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Poetry: Jezebel painted in rhythmic poetry


FR Higgins

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.

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


Down to her spent tits

As she stretched out of the window

Among the geraniums, where

She chaffed and laughed like one half daft

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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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