Authors: Bernard O’Donoghue / Tereza Brdečková
Bernard O’Donoghue (b. 1945) is the author of nine collections of poetry. The first were Razorblades and Pencils (Sycamore Press, 1984), Poaching Rights (Gallery Press, 1987) and The AbsentSignifier (Mandeville Press, 1990). The next four collections were published in London by Chatto & Windus: The Weakness (1991), Gunpowder (1995), Here Nor There (1999) andOutliving (2003). In 2008 the poet moved publishers to Faber and Faber, with the publication that year of a selection of the preceding four books. Those Selected Poems were followed by two collections,Farmers Cross (2011) andThe Seasons of Cullen Church (2016).
In addition he has translated a selection of the Czech poet Zbyněk Hejda into English: A Stay in a Sanatorium and Other Poems (Southward Editions, 2005), and he also translated Sir Gawain and the Green Knight from middle English into modern English. He has edited a wide range of selections from the work of other poets, as well as anthologies and books of Irish quotations. And he has also published a literary guide to Ireland, and academic studies of courtly love and the poetry of Seamus Heaney.
For this Czech-English selection Tereza Brdečková has chosen thirty-nine poems from O’Donoghue’s last six collections. I have arranged them here so that they create an integral whole, irrespective of their order in the original publications. From the collection The Weaknesswe have four poems (“A Nun Takes the Veil,” “P. T. A.,” “The Nuthatch” and the title poem); from Gunpowder nine poems (“The Rainmaker,” which provides the title of our collection, the title poem, “Have the Good Word,” “Elijah on Horeb,” “Carolling,” “The Iron Age Boat at Caumatruish,” “Passive Smoking,” “Romantic Love” and “Going Without Saying”); from the collection Here Nor There seven poems (“The Owls at Willie Mac’s,” “Ghouls,” “Westering Home,” “Ter Conatus,” “The Definition of Love,” “Nechtan” and “Christmas”); and five poems from the collection Outliving (“The City at Shrone,” “The Mule Duignan,” “The Day I Outlived My Father,” “Alzheimer Fruit” and “Old Blue-Eyes”). The remaining fourteen poems were chosen by the translator from O’Donoghue’s last two collections.
THE OWLS AT WILLIE MAC´S
Having heard their cries across the fields,
I went outside into their element,
As blind in theirs as they in mine by day.
It was so dark, that late summer night,
I could see nothing of what caused
The ticking, and the steady tread
Of heavy boots towards me down the road
Until his bicycle was right alongside.
Still without seeing, I could smell the warmth
And kind breath of Nugget Plug and Guinness.
And then the voice, as from an invisible flame:
‘When I worked at Willie Mac´s, you´d hear them
Every night. You´d never see them, even when
They were right on top of you and sounding
Like a screech of brakes.’ Who was he,
This dark-dressed, nearly extinct escaper
From the nineteen-fifties Saturday night?
There are some animals, the medievals said,
Whose eyes are so acute that they can, lidless,
Outstare the sun. He walked away from me,
Saving the battery by still not winding on
The squat flashlamp I pictured at the front.
Neither could my defective vision see
Him as he would be three months ahead,
Stretched in the road like the thirsty bittern
By a car that could hardly be expected
To pick him out against a wintering sky.