At Inis Meàin He Rides to the Sea
Liz Rose Dolan on John Millington Synge
The Aran Islands, Ireland
The Arans are three islands off the coast of Connemara and Clare. Liz writes, “In high school, I was bowled over by both the tragedy and language of Riders to the Sea. I knew someday I would visit Aran, which I did on a summer Sunday in 1965. A wild place it was.”
Yeats led me to Aran. On the steamer nothing
could be seen but the mist curling in the rigging.
A blind man leads me to the well
of the four bountiful saints. God to you, says he.
Herself does be saying prayers half through the night,
and the Almighty God won’t leave her destitute with no son living.
Along a maze of winding roads and sheltered paths
speckled with marsh violet and blackthorn,
a ruddy-skinned maiden kicks up her red petticoat,
leads a white mare down and along the wrack line.
What is the price of a thousand horses
against a son where there is one son only?
From rocky hillsides deserted beaches flow
where long-legged pigs plow through the surf.
Crews of fisherman ride four-oared to the sea
in their tarred cow-hide curraghs.
There does be a power of young men floating round in the sea.
…for when a man is nine days in the sea, and the wind blowing,
it’s hard set his own mother would be to say what man was it.
Clinging to the Atlantic cliff face to learn balance,
small boys fall to their death hundreds of feet below.
Tis a sin to pluck anyone from the sea after God has called them.
And no one to keen them but the black hags do be flying on the sea.
Under a beehive-roof, I blink with turf smoke,
relish the heat a bit of poteen brings to my blood.
I listen to the murmur of the old language
lost to all but to those who are here.
I looked up then, and I crying, at the gray pony,
and there was Michael upon it–with fine clothes on him,
and new shoes on his feet.
My poor words rattle against each other
like the last beach leaves on a winter branch.
(All italics are quotes from Riders to the Sea.)
Liz Dolan’s second poetry manuscript, A Secret of Long Life, which is seeking a publisher, was nominated for the Robert McGovern Prize. Her first poetry collection, They Abide, was published by March Street Press. A five-time Pushcart nominee and winner of the Best of the Web, she also won a $6,000 established artist fellowship from the Delaware Division of the Arts in 2009. She recently won $250 for prose from the Nassau Review. Her nine grandkids live one block away from her, in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. They pepper her life.