Friday 28 July 2017

Poetry: The poet with a shop on the Rathmines road

Seumas O'Sullivan
Seumas O'Sullivan

Ulick O'Connor

His right name was James Starkey but he called himself Seumas O'Sullivan when he wrote poetry. Then he married an artist Estella Solomons so the lads used to call him Seamus O'Solomon.

His chemist shop was on 30 Rathmines Road, near the town hall, and he thought it mightn't be good for business if people knew their prescriptions were being made up by a poet.

James Joyce, who was a contemporary student with O'Sullivan at University College, thought highly of him and asked him to stay in the Martello Tower in Sandycove, the site of the first chapter in Ulysses.

Joyce uses him in his book as one of the characters. I knew Seumas because he was decent enough to publish my first literary article (which was on Lafcadio Hearn) in his Dublin Magazine, which had achieved the reputation of one of the finest literary journals in the world. Seumas was the sole creator of this magazine about which Samuel Beckett's right-hand man, AJ Leventhal, wrote

"Much will be written yet about Seumas O'Sullivan as poet, essayist and writer, much out the man himself, but the readers of the Dublin Magazine, will be in his debt forever for giving them a journal of its calibre."

Among those who wrote for the magazine were Samuel Beckett, Austin Clarke, Padraic Fallon, Padraic Colum, Patrick Kavanagh, Paul Valéry and TS Eliot. As the French say formidable...

Seumas has left many splendid poems and some are in the Oxford Book of Modern Verse. In a few lines he can bring up an image before the eye that is almost like watching a film.

For instance in the poem below, A Piper, he creates in words the squeal of pipe music, and the clap of men and women dancing to it, finding relief from their daily world. Read it out to yourself once or twice. Can you not hear a pipe or two drone?

The Piper

A piper in the streets today

Set up, and tuned, and started to play,

And away, away, away on the tide

Of his music we started; on every side

Doors and windows were opened wide,

And men left down their work and came,

And women with petticoats coloured like flame.

And little bare feet that were blue with cold,

Went dancing back to the age of gold,

And all the world went gay, went gay,

For half an hour in the street today.

Seumas O'Sullivan 1879-1958

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