Entertainment Theatre & Arts

Saturday 15 December 2018

A cure for tropical heat

George Russell
George Russell

This year is the 150th anniversary of the birth of George Russell (known as Æ). He was the founder, along with Sir Horace Plunkett, of the co-operative movement, which changed the course of Irish rural life and freed the sole farmer from the greed of gombeenism.

Amazingly, his influence reached America, where President Roosevelt used him as an advisor on his New Deal in the 1930s.

His fame was exceptional. Lord Curzon, the viceroy of India, used to say that when he was feeling ill from the tropical heat, he used to cure himself by reading Russell's poems. He is in the Oxford Book of English Verse side by side with Yeats and Joyce. However, the evolution of a New Ireland, which he was one of the founders of, disappointed him and he felt he couldn't remain anymore. He moved to London, where he died.

His house was on Rathgar Avenue and there is a plaque outside it. My nanny used to point the house out to me as a little boy.

"That's where Mr Russell, the poet, lived. A gentleman."

Russell was a northerner like nanny. She saw him as one of her own, and why shouldn't she?

The world of death is ever breathing in the ear and it is only when shut out that we know that we cannot live without it.

THE GREAT BREATH

Its edges foamed with amethyst and rose,

Withers once more the old blue flower of day:

There where the ether like a diamond glows

Its petals fade away.

A shadowy tumult stirs the dusky air; Sparkle the delicate dews, the distant snows;

The great deep thrills, for through it everywhere

The breath of Beauty blows.

I saw how all the trembling ages past, Moulded to her by deep and deeper breath, Neared to the hour when Beauty breathes her last

And knows herself in death.

Æ (George Russell) 1867-1935

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