Sunday 25 September 2016

Poetry: Jezebel painted in rhythmic poetry

Ulick O'Connor

Published 23/08/2015 | 02:30

FR Higgins
FR Higgins

FR Higgins is not the best name for a poet. The name conjures up more that of a champion snooker player than one who plays with words. But the full name he did have, Frederick Robert Higgins, suggests even worse - a bossy landlord, which he wasn't.

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Fred Higgins was known as FR by his friends at his request. The important thing is that he was a wonderful poet. We can count him among the group of young poets, the likes of Padraic Colum, Austin Clarke and Patrick Kavanagh who followed in the footsteps of Yeats. He ­recognised Higgins's gift when he allotted six pages of his Oxford Book of Modern Verse to him. Cute old warrior that he was, Yeats ­spotted that Higgins had tapped into the ­rhythmic system of Gaelic poetry and used the form that worked on the number of stresses in a line rather than its syllabic content.

Higgins's greatest poem is recognised as 'Father and Son' but I am holding that till we arrive at the season of yellow leaves and gold it was written in. Meanwhile, here is 'Song for the ­Clatter-Bones', an evocation of the biblical tale of King Jehu and his lover Jezebel whom he used to have dance at his command. Higgins got the idea for his poem from hearing a street singer Hare-Foot Mike claim he could bring the ghost of Jezebel back with a clack of his clappers.

Song for the clatter-bones

God rest that Jewish woman,

Queen Jezebel, the bitch

Who peeled the clothes from her

shoulder-bones

Down to her spent tits

As she stretched out of the window

Among the geraniums, where

She chaffed and laughed like one half daft

Titivating her painted hair-

King Jehu he drove to her,

She tipped him a fancy beck;

But he from his knacky side-car spoke,

"Who'll break her bloody neck?"

And so she was thrown from the window;

Like Lucifer she fell

Beneath the horses feet and they beat

The light out of Jezebel.

That corpse wasn't planted in clover;

Ah, nothing of her was found

Save those grey bones that

Hare-foot Mike

Gave me for their lovely sound;

And as once her dancing body

Made star-lit princes sweat,

So I'll just clack: though her ghost lacks

a back

There's music in the old bones yet.

FR Higgins 1896-1941

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