An Irishman in Coventry
A full year since, I took this eager city,
the tolerance that laced its blatant roar,
its famous steeples and its web of girders,
as image of the state hope argued for,
and scarcely flung a bitter thought behind me
on all that flaws the glory and the grace
which ribbons through the sick, guilt-clotted legend
of my creed-haunted, godforsaken race.
My rhetoric swung round from steel’s high promise
to the precision of the well-gauged tool,
tracing the logic in the vast glass headlands,
the clockwork horse, the comprehensive school.
Then, sudden, by occasion’s chance concerted,
in enclave of my nation, but apart,
the jigging dances and the lilting fiddle
stirred the old rage and pity in my heart.
The faces and the voices blurring round me,
the strong hands long familiar with the spade,
the whiskey-tinctured breath, the pious buttons,
called up a people endlessly betrayed
by our own weakness, by the wrongs we suffered
in that long twilight over bog and glen,
by force, by famine and by glittering fables
which gave us martyrs when we needed men,
by faith which had no charity to offer,
by poisoned memory, and by ready wit,
with poverty corroded into malice,
to hit and run and howl when it is hit.
This is our fate: eight hundred years’ disaster,
crazily tangled as the Book of Kells;
the dream’s distortion and the land’s division,
the midnight raiders and the prison cells.
Yet like Lir’s children, banished to the waters,
our hearts still listen for the landward bells.
– John Hewitt
Poet John Hewitt (October 28, 1907- June 22, 1987), was born in Belfast. His collections include The Day of the Corncrake (1969) and Out of My Time: Poems 1969 to 1974 (1974). Hewitt moved to Coventry, England, in 1957 and served as the Director of the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum until he retired in 1972 and returned to Belfast. He was appointed the first writer-in-residence at Queen’s University, Belfast in 1976.
The John Hewitt Society, established in 1987, the year Hewitt died, annually hosts The John Hewitt Summer School, which commemorates the poet’s life and work. The 2012 Summer School will take place July 23-27 at the Market Place Theatre, Armagh.
For information visit: www.johnhewittsociety.org