From the Archives: Robert Greacen – Protestant Without A Horse

Protestant Without A Horse (1997) was the sixth full collection of poetry by one of the north of Ireland’s most distinguished men of letters, and the first after his Collected Poems 1944-1994, which won the Irish Times Literature Prize for Poetry in 1995.

The volume marks a return to origins for Greacen who brought fifty years of a professional writing life to bear on the small details of lives spent quietly on the edge in cities and bed-sitting rooms, and not so quietly in the world of the public weal. Greacen’s seemingly casual linkage of close observation with a cunning morality makes these poems sing with an adventurous post-modernity which yet has its roots in the imaginative cultures of Derry and Belfast before the war. Protestant Without A Horse is a salutary intervention by an important poet into the difficulties of contemporary Irish personal and national life.

Born in Derry on the 24 October 1920, Greacen was to become one of the 1940s generation of Northern Irish Poets. His childhood was spent in Belfast and Monaghan and he was educated at Methodist College, Belfast, Queen’s Univeristy, Belfast and Trinity College, Dublin. Leaving Ireland in the late 1940s, he moved to London and pursued a career as a man of letters, reviewing books for all the major publications of the period. He also produced two critical biographies on C.P. Snow and Noel Coward. In terms of poetry, the comparative failure of his second collection led to a creative hiatus which was only broken with Even Without Irene (1969). He re-emerged as poet with A Garland for Captain Fox (1975).  A Selected Poems appeared in 2006. A long time member of Aosdána, Greacen died in Dublin on 13 April 2008.

Opening the Door
i.m. Beatrice Behan

I knock, I knock.
I challenge the silence.
Knock! Knock! Knock!
I open the door into the room.
The blinds are drawn.
A bedside light is burning.
A glass of water stands on the table.
It’s exactly 11.22 a.m.
She’s in her bed, decently covered,
Her right hand outstretched,
A ring on her finger.
But she does not speak –
Ah, Beatrice was always the quiet one,
Walking her dogs Klaus and Karla
Beside the Dodder River,
Cycling home on the footpath
Noiselessly, with a Mona Lisa smile.
Upstairs I dial a number
While down in the street
People drift towards the Angelus
And across the way a honeyed wail
Is neutral under a March sky.

Phone Call

The phone call was not unexpected.
I booked a flight in the afternoon,
Rooted out a tie, a shirt.
Formalities must be observed.

I asked them to open the coffin.
Age had yellowed her.
She was not the woman I had known,
Bustling and with crystal eyes.
I fingered a wisp of hair,
Kissed her brow, departed.

Out in the streets the Reaper
Walked invisible, sizing up
Candidates for his next list.

 

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