Turning the everyday into a mystical trip...
The BBC made our tiny Dublin poet James Stephens one of the best known people in England in the 1930s. They gave him a poetry programme to recite his own and others' and soon he had created a sort of Celtic drone which was irresistible to listeners. Not everybody liked him though. One of the most powerful figures in English literature of the time, Lytton Stratchey, used to have a fit even if he accidentally turned on the radio and heard James Stephens' voice.
"There's that little gnome again gassing away 13 to the dozen".
The fact was that James Stephens had a reputation as a poet both in England and America as well as having written a major bestseller The Crock of Gold.
He was educated at Meath Industrial School and worked as a solicitor's clerk in Dublin before he acquired his worldwide reputation as a writer.
His real gift was that he could turn an everyday experience into a mystical trip. One day on the beach he picked up a shell and a poem magically walked out of it for him.
"I cannot tell how it came or why, only that when it did arrive, it came well".
It certainly does come well for me.
I can read this poem for a second or two and I find myself out on Sandymount strand in the mist of morning.
And then I pressed the shell
Close to my ear
And listened well,
And straightway like a bell
Came low and clear
The slow, sad murmur of the distant seas,
Whipped by an icy breeze
Upon a shore
Wind-swept and desolate.
It was a sunless strand that never bore
The footprint of a man,
Nor felt the weight
Since time began
Of any human quality or stir
Save what the dreary winds and waves incur.
And in the hush of waters was the sound
Of pebbles rolling round,
For ever rolling with a hollow sound.
There was no day,
Nor ever came a night
Setting the stars alight
To wonder at the moon:
And then I loosed my ear ... O, it was sweet
To hear a cart go jolting down the street.
James Stephens 1880-1950