Monthly Archives: March 2014

More Bathtime Reading


He reads the great verses, in the bath;
his favourite time, now a hallowed rite.
The fate of mushrooms, in a disused shed,*
left on their own, for over fifty years,
strikes him as tragic; moves him to tears.
He wants the immortal words to sink into him,
as the fragrant bubbles soak into his skin . . .
“But no!  That’s not it!”  He exhales a sad sigh.
The bubbles, ephemeral, soon fade and die . . .
So hard, to be a poet!  But he’ll try.  He’ll try.
His petulant foot makes a turbulent “splash!”
He wants the effect of these words to last.
These wonderful words, when they settle, and sink,
should live forever in him; in the way he thinks.

* Derek Mahon:”A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford”.

My poem “The Great Verses (4)” is the fourth in a series of poems inspired by my habit of reading anthologies of poems in the bath.  I have written about the three earlier poems in the posts “Bathtime Reading” (2012/04/30) and “Reading Poetry in the Bath” (2012/09/27).

The anthology I am reading at the moment is “Essential Poems from the Staying Alive Trilogy” edited by Neil Astley, and the particular poem that inspired me was “A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford” by the Irish poet Derek Mahon.  It is, as Neil Astley comments, “. . . one of the great poems of the 20th century.  It doesn’t just make you pause for thought as you read and re-read it, it almost makes you feel more human.”  The mushrooms in the poem are symbolic, representing the marginalised people and mute victims of history.  It is quite a long poem, so I can only quote a few of the lines that particularly moved me: “A thousand mushrooms crowd to a keyhole./This is the one star in their firmament/ . . . A half century, without visitors, in the dark/ . . . They lift frail heads in gravity and good faith./They are begging us, you see, in their wordless way,/To do something, to speak on their behalf/Or at least not to close the door again./

I cannot recommend this anthology – and Derek Mahon’s poem – too highly.


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My “First Communion”; lost, in the mists of time.
“The Body and Blood of Christ Our Lord”
made little impact on me, apparently.
What remains, strongly, in my memory
is “The Holy Sacrament of Confirmation”.
Not the ceremony itself, just the walk back home.
My white-clad form, cradled in sunlight;
the footpath, devoured by my eager tread.
We were “Soldiers of Christ” now; armed for the fight
with missals, and little red catechisms.
But no martial thoughts in my ten-year-old head.
No conflicts of belief, religious schisms;
just a haze of effulgence, confirmatory light.
We’d been let home early; I should be there by three.
I wondered what Mum had got for my tea.

My poem “Sacraments” is, I think, pretty much self-explanatory.  My mother was a devout Roman Catholic, and did her best to inculcate a similar devotion in me.  She was, however, always fighting a losing battle in this.  Apart from a juvenile flirtation with the idea of becoming a priest, in my early ‘teens, I never expressed any serious interest in Catholicism, and became a “lapsed” Catholic in my late ‘teens.  The sacraments of Holy Communion and Confirmation were supposed to imbue us with spiritual sustenance, but sustenance of a more corporeal nature always had a greater interest for me.  The line from The Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread” was obviously more relevant to me at the time.

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