Thursday 29 June 2017

Poetry - Ulick O'Connor: Irish poet who had the ear of a US President

Next year will be the 150th anniversary of the birth of poet George Russell, known also as Æ. To me, Russell is one of the finest figures who took part in the shaping of our country when it claimed its freedom in 1921.

He was a founder along with Sir Horace Plunkett of the Co-operative movement which freed the Irish small farmer from the greed of the gombeen man. His achievements were known outside this country, especially in America.

Henry Wallace, the US Secretary of Agriculture, believed that Russell could contribute to the revolutionary New Deal which America undertook in the 1930s, and President Roosevelt used him as his advisor.

Not bad for a poet from Rathgar Avenue, where he lived. Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India, once said that whenever he was feeling ill from the tropical heat, he would cure himself by reading Russell's poems.

Alongside Yeats, Joyce, Padraic Colum and James Stephens, Russell's poems can be read in the Oxford Book of English Verse. Russell was also a remarkable painter. A few of his paintings these days have sold for over €50,000.

Overall, a master of his art whose memory we should treasure very much more than we have. Here is a typical Russell shooting star.

WHEN

When mine hour is come

Let no teardrop fall

And no darkness however

Round me when I lie.

Let the vastness call

One who was its lover,

Let me breathe the sky.

Where the lordly light

Walks along the world,

And its silent tread

Leaves the grasses bright,

Leaves the flowers uncurled,

Let me to the dead

Breathe a gay goodnight.

George Russell (Æ) 1867-1935

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