Mount Melleray


The snoring of the storm in Melleray last night
And days of soft sin on my memory like sickness,
Days that were life's beds of ease
With fleas of lust hopping in them in their thousands.

A fairy wind of footsteps rose in the night
– Monks going to Mass,
Gaiety, turning about and dancing in the air,
The chanting of sandals.

A brother in the dining-hall dispensing supper,
A silence so soft it was balm for the mind,
The saintly poverty of his speech
And unaffected demeanour of a good Christian.

Deformed sunlight was slowly poured
Through the hive-like window
Until it took the shape of a monk from head to toe,
A shape that began to read.

The white malevolent monk was reading a book
When a bell suddenly coughed –
The sun-monk was obliterated
And the word lost from his cheeks.

Compline was rung and every guest
Hurried, subdued, towards the chapel;
These saints' lives seemed sheet-white
Where ours were beetle-black.

Perspiration on the beads gripped in my hands,
My trousers stuck to my knees,
A hooded procession of monks glided past;
Though it would have been vulgar to stare,

Stare at them I did, without pity or compassion
As the Jews stared long ago
At Lazarus shyly issuing from the tomb,
Their keen eyes all round burning him.

They filed past us one by one,
A cemetery in perpetual prayer,
And a thick cloud of sepulchral mildew
Settled like melancholy on the evening's cheek.

'Death casts a frost over life here,
The monks are his retinue,
He the Abbot they serve,
It's for him they endure fast and abstinence.

'A youth walking like an enfeebled old man
Is an insult to the mercy of God;
Whoever would inflict such wrong on a boy
Would pull a hood over the sun;

'Would spread night across midday,
Would rip the tongue from the river,
Plant lechery in the minds of birds
And fill the world with shame.

'This boy is blind to the wild imagination
That fertilises diversity of thought,
That cares nothing for Abbot or bell or rule
But lies down with its deepest desire.

'He will never be woman-drunk
With the longing that moves mountains,
The desire that once opened the heavens for Dante
When angels descended in the shape of verses.'

So spoke the arrogant, insubordinate ego,
Blind with the world's fury;
But I thought later, as music pealed over us,
That the individual is less than the congregation.

I looked back at the waste of my life,
With the beads still tight in my fist,
Sin, idleness, bent prodigality
– A ghastly nettle-bed of years.

I looked at the life of the monks
And recognised there the form of a poem
– Measure, clarity, profundity and harmony –
My mind buckled under the weight of its questions.

This morning I savoured the release of Confession,
Restoration, a load laid aside,
The anchor was raised, I danced in Latin
And almost set foot in Heaven.

But I savoured too, once more, over-confidence:
My blood coursing with delight,
I imagined the Holy Spirit took up residence in me,
That my words had their origin in Heaven.

That God's church was a spancel on my mind,
The priest a eunuch, the Faith
Mere lip-service; drink up without anguish,
Let's live till we die!

The monks sounding through my head like bees,
My mind buckled from questioning,
Sung notes wheeling hither and thither:
Suddenly Compline was over.

The snoring of the storm in Melleray last night
And days of soft sin on my memory like sickness,
The days that will follow them lie hidden in God's fist,
But a drowning man's grip on Melleray is this twist of poetry.


                                         Irish; trans. Patrick Crotty


Sean O Riordain, Irish, trans. Patrick Crotty, Eireaball Spideoige, Sairseal O Marcaigh Tta, 1952.