Entertainment Books

Wednesday 18 September 2019

The Sunday poem: Anthony Cronin's personal anthology

William Allingham.
William Allingham.

Anthony Cronin

The novel in verse is a not uncommon form in England where Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh (1857), a sophisticated story of contemporary life involving social responsibilities, the position of women, prostitution and much else, is the best-known.

Modern examples include Vikram Seth's The Golden Gate and Nabokov's Pale Fire. Irish examples are rare but they include William Allingham's acute and sympathetic Laurence Bloomfield In Ireland, Or The New Landlord.

The plot goes back to Maria Edgeworth's early novels, in which an idealistic landlord returns after a long spell as an absentee to find that control of his estate has passed into the hands of an unscrupulous agent who cheats his master as well as oppressing his tenants.

Bloomfield finds an Ireland of evictions, discontent, outrage and murder. He is torn between what he sees to be his duty and the possible enjoyment of his rents abroad.

Allingham worked in a bank in Ballyshannon where his father was the manager before moving to London where he made a wide literary acquaintance, including Tennyson.

from Laurence Bloomfield

William Allingham

The cornstacks seen through rusty sycamores,

Pigs, tattered children, pools at cabin doors,

Black flats of bog, stone fences loose and rough,

A thorn-branch in a gap thought gate enough,

And all the wide and groveless landscape round,

Moor, stubble, aftermath, or new-ploughed ground...

Or, saddest sight, some ruined cottage-wall,

The roof-tree cut, the rafters forced to fall

From gables with domestic smoke embrowned

Where poverty at least a shelter found ...

Th'observant rider passed too many such ;

Let them do more (he thought) who do so much

Nor, where they've killed a human dwelling-place,

Unburied leave the skeleton's disgrace.

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