Tuesday 16 January 2018

Ulick O'Connor - Poetry: Irish poet with a persuasive purr

James Stephens
James Stephens

Ulick O'Connor

One hundred and five years ago this year, James Stephens, the Irish poet, achieved world fame when his fairy tale book The Crock of Gold came out. It was a bestseller and was quickly translated into several languages. He built up a large following on the BBC reciting his poems with a persuasive Irish purr, which went down 100pc with the Brits.

Stephens was also asked to read his poetry in London social circles where his tiny figure could hold a crowd transfixed.

Curiously enough, James Joyce regarded Stephens as his soulmate. They shared the same birthday in the same year, and Joyce had actually at one time intended to ask Stephens to write the second half of Finnegans Wake in collaboration with him. The title of the work, believe it or not, was to be the one on the whiskey bottle JJ & S (John Jameson & Sons)

Stephens grew up in a miserable Dublin orphanage. He would always maintain that he was saved from despair by the Dublin hills he would look up at, and from a gap in the street, a message of hope would come down from them.

It was while walking in these hills that he heard the cry of a rabbit which inspired him to write one of his most famous poems. It may sound extraordinary to say, but if you read the poem right, you just may hear the sound of a rabbit cry.


I hear a sudden cry of pain!

There is a rabbit in a snare:

Now I hear the cry again,

But I cannot tell from where.

But I cannot tell from where

He is calling out for aid!

Crying on the frightened air,

Making everything afraid!

Making everything afraid!

Wrinkling up his little face!

As he cries again for aid;

- And I cannot find the place!

And I cannot find the place

where his paw is in the snare!

Little One! Oh, Little One!

I am searching everywhere!

James Stephens 1883-1950

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