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Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The Blackbird of Derrycairn

Austin Clarke

'one of the host of poetic ghosts'
The Blackbird of Derrycairn

The poem is a loose translation of an 18th Century ossianic lay written in the Fiannaíocht tradition in the form of the "dán díreach". The original poem was titled "Lón Doire an Chairn". Clarke's poem adapts the original to satisfy his purpose, as The Lost Heifer, there is a contemporary meaning to the poem. It is a criticism of a priest-ridden Ireland where the Catholic Church dominated the morality of Government resulting in strict censorship laws leading to the banning of works by major Irish writers such as Joyce and Clarke himself. Clarke hoped for an Ireland that would provide a climate in which art and literature could flourish unhindered and this hope is highlighted in the final lines of the poem. The poem uses the contrast between the outdoor life and the pagan religion of the Fiánna and the monastic disciplined Christianity associated with Early Christian Ireland. The contrast between the light of the sun (central power source in druidic Ireland) and the light of God (The source of all life in Christianity) is such that the light of God is but a shadow of sunlight "and the sun is brighter than God's own shadow". The sense of confinement associated with Christianity is extended to include the chalice, "than God's own shadow in the cup". The second point of contrast in the poem deals with the sounds associated with both creeds, monastic morning prayer is described as "my throat rejoycing from the hawthorn". Clarke also reflects on the sense of alienation from nature associated with Christianity.

In stanza's two and three, the poet paints magnificent scenes of Fiannaíocht life, which shows an Ireland full of life and where man and nature are compatible.

In stanza four, the image of Christianity is of "little cells behind a Cashel, where no handbell has a glad sound". The suggestion here is that the monastic way of life is unnatural and in order for it to survive it must be protected from the outside world.

And with the approval of R.Dardis Clarke