Week 275: She Walked Unaware, by Patrick MacDonogh

The Irish poet Patrick MacDonogh (1902-1961) was a contemporary of Louis MacNeice and Patrick Kavanagh, and incidentally an international hockey player. I love the Irish lilt of this one, and its folksong-like quality – indeed, its theme of the lover rejected in favour of a better prospect is a common one in Irish folksongs, such as ‘Going to Mass last Sunday’, that begins ‘Going to Mass last Sunday, my love she passed me by/I knew her mind was altered by the roving of her eye/I knew her mind was altered to a lad of higher degree/For it’s Molly, lovely Molly, your looks have wounded me’. But MacDonogh adds a lyrical awareness of the natural world not so common in folksong.

She Walked Unaware

Oh, she walked unaware of her own increasing beauty
That was holding men’s thoughts from market or plough,
As she passed by intent on her womanly duties
And she passed without leisure to be wayward or proud;
Or if she had pride then it was not in her thinking
But thoughtless in her body like a flower of good breeding.
The first time I saw her spreading coloured linen
Beyond the green willow she gave me gentle greeting
With no more intention than the leaning willow tree.

Though she smiled without intention yet from that day forward
Her beauty filled like water the four corners of my being,
And she rested in my heart like a hare in the form
That is shaped to herself. And I that would be singing
Or whistling at all times went silently then,
Till I drew her aside among straight stems of beeches
When the blackbird was sleeping and she promised that never
The fields would be ripe but I’d gather all sweetness,
A red moon of August would rise on our wedding.

October is spreading bright flame along stripped willows,
Low fires of the dogwood burn down to grey water, –
God pity me now and all desolate sinners
Demented with beauty! I have blackened my thought
In droughts of bad longing, and all brightness goes shrouded
Since he came with his rapture of wild words that mirrored
Her beauty and made her ungentle and proud.
Tonight she will spread her brown hair on his pillow,
But I shall be hearing the harsh cries of wild fowl.

Patrick MacDonogh

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