Week 378: John Kinsella’s Lament For Mrs Mary Moore

I confess to having a soft spot for this week’s cheerfully disreputable piece. OK, I’m not sure that the Irish Catholic Church would have approved of John Kinsella’s somewhat cavalier attitude towards familial ties, and I suppose I shouldn’t either, but it’s good fun, and it does show Yeats’s unusual range as a poet – it’s a long way from this sort of thing to poems like ‘Easter 1916’.

John Kinsella’s Lament For Mrs Mary Moore

A bloody and a sudden end,
Gunshot or a noose,
For Death who takes what man would keep,
Leaves what man would lose.
He might have had my sister,
My cousins by the score,
But nothing satisfied the fool
But my dear Mary Moore,
None other knows what pleasures man
At table or in bed.
What shall I do for pretty girls
Now my old bawd is dead?

Though stiff to strike a bargain,
Like an old Jew man,
Her bargain struck we laughed and talked
And emptied many a can;
And O! but she had stories,
Though not for the priest’s ear,
To keep the soul of man alive,
Banish age and care,
And being old she put a skin
On everything she said.
What shall I do for pretty girls
Now my old bawd is dead?

The priests have got a book that says
But for Adam’s sin
Eden’s Garden would be there
And I there within.
No expectation fails there,
No pleasing habit ends,
No man grows old, no girl grows cold
But friends walk by friends.
Who quarrels over halfpennies
That plucks the trees for bread?
What shall I do for pretty girls
Now my old bawd is dead?



8 thoughts on “Week 378: John Kinsella’s Lament For Mrs Mary Moore

    • I don’t think it’s a translation, though I can see why you think it has a flavour of Villon, cf., say, ‘The Ballad of Villon and Fat Madge’, though Yeats’s poem is a good deal kinder than that one. But Yeats’s ‘When you are old and grey and full of sleep’ is of course taken more or less directly from Ronsard’s ‘Quand vous serez bien vieille, au soir, à la chandelle’ that I featured in week 233.

  1. Always has been a favorite of mine. The contrast is between the world before and after the Fall, the curse on labor (in both senses of the word) and the reality of vastly diminished possibilities. The opening plays on this by a comic equation between the everyday advent of death and the sudden violence of murder and suicide. The last stanza should be compared with the contrast governing the last stanza of “Among School Children”, in the first half of which we are shown labor as it is no longer–blossoming and dancing–and in the second half labor as it is, an exhausting effort to to mimic the vanished condition. We quarrel over ha’pennies and deeply mourn their loss, for that is the nature of post-lapsarian reality. For my money, the comedy of this poem is an antidote to the portentousness of some of Yeats’s verse.

  2. “A bloody and a sudden end” – Mrs Moore’s end may not have been bloody and sudden but to Kinsella it feels as if it were? “she put a skin / On everything she said” – everything she said was calculated to please?

    • I think you’ve got that a bit wrong, Chris – I take it that John Kinsella is calling, melodramatically, for his own bloody and sudden end, because life is no longer worth living without his old bawd. And ‘put a skin on everything she said’ – not necessarily ‘calculated to please’, I think, just that she had a colourful turn of phrase born of long experience, or that she was a great raconteur, what the Gaels call a seannachie, one who preserves the lore of the tribe.

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