Poem: ‘The Vagabond’ | Cassandra Voices

Poem: ‘The Vagabond’


The Vagabond
J.M. Synge, 1871-1909

To comprehend, regard the brutal wilderness to hand.
More than most, the burrow-broken vagabonds
recall the living tune. In remoter reaches
of the Wicklow hills, they live where a sodden soul
could barely pass, and look out all the year on unimpeded
barriers of heath. In every season, heavy sleets of freezing water
descend interminably, so the roof-thatch drips a colour
peaty-blue, and the cottage-floors are sinking,
boggy in the wet. The wide skies rock in hellish
storminess: by dawn the ragged larches that endure
are bent and twisted, bowing bleakly to the rim
where sunlight somehow rises in the summer.
Down the beggar-glens the churning wind, as well,
comes whirling with a river-roar that time
to time will lessen, of a sudden, giving way
to hush – enough, that is, to sow a tension
in the listening body, neck and limbs, of anyone
who waits, crouching with an ear ajar
for the mournful cries of country-dogs
that prowl among the crags. The elder-folk
who keep and carry on the memory, the quenchable
tradition, of risen insurrection, raising fire in the guts,
are dwindling today, a disappearing army, blown afar –
though here and there, disguised among the lonely
and the low, I’ve met them as I passed along,
and gathered up their words. To see these Irish men
and Irish women sunken, unrepenting, their leather-
skin and ageing eyes ablaze again, condemned for good
not to the viscerating gibbet, but to the slow obscurity
of dying-out, forgotten but by dreamers and the fey –
it’s been enough to wring me with the pang of isolation,
an echo of that dumb, determining distemper, impossible
to heal, of unredeemed deracination… a share, perhaps,
of the desolation mixed in every region of the land
with the waterfalling beauty of experience itself, the luminous
cascade we all have known, elusive, controvertible, but actual
and active to the penetrating mind. I raise my hungry fist
in health – to the ferocity and wonder of the world.

Image: © Daniele Idini


About Author

Ciarán’s second collection, Phantom Gang, was longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize 2023. His first collection, The Buried Breath, was highly commended by the Forward Foundation for Poetry in 2019. Both are published by The Irish Pages Press.

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