Entertainment Theatre & Arts

Monday 16 December 2019

Poetry: 'Man of genius in the first gropings of his thought'

Padraic Colum
Padraic Colum

'Young for his age, a man of genius in the first gropings of his thought".

This is what WB Yeats wrote about Padraic Colum at the beginning of the last century. He would include five of Colum's poems when he compiled his Oxford Book of Modern Verse in 1936 (one more than Louis MacNeice). Colum indeed, as a young man, had written such poems as 'She Moved Though the Fair', 'The Drover' and 'The Spanish Lady', which brought him fame. Apart from his poetry, he wrote The Fiddler's House for the Abbey, which is generally recognised as the first play in the Realist style in the English language. People had talked of Colum as Yeats' successor.

After the death of his wife Molly, when Colum was in his seventies, he came back to Ireland for part of each year, where I used meet him curled up like a pussy cat delighted with himself at the house where he lived with his sister, Mrs Ruth, who peered at you through the lace curtains as you knocked at the door.

By a chance of luck, I was in America during the last few weeks before Padraic's death at a nursing home there. I went to see him. He was still chirpy, with eyes that sparkled sitting up in the bed, whenever he talked about Dublin, where I had just come from.

Colum is perhaps best known, I think, for his poem 'She Moved Through the Fair', which was set to music by Sir Herbert Hughes, the brilliant English composer who, with Colum's help, created what some regard as one of the ­finest blend of poetry and music in the language.

from... She Moved Through the Fair

My young love said to me,

"My mother won't mind

And my father won't slight you

For your lack of kind"

And she stepped away from me

And this she did say:

"It will not be long, love,

Till our wedding day"

As she stepped away from me

And she moved through the fair

And fondly I watched her

Move here and move there

And then she turned homeward

With one star awake

Like the swan in the evening

Moves over the lake


Last night she came to me,

My dead love came in

So softly she came

That her feet made no din

As she laid her hand on me

And this she did say

"It will not be long, love,

'Til our wedding day"

Padraic Colum 1881-1972

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