April 6th: "Mary Hynes"

I didn’t do this on purpose, but here’s another one that’s more about the poet and his poetry than it is about his girlfriend. Why are there so many of these? Or do I just collect those without realizing it because I’m a writer? I still love it, regardless.

While digging through my copy of Sound and Sense for this one, I came across this gem: “Accurate determination of tone, therefore, is extremely important, whether in the reading of poetry or the interpretation of a woman’s ‘No.'” Wow.

Mary Hynes
(After the Irish of Raftery)
by Padraic Fallon

That Sunday, on my oath, the rain was a heavy overcoat
On a poor poet, and when the rain began
In fleeces of water to buckleap like a goat
I was only a walking penance reaching Kiltartan;
And there, so suddenly that my cold spine
Broke out on the arch of my back in a rainbow,
This woman surged out of the day with so much sunlight
I was nailed there like a scarecrow,

But I found my tongue and the breath to balance it
And I said: “If I bow to you with this hump of rain
I’ll fall on my collarbone, but look, I’ll chance it,
And after falling, bow again.”
She laughed, ah, she was gracious, and softly said to me,
“For all your lovely talking I go marketing with an ass,
I’m no hill-queen, alas, or Ireland, that grass widow,
So hurry on, sweet Raftery, or you’ll keep me late for Mass!”

The parish priest has blamed me for missing second Mass
And the bell talking on the rope of the steeple,
But the tonsure of the poet is the bright crash
Of love that blinds the irons on his belfry;
Were I making an Aisling I’d tell the tale of her hair,
But now I’ve grown careful of my listeners
So I pass over one long day and the rainy air
Where we sheltered in whispers.

When we left the dark evening at last outside her door,
She lighted a lamp though a gaming company
Could have sighted each trump by the light of her unshawled poll,
And indeed she welcomed me
With a big quart bottle and I mooned there over glasses
Till she took that bird, the phoenix, from the spit;
And, “Raftery,” says she, “a feast is no bad dowry,
Sit down now and taste it!”

If I praised Ballylea before it was only for the mountains
Where I broke horses and ran wild,
And for its seven crooked smoky houses
Where seven crones are tied
All day to the listening top of a half door,
And nothing to be heard or seen
But the drowsy dropping of water
And a gander on the green.

But, Boys! I was blind as a kitten till last Sunday,
This town is earth’s very navel!
Seven palaces are thatched there of a Monday,
And O the seven queens whose pale
Proud faces with their seven glimmering sisters,
The Pleiads, light the evening where they stroll,
And one can find the well by their wet footprints,
And make one’s soul;

For Mary Hynes, rising, gathers up there
Her ripening body from all the love stories;
And rinsing herself at morning, shakes her hair
And stirs the old gay books in libraries;
And what shall I do with sweet Boccaccio?
And shall I send Ovid back to school again
With a new headline for his copybook,
And a new pain?

Like a nun she will play you a sweet tune on a spinet,
And from such grasshopper music leap
Like Herod’s hussy who fancied a saint’s head
For grace after meat;
Yet she’ll peg out a line of clothes on a windy morning
And by noonday put them ironed in the chest,
And you’ll swear by her white fingers she does nothing
But take her fill of rest.

And I’ll wager now that my song is ended,
Loughrea, that old dead city where the weavers
Have pined at the mouldering looms since Helen broke the thread,
Will be piled again with silver fleeces:
O the new coats and big horses! The raving and the ribbons!
And Ballylea in hubbub and uproar!
And may Raftery be dead if he’s not there to ruffle it
On his own mare, Shank’s mare, that never needs a spur.

But ah, Sweet Light, though your face coins
My heart’s very metals, isn’t it folly without a pardon
For Raftery to sing so that men, east and west, come
Spying on your vegetable garden?
We could be so quiet in your chimney corner–
Yet how could a poet hold you any more than the sun,
Burning in the big bright hazy heart of harvest,
Could be tied in a henrun?

Bless your poet then and let him go!
He’ll never stack a haggard with his breath:
His thatch of words will not keep rain or snow
Out of the house, or keep back death.
But Raftery, rising, curses as he sees you
Stir the fire and wash delph,
That he was bred a poet whose selfish trade it is
To keep no beauty to himself.

3 thoughts on “April 6th: "Mary Hynes"”

  1. “My poetry will make you immortal” is one of the basic themes of classical poetry, along with “Spring is here and you’re going to die, so we should have sex now” and “It’s autumn and you’re young, so we should have sex now”. So I think “Is my poetry going to make you immortal?” ends up as one of the basic questions in the love poetry genre.

    1. I’ve noticed that! It’s funny how totally uninteresting both those themes are to me. I guess because again, neither of them (either the “we should have sex now” one or the immortality one) are really about the relationship or the connection between the two people at all.
      I tend to not mind the immortality ones as much. Yes, they’re a little self-involved, and I do get annoyed with guys who mean well but are being self-involved without realizing it. But lyric poetry is a self-involved genre and I’m more or less okay with that. Plus those poems are usually about writing, and the communication of human experience across time through writing, and the process of capturing an experience with words, and those are all things that really, really interest me.
      But I sometimes actively dislike the “we should have sex now” ones because they…well, they just seem dickish a lot of the time. Because no matter how good a poem it is (I like “To His Coy Mistress” as much as the next girl), when I actually think about a poet actually giving it to a girl, it reads as pressure and sexual harassment to me. Was it somehow less gross in a classical context?

      1. The classical poets can be pretty horrid in the “you will become old and ugly and crumble into dust” part, but they are much more persuasive on the “my verse will endure forever” part, because of course we are still reading them.
        Though I have to say, I mostly imagine them reading their poetry at drunken parties, not giving it to the women (or beardless youths) it is ostensibly about.

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