I like the serendipitous way you can come across something out of context and it then becomes a favourite part of your life. I was reading a newspaper several years ago, a serious newspaper, full of politics and economics, and the dire state of the world… when I came across the Saturday poem.
It was by a poet I had never heard of, and I doubt many of you have either; Patrick MacDonogh as you may guess was an Irishman, born in Dublin in 1902. He was a teacher and commercial artist before working for the Guinness company and becoming a senior executive. He published five books of poetry between 1927 and 1958, so not prolific, but each one is a gem. He married an opera singer and was a man who loved country activities, hill-walking, fishing, golf… but also had a passion for fast cars. He died in 1961, tragically young after a number of years of ill-health.
Brian Fallon says he held “a middle ground between traditionalism and modernism, as also between the consciously ‘Irish’ note of Higgins and the more cosmopolitan tone of MacNeice’. I didn’t even try to explain that to my students when I taught them this poem; enough for them to understand the story, and see parallels in their own lives and loves, of the tantalising first realisation of love and desire, then the crushing disappointment and jealousy of betrayal
She Walked Unaware
Oh, she walked unaware of her own increasing beauty
That was holding men’s thoughts from market or plough,
As she passed by intent on her womanly duties
And without leisure to be wayward or proud;
Or if she had pride then it was not in her thinking
But thoughtless in her body like a flower of good breeding.
The first time I saw her spreading coloured linen
Beyond the green willow she gave me gentle greeting
With no more intention than the leaning willow tree.
Though she smiled without intention yet from that day forward
her beauty filled like water the four corners of my being,
And she rested in my heart like a hare in the form
That is shaped to herself. And I that would be singing
or whistling at all times went silently then,
Till I drew her aside among straight stems of beeches
When the blackbird was sleeping and she promised that never
The fields would be ripe but I’d gather all sweetness,
A red moon of August would rise on our wedding.
October is spreading bright flame along stripped willows,
Low fires of the dogwood burn down to grey water –
God pity me now and all desolate sinners
Demented with beauty! I have blackened my thought
In drouths of bad longing, and all brightness goes shrouded
Since he came with his rapture of wild words that mirrored
Her beauty and made her ungentle and proud.
Tonight she will spread her brown hair on his pillow,
But I shall be hearing the harsh cries of wild fowl.
By Patrick MacDonogh