A slow low note and an iron bell.

[Algy is quoting the Song for the Severed Head from the play The King of the Great Clock Tower by the 20th century Irish poet William Butler Yeats.]

Bolt and Bar the Shutter…

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The wind howled across the sea, driving battering waves of dense Scotch mist and drenching rain onto the already sodden land. Algy retreated to the shelter of a wee cave which had formed beneath the rocks at the edge of the beach and tried to make himself comfortable. It was pleasantly dry in there, although hard on the tail feathers, but there was little to do by way of amusement except to watch the weather hurtling past outside and listen to the roaring of the wind. As he gazed at his toes, Algy remembered the first verse of a famous poem:

Bolt and bar the shutter,
For the foul winds blow:
Our minds are at their best this night,
And I seem to know
That everything outside us is
Mad as the mist and snow.

[Algy is quoting the first verse of the poem Mad as the Mist and Snow by the late 19th/early 20th century Irish poet William Butler Yeats.]

Close by the river, Algy discovered a large swathe of wild bluebells, just coming into flower. He found a perch in the middle of the fragrant blue carpet and sat there very quietly, just listening to the spring sounds of the woodlands. There were many birds singing in the trees, and he was reminded of a poem by Yeats:

I have heard the pigeons of the Seven Woods
Make their faint thunder, and the garden bees
Hum in the lime-tree flowers; and put away
The unavailing outcries and the old bitterness
That empty the heart.  I have forgot awhile
Tara uprooted, and new commonness
Upon the throne and crying about the streets
And hanging its paper flowers from post to post,
Because it is alone of all things happy.
I am contented, for I know that Quiet
Wanders laughing and eating her wild heart
Among pigeons and bees, while that Great Archer,
Who but awaits His hour to shoot, still hangs
A cloudy quiver over Pairc-na-lee.

[Algy is quoting the poem In the Seven Woods – the opening verse in the book of the same name – by the late 19th/early 20th century Irish poet William Butler Yeats.]                 

Great waves of dark clouds rolled across the sky, bringing fast, fierce showers of snow and hail, and the sea tossed angrily against the rocks in the wind. Algy’s feathers were limp and sodden, but he could see no way to get dry in such conditions; he reflected that he must be mad to be perching out there on the cold, wet rocks when he could be tucked up warmly in a sheltered nest. As he watched the sea spray fighting the wind he thought of some verses by one of his favourite poets:

          Bolt and bar the shutter,
          For the foul winds blow:
          Our minds are at their best this night,
          And I seem to know
          That everything outside us is
          Mad as the mist and snow.

          Horace there by Homer stands,
          Plato stands below,
          And here is Tully’s open page.
          How many years ago
          Were you and I unlettered lads
          Mad as the mist and snow?

          You ask what makes me sigh, old friend,
          What makes me shudder so?
          I shudder and I sigh to think
          That even Cicero
          And many-minded Homer were
          Mad as the mist and snow.

Algy dedicates this post especially to his kind friend qbnscholar and to all those of his friends who are as mad as the mist and snow, and for whom many years have passed since they were “unlettered lads”… xoxoxo

[ Algy is quoting the poem Mad as the Mist and Snow by the late 19th/early 20th century Irish poet William Butler Yeats. ]

Peace Comes Dropping Slow

In honour of the wonderful poet, William Butler Yeats, who died on this day in the year 1939, Algy invites you to listen again to a unique reading by Yeats himself of Algy’s favourite poem The Lake Isle of Innisfree, in an archive recording published as part of the BBC Poetry Season.

          I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
          And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
          Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
          And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

          And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
          Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
          There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
          And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

          I will arise and go now, for always night and day
          I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
          While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
          I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Upon St. Patrick’s Day

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Algy dyed his hair green, and recited one of his favourite poems:

          I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
          And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
          Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
          And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

          And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
          Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
          There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
          And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

          I will arise and go now, for always night and day
          I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
          While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
          I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

[Listen to The Lake Isle of Innisfree by William Butler Yeats read by the poet himself, in an archive recording published as part of the BBC Poetry Season.]

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