Frank O’Connor, ‘The Belfry: A New Poet’, in The Bell, 1, 2, (Nov. 1940) [review of “House Sinister”, a poem by Bryan MacMahon], pp.86-89.

The Bell, 1, 2 (Nov. 1940), extracts supplied by Kelly Matthews, DPhil [prep.], UUC 2006.

‘It is a pleasure in these pages, which are intended for the work of new writers, to be able to introduce a poet of quality. Most of the work I received from the editor has been verse; a great deal of it has been what I can only describe as ‘typewriter verse’; verse that lies flat on the page and i[s] better read with the eye. Whatever Mr. MacMahon’s faults may be – they are mostly faults of clumsiness, of rhetoric; the use of strange words like ‘eke’ and ‘donate’ and the suppression of the definite article ‘from gloom of the creel’ (I once thought of starting a Society for the Protection of the Definite Article). His verse certainly does not lie flat on the page. It billows and soars like a balloon in the wind, and you cannot even begin to judge it unless you speak it aloud. ‘Under ophidian lids that were windows the curtains were irises bright in the breeze.’ I don’t quite know how the windows came to be ophidian – ‘of the reptile order that includes snakes’ – but they make a lovely sound and poetry is largely sound. I hope my readers admire as I do the lines that follow with their brilliant picture and crackling alliteration and assonance.

‘[That lit up ...] the crapulous Rhode Island cock when he strutted
And spurred ’neath his five fingered pyre
As he carried the torch of the sun to the sallies and
Gladdened the rot-loving alders with fire.’

The music of that has been in my head for days. [End]

Further extracts: the poem floridly describes the narrator’s walk at dusk past an old Anglo-Irish house. He tosses a cigarette onto the ground as he goes.

‘ – I knew the house harboured the last of a people, half-
gentry, half-peasant, half-Gael, and half-Gall
Caught in a purposeful net of tradition, cumbered by
fetters that held them in thrall
Useless to argue of, useless to grapple with, physical true
to spirit’s bright glass
Downwards to demons the wheel spins remorseless –
where are the living but under the grass? (p.88.)
[...]
The sun lifts the land from the hollow of darkness as mother
her firstling from gloom of the creel
And splendidly stabs with long spears of sunlight the
spirits of evil who brandish the steel
Then head-swinging strides through the bowl that is
Ireland and watches the shafts with a smile of delight
Then turning, it clamours for clouds in white harness to
harry the dark through a gap of the night,
But a mem’ry abides of a house uninvaded, last stand of the
Vampire, last tower of the Sidhe,
Last stairway of Satan, last fireside of daemon, last bed-
place of harpy or fury in glee,
Last rally of Shedim’s and Moloch’s dark cohorts – in sun-
light or moonlight a dreaded abode,
O, house in the beeches, full framed in the beeches, the
jerk of a chestnut from off the bright road.’

[Last line echoes first] (p.89.)

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