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D.J. Enright, 6 November 1980

... The grasshopper was a burden to me. It knew of something hurtful to me. In a dream I squashed the grasshopper. Why was the grasshopper such a burden? Its singing hindered me from sleeping, All flesh is grass was still its burden. Unlike the owl, the bat, the loris, The grasshopper is no power of darkness. It sings at ease in the light of the sun. Did I lie at ease in the light of the sun? The grasshopper hindered me from sleeping ...

In the street

D.J. Enright, 7 November 1991

... Did I imagine that romantic story? – England 1919, and the war just over, It was raining hard, and she could see A soldier, looking lost, was getting wet. Her umbrella offered decent room for two: And that was how they met. He didn’t rejoin the Dublin Fusiliers, Didn’t go back to Ireland, Little work there, lots more rain. Better to stay and be a British husband ...

Saving the world

D.J. Enright, 19 December 1991

... At Christmas our father took us to his church, The Catholic, though he only went there then, When he thought we ought to see the famous crib, Its painted figures of animals and people. I felt at home in that foreign place, the scene Reminded me of Noah’s Ark, my fondest toy, Where the animals went in two by two, or Sometimes one by one, I didn’t always count ...


D.J. Enright, 5 November 1992

... One sentence in English he knew by heart: ‘If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?’ It sounded cheerful; it usually fitted. He was a writer. He had translated Quo Vadis? From the English. What else he had done We never learnt, nor what had been done to him. Plainly he’d had a number of hard winters Known choicely as the Cultural Revolution, Made to clean out latrines, at very least ...


D.J. Enright, 19 August 1993

... Below an essay on Shelley he wrote:     ‘I don’t think we’re here to judge his soul.’ A telling reproach, whatever one’s view of souls. A fine teacher! He knew the proper medicine. Self-righteousness would never be the same, It ceased to be a right. He could never keep his pipe alight, Smouldering matches rained about him. Once he gave it up, to discipline the spirit ...


D.J. Enright, 5 March 1981

... It develops like this, you see. The things called hands Which terminate in fingers, which terminate in nails, The whole depending from arms. And likewise the legs, Which merge into feet, from which emerge what are known As toes. There you see a head. These parts grow together Quite slowly, or grow one from another. As though, It might seem, a loving care is somehow involved ...

Natural Species

D.J. Enright, 6 August 1981

... There’s a law these days against the extirpation of a Natural species ... So John Brown assures himself As he moves with care down the Underground corridors. A poster for panties carries a sticker:     ‘This degrades women.’ For Brown himself is the sole survivor of one such Natural species: the John Browns. He can still recall The others – John the stripling ...

Caligula on the subject of names

D.J. Enright, 2 December 1993

... Though he had little Latin He seemed to like his title I named him Incitatus Meaning to run swiftly But also to excite, to incite Or so to speak spur on Me they dubbed Baby-Boots I gave him iron ones He was born in a tailored toga I hoped he would spur on the others So I made him a consul There’s a Pole called ‘I think’ who thought He performed his duties perfectly ‘That is, he didn’t perform them at all’ Which is not entirely accurate At times he intervened in the proceedings He applauded with his hooves His neigh was his nay And invariably well timed His droppings were neat and odourless Unlike most of the magistrates And invaluable to market gardeners As I pointed out when taking their money He rode roughshod He spurred on the others Many of whom left the Senate hurriedly Small committees I always argue Are preferable to large ones I found it quite exciting ‘My kingdom for a horse’ I would say Visiting him in his stable afterwards (Yes, it was made of the finest marble) His hay was his yea What happened later I was not alive to tell And the pertinent books of Tacitus (Not too badly named) are lost I like to think he trotted off to Thessaly And joined the centaurs (No, not akin to senators) He was partial to the wine-trough ...

Two Poems

D.J. Enright, 27 September 1990

... Seminar on Contemporary Chinese Writing Novels about peasants are generally good (In general the peasantry is good) They may sound rather boring But they are not One of them is entitled ‘The Well’ And set in a remote village Where are many hardships Another is called ‘The Village’ Concerning a peasant and his wife Who have two sons And each son has a wife (If the Chinese professor sounds rather boring It is due to the translation But he is not) Was one of the sons The son who laid himself flat on a frozen river To melt the ice and furnish his parents With fresh fish in the winter? No, that is not a contemporary writing It is a very old story We have better ways of melting the ice Nowadays do peasants ever write such novels? If they do they are not peasants Do they read them? A chuckle, translated as a chuckle (One has met at most one Chinese peasant The only villager to own a television set He was proudly illiterate) No, ‘Golden Lotus’ was long ago It is true that sex was making a comeback Until it suffered a setback (London is a large urban centre There are beggars but no peasants The lecture room is centrally heated Sex has suffered a minor setback But our hardships are relatively light Soon there will be a break for coffee ...

Two Poems

D.J. Enright, 12 September 1991

... Vandalism Since the object in question is a modern poem, A police spokesman stated yesterday, It is hard to tell whether it has been damaged Or not or how badly. Summoned to the scene, officers were uncertain As to whether the work had been turned upside down Or kcab to front Or whether parts of it were [missing]. A doctor of letters has been called in Together with experts on scansion and crosswords ...

First words, last chances

D.J. Enright, 13 May 1993

...    Words you’ve never used And have always wanted to –    Get them in quickly.            *    Dight in dimity Enlaced with lazy-daisy    In fishnet fleshings.    It fell on your head Her old boyfriend’s framed photo –    Fearsome xoanon!    The ergonomics (Please don’t tread on erica!)    Of the percheron ...
... Proust remarked that, like microbes and corpuscles, theories and schools devour one another and by their warfare ensure the continunity of life. I doubt, though, that the present is a time for schools or manifestos, whether grandly or modestly styled. ‘Acmeists’, ‘lmagists’, ‘Parnassiens’, ‘Symbolists’, ‘Projectivists’ – these days the words ring out like great ancient bells, in a secularised city ...

Live Entertainment

D.J. Enright, 6 December 1979

The Storyteller 
by Alan Sillitoe.
W.H. Allen, 285 pp., £5.95
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... It isn’t easy to talk about storytelling … Explanations only mystify. Sophisticated people may be able to explain their way out of mystification, and good luck to them, but a storyteller may well succeed in explaining his way into it which, believe me, ladies and gentlemen, is bad luck for him.’ It goes without saying (which is as well, since one might not actually want to say it) that reviewers are sophisticated people ...

McGahern’s Ireland

D.J. Enright, 8 November 1979

The Pornographer 
by John McGahern.
Faber, 252 pp., £4.95
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... William Styron is reported as defending the sexual activity in his recent Sophie’s Choice on the grounds that ‘the battle to write explicitly about sex was fought long and hard. We must never begin to surrender that victory.’ The argument strikes one as considerably less silly when removed to the context of John McGahern’s fiction. One may never know why the narrator of McGahern’s new novel chooses to write pornography for a Dublin magazine – one may never quite believe that such a decent sad fellow would so choose – but, such is the prevalent gloom, one is able to believe that pornography does serve some useful purpose ...

Knowledge Infinite

D.J. Enright, 16 August 1990

The Don Giovanni Book: Myths of Seduction and Betrayal 
edited by Jonathan Miller.
Faber, 127 pp., £6.99, July 1990, 0 571 14542 6
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... This compilation arose out of Jonathan Miller’s 1985 production of Don Giovanni for the English National Opera, and his introduction to the book is agreeably illuminating, not least for those who for one reason or another never go to the opera. The main characters of Don Giovanni, he notes, have a prior and conspicuous existence outside the opera, being well-established figures of myth, a fact which both helps and hinders ...

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