Some for the road —

“Sun” by Micheal O’Siadhail

(I believe he read this poem at the reading we attended)

A fireball I cannot hold a candle to —
Light-years more giving, ample and rife
With desire, magnolia chalice of body

I touch petal by petal and undo.
Like an overcoat a wife must last a life
My poor sober father had cautioned me.

Paced madness . Patient furnace of sun.
Shape me, kiln me, cast me, love me,
Mate, mistress, queen, courtesan, in one.

Our naked nothing. Wing-giving delirium.
All caution to winds and kings of Jericho,
In Rahab’s window tie a crimson thread.

Jag of bliss. Drowsed and overcome
My life for yours. Ravish me! I grow,
I sweat, I ripen in your pleasured bed.

“Homing” by Micheal O’Siadhail

Longbow years of longing
Bends an arc’s wooden U.
Tenser stretch, fiercer shoot.

An arrow rigs a violent route
Gathering into a shaft of yew
Dreamed eye of a golden ring.

Cupidinous. Desire overdue.
A goose cock-feather quivering. No hard-to-get. No pursuit.

Come what may. Coute que coute.
I finger a silk-whipped string.
My life takes aim for you.

O Eros ravish and enlarge us.
Just to gaze, to listen, to mingle.
Sweet fusion. Carnal relish.
Break me again with outlandish
Desire my prowling Mademoiselle.
The arrow of our time discharges.

A shaft so full of amorous remembering,
Deja vu of yearning’s consummate fit
As I stoop to fondle a hollow in your nape.

As if such hunger coiled up in a man
Wakes some reminiscence we relearn,
I kiss in your flesh your spirit’s kiss

Like Hermes’ son fallen for Salmacis.
Our nature divides only to return.
I’ve known you since the world began.

A woman’s desire now bends to shape
The long elucidation of my spirit.
An arrow homes into its golden ring.

Local Welsh Place Names

As you probably recall, Waldo Williams, one of the poets we read, was from Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, both of which are names that show up on the Haverford and Bryn Mawr campuses, respectively. Knowing this, I decided to look into the origins of some of the Welsh place names in the area.

I found this website about the “Welsh Mainline” (, which talks about some nearby towns and their origins. Welsh Quakers settled 40,000 acres west of Philadelphia (Delaware, Montgomery and Chester counties). In 1684, they tried to get William Penn to agree to make it a separate county, where government business would be conducted in Welsh, since few of them spoke English. However, their request was unheeded, as the land was divided between different English counties.

A map of the Welsh Tract

When the Pennsylvania Railroad put in the Mainline in the 1800’s, many non-Welsh place names were changed by the railroad in order to give the area more of a unified history and make it more marketable. Following are some local Welsh names and their origins.

Haverford means “goat crossing” in Welsh. As we discussed in class, it was named for the Welsh town Haverfordwest. It was settled in 1681 by Welsh Quakers.

Bryn Mawr was originally Humphreysville, but was renamed by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1869. However, its Welsh name does have significance (unlike some other towns’ later Welsh names which are just nonsense). It means “big hill” and is named after an estate in North Wales, the farm of Rowland Ellis, a settler who came to Pennsylvania in 1686 fleeing religious persecution.

Brecon was given its current name in 1981, since it was dedicated by a Lady Brecon. Brecon is the name of the county where the town Bryn Mawr is found in Wales.

Radnor (the township, not the dorm) is named after Radnorshire, Wales. It was founded in 1682 on land from William Penn, and the town grew up around a meetinghouse built by the Welsh settlers in 1718, which is the same meetinghouse that stands there today. Many of the Welsh settlers left to avoid high taxes in the late 1700’s. Supposedly, there are monuments honoring their founding of the town; however, I was unable to find information on exactly what these are.

Saint David’s is named after a local Saint David’s church built in the 1700’s. Saint David is the patron saint of Wales.

Paoli is not a Welsh name, but is actually named after the Corsican general Pasquale Paoli. The center of the town was an inn, built in 1769, and run by a Joshua Evans, whose father had bought the land from William Penn. Evans named his inn Paoli, because the general was given the last toast in a Saint Patrick’s Day celebration at the inn.

Gladwynne is good example of an example of a settlement (although not a census-designated place) that was renamed to fit in with the other Welsh names in the area. It was originally “Merion Square,” which presumably came from Meirionnydd County in Wales. However, this name was apparently not Welsh enough for the casual listener, as it was renamed to Gladwynne in 1891. “Gladwynne” sounds Welsh but doesn’t actually mean anything.

Calan Mai!

This weekend Bryn Mawr continued one of it’s long standing traditions, May Day.
In Wales, May Day (Calan Mai) is a bit different from the May Day we celebrate at Bryn Mawr. Along with the traditional May Pole dancing, the traditional Welsh Calan Mai included lighting ritual fires that sometimes had animals roasted on them. These fires were, according to the BBC page, traditionally made from nine different types of wood collected by participants on May Day, and are a purification ritual that can be traced to druidical sacrifice to the god Beltane. It seems that these fires are less common today, though if you happen to head up to Edinburgh for May Day, the Beltane Fire Society puts on a rather exuberant Beltane festival on Carlton Hill involving these traditional fires, music, and acts that weave their way through the crowds.
Since the first of May is a liminal time zone in Welsh mythology, Calan Mai also involved divination. This divination usually takes the form of divining one’s true love rather than divining battle outcomes. Hawthorn was also used to decorate the outside of houses ((but never the inside- hawthorn is unlucky, then last thing you would want to be when welcoming in the spring and the fertility of the ground).

In some areas of Wales, such as Anglesey, straw dolls were made and hung near girl’s homes on May Eve. These dolls were hung by young men whose sweethearts had left them for another man, and often incited jealousies over the lady’s affections that could lead to fights.

Not all the traditions of Calan Mai are different, however. Like at Bryn Mawr’s May day celebration, dancing around a May pole formed an integral part of the celebrations. The May Pole is traditionally made of birch, though the way in which the dance is performed varies by region. In the South of Wales, the dancing works much the same way it works at Bryn Mawr, with the dancers weaving their ribbons around the pole through their circling dance.

In the north of Wales, however, the may pole ritual is called “Cangen haf”, the summer branch, and requires eighteen young men dressed entirely in white with ribbons attached (rather like the Morris Dancers of May Day look) and two young men to play the Cadi and the Fool. The Cadi carries the “cangen haf” around the town, often decorated with spoons, watches, and other silver borrowed from the people of the village, while the others sing and dance and ask for money from everyone they meet.
Calan Mai also has a May Queen, a young woman who presides over the festival. Traditional Welsh dancing also forms a large part of the festival.

Today, amusement park rides and bouncy castles like thoe ones Bryn Mawr set up this Sunday on Merion and Denbigh Greens also tend to make an appearance, especially since May Day is a bank holiday in the UK and most people have the day off to join in the festivities.

And for some fun, here’s a Monty Python sketch on May Day!

Celtic Knots

Anyone who knows me well knows that I love to cook and bake. Recently I was struck by a hankering for pretzels, but was bored by the traditional pretzel twist before I even started. I began playing around with the dough, and realized that I could kill two birds with one stone by making some delicious Celtic knots.

Batch #1: First try making pretzels, mostly braids, a couple of boring semi-normal ones.


The Triquerta


“Celtic knot mat” – the pattern on the uncooked pretzel is a bit easier to see.

I found a tying tutorial for this knot here.

The baked version.


After researching Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, I was interested to learn more about the Innti literary journal and the other poets that contributed to it, as well as the later movement of poetry accredited to Innti. This movement was defined by the “introduction of modern themes into Irish poetry and a movement away from the traditional nationalist politics,” or as Nuala herself put it, a movement towards writing about “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.” This movement has been compared to the Beats poetry movement in the United States, comprised of post-World War II writers with a culture of “rejection of received standards, innovations in style, experimentation with drugs, alternative sexualities, etc.,” including American poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. The literary magazine Innti was originally a broadside (one large page printed on one side only), created in 1970, which was continued as a magazine. The editor was a poet named Michael Davitt. Besides Davitt and Ní Dhomhnaill (the only female poet involved), Gabriel Rosenstock and Liam Ó Muirthile have gone on to be well known Irish poets. Defining aspects of this poetry movement were the public readings that made Irish poetry more accessible to the common man, creating excitement in the community. Other poets of this movement than Ní Dhomhnaill, such as Michael Davitt, have embraced translation into English by well-known poets like Paul Muldoon and John Montague. These poets, while committed to revitalizing the Irish language, were determined to avoid “isolationism [and to] bring internationalist energies of a new youth culture” to their poetry. On the subject of translation, Nuala has referred to her allowance of translation by Anglophone poets as a “vocation to the missions” that can motivate the English-speaking Irish population to “pick up the long-lost threads of the language which is so rightly theirs.” The founder of Innti, Davitt, passed away in 2005, just two years before Irish was designated the 23rd official language of the European Union.


The question of language: Postcolonial translation in the bilingual collections of Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill and Paul Muldoon (article, requested)


Recently we’ve come upon a few poems featuring “sea-changes”, as The Tempest‘s Ariel would say, such as Iain Crichton Smith’s “Gaelic Stories” and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s “Parthenogenesis.”

Stories of human beings metamorphosing to and from shapes of sea-dwellers, whether as mer-people or in seal form as selkies, are not unique to Celtic culture, but appear in many folktales worldwide. The folktale motif of the “Animal Bride” is prevalent enough to have a catalogue number in the Aarne-Thompson folktale classification index: #402. Admiration for bodies of water and for fish in their own right has featured in many of our poems more specifically. Fish are a subject of respect, such as the salmon as a symbol of wisdom, and the river has appeared as a powerful feminine entity, not to mention close relationships with Lochs and oceans.

The Shannon River, the same that welcomes the salmon in Ni Dhomhnaill's poem

The Shannon River, the same that welcomes the salmon in Ni Dhomhnaill’s poem

Selkies themselves sit at the centers of many northern European stories. According to the Celtic Encyclopedia of Mythology and Folklore: “in Ireland [and] Scotland, … eating seals was considered a form of cannibalism” (411) From Scandinavia to Ireland, folktales describe otherworldly men and women taking the forms of seals (or is it vice versa?), shedding their seal skins on rocks or onshore, and having relationships with ordinary land-dwelling people. The seal skin must be stolen and hidden or destroyed in order to make a selkie live on land, and often a child of a selkie and a land-dweller unknowingly enables the selkie parent to escape by finding the skin’s hiding place. In some stories the selkie is hunted as a seal and killed after returning to the sea, bringing curses on the killer and family, but in others the ending is perhaps more heartbreaking: the selkie parent (usually a mother) stays forever just out of reach, appearing as a seal from far off to the children but never acknowledging them, as in an Icelandic version:

Once in the east of Mýrdalur a man went along the cliffs on the seashore early in the morning. He came to a mouth of a cave and heard the sound of merrymaking and dancing inside. Nearby he saw many seals’ skins. He took one of the skins, brought it home and locked it in a chest.
In the daytime he came again to the cave. There sat a young and pretty woman who was naked and cried desperately. She was the seal whose skin the man had taken. He let her dress herself, comforted her and brought her home with him. She has become attached to him, but did not get on with others. She often sat and looked at the sea.
Some time later the man married her. They lived in harmony and had children. The farmer kept the seal’s skin locked up in the chest and had the key with him wherever he went. Many years later he once went outdoors and left the key at home, under his pillow. Others say that the farmer went to celebrate Christmas with his men, but his wife was ill and could not go with them. While he changed his clothes, he left the key in a pocket of his everyday wear. When he came back home, the chest was open, and both the woman and the skin disappeared.
She had taken the key, looked into the chest out of curiosity and found the skin there. She could not resist the temptation, bade farewell to her children, put on the skin and plunged into the sea. And before she plunged into the sea, they say, she whispered:

Where have I to flee?
I’ve seven kids in the sea
And seven kids on dry land.

They say the man grieved much for that. Afterwards, when he went fishing, a seal often swam round his boat, and it seemed that tears ran from her eyes. Ever since that man always had good catch and was lucky.
When their children went to the shore for a walk, people often saw a seal that swam in the sea not far from them, both when they were on land and near water, and threw motley fish and nice sea shells to them. But their mother never came back.


The aforementioned Encyclopedia also mentions the uncannily human appearance of the seal, engendering human empathy: “Seals do bear some resemblance to human beings, especially in their wild moaning calls and in the direct gaze from their soft dark eyes. Fishermen sometimes spoke or sang to seals, who were thought to speak back, usually begging that no harm come to them or their young” (411).

A Harbour Seal.

A Harbour Seal.

John Sayles’ movie, The Secret of Roan Inish, centers on a displaced Irish family’s selkie story. I won’t ruin it for you in case you want to see it, but suffice it to say it beautifully translates the wonder, tension, and pain of the selkie story onto film. Roan Inish has been dear to me since my childhood, and it has one of the best soundtracks I know. The “Selke Song,” a lullaby used in the film, is actually song called “An Mhaighdean Mhara,” which is a song about a mermaid.

mermaid's song












(lyrics and translation given under the video)

The selkie story is deeply tied to longing, displacement, and an appeal to otherworldly origins to explain traits in families. Poets choosing to write about selkies (especially in Crichton Smith’s case, as is the form of his poem) need only mention the barest outline of the folktale, and their poems are granted access to a very old, unique, and complex mixture of circumstances and emotions.

New Irish Singer Hozier

I never know for sure if I’m actually up with music trends or not, but my friend introduced me to Hozier the other day, and I wanted to share some of his music with you all.

Photo via

Photo via

For those of you who don’t know, Hozier is the stage name of Andrew Hozier-Byrne, a blues/soul musician (singer-songwriter) from Bray, County Wicklow in Ireland.

In his most famous single, “Take Me To Church,” Hozier sings of a tension between his feelings and his upbringing (in Catholic Ireland), and the accompanying music video chronicles the abuse of a homosexual couple at the hands of their community. The song went viral on YouTube and Reddit after it was released last July, and Hozier’s fanbase and fame has been growing since then, with the release of his second EP.

Watch the video here:

According to some interviews Hozier has done, although he himself states that the Catholic Church isn’t the cause of the human rights violations about which he sings, he’s adamant about the need for societal change, on a person-to-person level. NYMag’s The Cut did an interview with him, where you can learn more about his personal influences (including James Joyce!), his stance on LGBT rights, his hair (?), and the way he views his musical career.

Billboard caught up with his record manager to answer questions, which you can read here.

Huffington Post’s Gay Voices also wrote about “Take Me To Church” and the music video, which they compared to the Russian anti-gay policies that made headlines last fall before the Sochi Winter Olympics.

And here’s a live version of his song “Cherry Wine,” which may be my personal favorite.

The Scottish National Anthem

As a result of the conversation that the class had last Tuesday when I presented on Norman Cameron, I am going forward with my final paper looking into the ways that exoticism has an influence on his poetry. As I touched on briefly in class, Cameron spent significant time over the course of his life in different countries and therefore has much experience with other cultures. These cultures had an intense effect on him. I am looking at the ways in which exoticism and his native Scottish nationalism dual in his work.

As this has become my key focus, I thought it would be valuable as a background to look up the Scottish national anthem. I was hoping that through studying the lyrics of the anthem I would become more familiar with some of the cultural symbols and key important factors of Scottish nationalism that I could then look for in Cameron’s poetry. My idea was that if I found some of these symbols, etc. in his poetry I would be able to develop a deeper understanding of Cameron’s relationship with Scotland and his Scottish identity. However, this lead was temporarily stifled when I turned to Google and found that there is no official national anthem of Scotland.

Upon further research, I found that the reason for Scotland’s lack of an official national anthem is that for a long time, the Scottish Parliament felt as though the selection of such an important national symbol should be left to the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and for Scotland to choose one on their own was a direct undermining of Scotland’s loyalty to the United Kingdom. In 2004, the Scottish Parliament did more thinking surrounding this issue of national rights and created a petition stating that the selection of an official national anthem should be left to Scotland. While the petition got the government and the country as a whole thinking more about the selection of an official national anthem, ultimately no action was taken.

However, the lack of and OFFICIAL anthem does not mean that there are not unofficial anthems that are used for the same function. Some of the national favorites include:
1) “Scotland the Brave” was used in the place of a national anthem at Scottish sporting events until the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

2) “Flower of Scotland” was used as the victory song of the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Since these games, “Flower of Scotland” has been used as the national anthem at sporting events, most importantly at the matches of the Scottish rugby union team and the Scottish national football team.

3) “Scots Wha Hae” is another patriotic song of Scotland. Robert Burns wrote the lyrics to this anthem in 1793 (before the creation of “Scotland the Brave” and “Flower of Scotland”) and was written to the tune of a traditional Scottish song, “Hey Tuttie Tatie.”

In 2006, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra created a poll in which citizens from all over Scotland could vote for what they believed should become the official national anthem of Scotland. The results are below (thanks, Wikipedia).

“Flower of Scotland” 41%
“Scotland the Brave” 29%
“Highland Cathedral” 16%
“A Man’s A Man for A’ That” 7%
“Scots Wha Hae” 6%

Currently, there is still no official national anthem of Scotland. In most accounts that I have read, there are almost always members of parliament pushing for further discussion, but these groups are never able to recruit and convince the majority of the Scottish parliament that this is an important enough issue to move forward with. For the record, other Celtic countries (such as Wales and Ireland) do have their own official national anthem. Wales’ national anthem is called “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” (translates to “Land of My Fathers”) and Ireland’s is “Amhran na bhFiann” (translates to “A Soldier’s Song”).

To “Falter” or to “Prosper?” Scotland’s Potential Independence Considered

On Sunday I was listening to the weekend edition of NPR News, and the topic of Scotland’s potential independence came up.  NPR decided to explore the story was through economics, but what I found interesting that NPR juxtaposed two completely opposing views.  The two articles were entitled, “Scotland Could Prosper Outside the United Kingdom,” and “An Independent Scotland Could Falter Economically.”  What do we believe?

According to the article posing secession as a beneficial economic step, Scotland is, as Fiona Hyslop, a member of the Scottish Parliament puts it, “relative to the UK,” in a very good economic place, bolstered by its oil and gas industries.  Yet Hyslop says that the distinction between England and Scotland would not necessarily have to cut one off from the other, for the currency would be shared, and social relationships between the Scottish and their friends and family in England would be maintained.  Additionally, no passport would suddenly be needed to travel from the UK into Scotland, as it is a member of the European Union.  The only thing, really, that Hyslop emphasizes would change with a Scottish secession would be the political bond between England and Scotland.  She believes that the Scottish have been inadequately represented in the government.  She wants “the people who live and work in Scotland” to be heard in government, instead of having “governments we [the Scottish] haven’t voted for controlling big issues.”  This stance is definitely a nationalist position, wanting to return to the “pre-1707” Scotland during which Scotland was seen as an equal power in Europe, for, right now, Hyslop remarks, “The union [between the UK and Scotland] was meant to be a parliament of equals, but it doesn’t sometimes feel like this from our position.”  (Source:

On the other hand, the article “An Indepenent Scotland Could Falter Economically” warns us of the economic risks secession would take, refuting many of the ideas Hyslop sets out in her interview in the previous article.  Ari Shapiro, who reports for NPR, has spent time in Glasgow to get a sense of the Scottish sentiment toward the potential secession.  Shapiro notes that Hyslop’s statement about currency and Scotland’s membership in the European Union is incorrect: the Scottish pound may not stay tied to the English pound, according to British finance minister George Osborne, and Scotland may have to wait to apply to become a member of the EU, according to European Union president Jose Manuel Barroso.  Additionally, Scottish pensioners would feel negative effects of secession, for the British pension they share currently is significantly satisfactory, as Shapiro found out in an interview with the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.  Still, after speaking to residents of Scotland, Shapiro realizes that they share the same nationalist feeling as Hyslop, noting, “For them, it is more of a vote based on the heart than the head.”  (Source:

I’m still pondering what exactly these two articles predict.  Clearly, nationalist thought and Scottish pride are widespread sentiments, but they beg the question of whether “the heart” is stronger than “the head” when the referendum actually comes around.  Is moving back to Hyslop’s pre-1707 past tempting enough for the Scottish people, or would they like to maintain their relatively comfortable economic status?  I’d be curious to know how pressing this issue of secession is in the everyday lives of the Scottish people.  Do we hear a more governmental/political leadership voice in these articles than we do of “the people?”  Do these “official” voices block out the true Scottish sentiment?

British Poet Laureate

While preparing for my presentation on Carol Ann Duffy I did some research about her role as the British Poet Laureate. One of the first things I found out was that during her first year in the position Duffy wrote a poem for David Beckham called “Achilles” after he injured his Achilles tendon and was unable to play in the 2010 FIFA world cup. I quickly became confused as to why such a prestigious sounding role was responsible for writing original verse about soccer stars and decided to delve a little deeper.

According to the official website of the British Monarchy, the role of Poet Laureate is an honor given to someone whose poetry is of national significance. When the post was first created the intention was for the Poet Laureate to write original verse for special occasions such as royal birthdays, anniversaries and events. Now however, the position has taken on a more honorary nature and there is no obligation for the poet to produce work for such occasions. In its current form the Poet Laureate holds their position for ten years with a stipend of 5,750 pounds and may choose if and when to write.

The Poet Laureate is chosen by the Monarch following advice from the Prime Minister. In Duffy’s case Prime Minister Tony Blair recommended her along with a list of other candidates to Queen Elizabeth II who made the final decision. It took ten years on the short list for Duffy to finally be appointed to the role. She was originally passed over in 1999 when Andrew Motion was given the position. It was speculated that she wasn’t chosen because she is not a typical “establishment.” Blair was nervous about how “Middle England” would respond to Duffy being the lesbian daughter of a dedicated unionist. Now that she has been appointed, however, Duffy is the first woman, first openly gay, and first Scottish Poet Laureate.


Carol Ann Duffy being appointed by Queen Elizabeth II

As you can imagine the position has changed significantly since Henry VII appointed the first Poet Laureate in the early 1500’s. Originally poems were written exclusively for royal events, however, Duffy’s list of works demonstrates an increasing diversity in themes. As previously mentioned she has written about David Beckham’s injury but she has also covered LGBT rights events, climate change, the banking crisis and the Icelandic volcanic activity that disrupted air traffic in 2010.

While you probably haven’t heard of most of the past Laureates there are some familiar names on the list including William Wordsworth and Cecil Day-Lewis (Daniel Day-Lewis’ father).


Cecil Day-Lewis with his wife, daughter and son (Daniel)