Vol. 17 No. 18 · 21 September 1995

Three Poems in Memory of Charles Monteith 9 February 1921 – 9 May 1995

564 words


Tom Paulin

Or Charlus as McGahern would call you
when we stacked up stories with Heaney
– all fun a great geg pure pleasure
I’d think of this village near Donegal town
– Mountcharlus they say in those parts
not Mountcharles
which was how one editor at Faber
used to sign every letter he sent
(was it Dunn who wondered
had you somehow acquired a peerage?)
then I’d try hard to trace
the Burma Campaign the war wound
elocution lessons All Souls
the office it’s a long way from Co. Down –
the office you shared with Old Possum
or that village on the road from Calcutta
where they offered your uniformed self
a brass bowl of buffalo milk
– ‘a great honour I had to receive it properly
but in those spots of grease floating on the surface
I foresaw an entire week
of stomach cramps and dysentery
... so I told them I was a member
of a very strict religion – the Presbyterian –
which forbad the drinking of milk’
– tact not the booboo you made
at a dinner one time with Lord Halifax
‘Have you ever been to India? I asked him’
‘actually, Halifax said, I used to be viceroy’
then the merry chortle the gurgle
that was somehow old-fashioned and hilarious
like the way as Muldoon noted
you motored to places instead of driving
or more likely being driven

dear Charles
I’d like to think your middle name was Stewart
because you set no limit
to the march – more like a dander – of the writers
Lord of the Flies The Barracks
Ariel Death of a Naturalist Wodwo
Terry Street New Weather
and Whitsun Weddings as well

on VJ Day I imagined
you’d come back to stand in Hyde Park
– tall and bald-headed under the hot sun
braces hornrims and pinstripes
watching your comrades march past
– later you’d shout taksi!
letting echt Ulster break through
those acquired episcopal vowels
– we’d drink retsina over lunch
(its taste the faint tang of cricket bats
as Larkin once told you)
and later I’d recollect
that resiny taste of new art
the summery freedom
and gurgly spluttery laughter
of a boy from Castlederg or Lisburn
who crossed the Irish Sea
to invent himself as le bon Charlot
for the fun of the game and the story


Paul Muldoon

Thunder and lightning. The veil of the temple rent
in twain
as I glimpse through the flackering flap of the tent
the rain

flash-flooding across the shoulders and roughed-out head
of one
of sixteen elephants – putty-coloured, teak-red,
blue, dun –

that now skip round the ring to flourish their blunt tusks,
their capes
of rain-dark jute or sisal or coconut-husks,

to foist
themselves upon the public, one day to escape
the pavilion which, this morning, we watched them hoist.

Exile Runes

Seamus Heaney

From ‘Beowulf’, lines 1117-40

A woman wailed
           and sang keens
                the glutton element
flamed and consumed
           the dead of both sides.
                Their great days were gone.
Warriors scattered
           to homes and forts
                fewer now, feeling
the loss of friends.
           No ring-whorled prow
                could up then
and away on the sea.
           Wind and water
                raged with storms
wave and shingle
           were shackled in ice
                until another year
appeared in the yard
           as it does to this day
                the seasons constant
the wonder of light
           coming over us.
                Winter was gone
earth’s lap grew lovely
           the longing woke
                 for a voyage home.

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