#Dublin: “But oh the days are soft, soft enough to forget the lesson better learnt…”

I wish I could embed this, but it’s the exclusive work of the Irish Times. It features Dublin slam poet Stephen James Smith as he recites Louis MacNeice’s poem ‘Dublin’ which in turn makes a powerful esoteric argument for the great city of Dublin…

Grey brick upon brick,
Declamatory bronze
On sombre pedestals –
O’Connell, Grattan, Moore –
And the brewery tugs and the swans
On the balustraded stream
And the bare bones of a fanlight
Over a hungry door
And the air soft on the cheek
And porter running from the taps
With a head of yellow cream
And Nelson on his pillar
Watching his world collapse.

This never was my town,
I was not born or bred
Nor schooled here and she will not
Have me alive or dead
But yet she holds my mind
With her seedy elegance,
With her gentle veils of rain
And all her ghosts that walk
And all that hide behind
Her Georgian facades –
The catcalls and the pain,
The glamour of her squalor,
The bravado of her talk.

The lights jig in the river
With a concertina movement
And the sun comes up in the morning
Like barley-sugar on the water
And the mist on the Wicklow hills
Is close, as close
As the peasantry were to the landlord,
As the Irish to the Anglo-Irish,
As the killer is close one moment
To the man he kills,
Or as the moment itself
Is close to the next moment.

She is not an Irish town
And she is not English,
Historic with guns and vermin
And the cold renown
Of a fragment of Church latin,
Of an oratorical phrase.
But oh the days are soft,
Soft enough to forget
The lesson better learnt,
The bullet on the wet
Streets, the crooked deal,
The steel behind the laugh,
The Four Courts burnt.

Fort of the Dane,
Garrison of the Saxon,
Augustan capital
Of a Gaelic nation,
Appropriating all
The alien brought,
You give me time for thought
And by a juggler’s trick
You poise the toppling hour –
O greyness run to flower,
Grey stone, grey water,
And brick upon grey brick.

Oh, and there’s this great piece by Trevor White 0n how contemporary Dubliners growing for miles beyond the city’s Georgian and Victorian core feel about their city…

Himself, for instance…

Dublin often seems to me like two towns separated by the Liffey. There are people among us who can’t get over a river. On bad days – when, say, the councillors of Fingal resisted the popular demand for a directly elected mayor of Dublin – I think of the capital as a lot of different villages run by men and women who are too small to make decisions to serve the greater good.

Yet most of the time I love this place: the architecture, the sea, the mountains, the flea markets, the parks, the theatre, the pubs and the locals. Champion spoofers, I love their outsize conversation, what MacNeice called “the bravado of her talk”. And I also buy the financial argument. Dublin is the engine that drives the economy. Without a strong capital, the rest of this country is finished. For all these reasons, I’m bemused by our lack of civic pride.

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