Beneath the tower

This is an excerpt from Beneath the tower, a written response to the Cambridge Companion To Irish Poets, (2017) a text that largely omits the influence of modernist, experimental and Irish Language women poets. A version of the following text was published in A New Ulster, The Hidden and The Divine : Female Voices In Ireland (An Anthology, 2017)


[There is space] beneath the [dark]tower
[Dwelling] beneath the tower

Beneath the Tower

Alongside it [it a babel-brook] a river [there is, she sings of her silks and silver, many tongued she is]
[Her song]  [*A river does not ‘sing’ ] [Editor’s Note]. [is of salmon, of hazelnut(s) []a visual image omitted here]

Boann The River Boyne flows between two ancient towers at Trim, Co. Meath. [two ancient towers shot through, blasted into ruination] at Trim, Co. Meath, Ireland. Alongside [Boann] the river there are the remnants of an extensive settlement which consists of a curtain wall, gate tower remnants, including The Barbican Gate, a great standing tower, a ruined great hall, and other architectural curiosities which have become known collectively as ‘Trim Castle’.  [ *We will concern ourselves only with one of the towers] [Editor’s Note]

Boann / The River Boyne.
Boann There is no need to endow the river with a colloquial name! [Editor’s Note]

The River Boyne flows between two ancient towers at Trim in Co. Meath, Ireland. [Shot through / blasted into ruination], [T]he These ruins present a stark picture to the walker poet. Boann/ The River Boyne [Omit this passage]

The Tower

The tower is a physical entity, lock-gripped and tenaciously clinging to the landscape from whence it arose. Yet it can be changed into a useful metaphor for the purposes of this essay. We can examine the tower metaphor as the weight of poetic authority; the poetic language that dominates the Irish canon and that has relentlessly excluded women poets. The Irish woman poet need not take on the burden of the tower, which is in fact an unattainable linguistic remnant of the past. An austere shape that intimidates us and refuses to beguile us with its plain blank note. Its simple austerity.

Internally buttressed, the tower is a ruination that is invisibly reinforced by those women writers too lazy to challenge the ideology of the cultural industry, the literary market. It could just be a tower in a field, but where is the harm in that ? Women poets wear multiple corsets. They are the best self-editors, doing anything to achieve critical recognition in an Irish canon dominated by the male poet’s voice, including writing a poetry that fits into their idea of the austere, the heroic, the conquering.

We are never allowed to forget the dark tower: That structured language, that idiom of false praxis. It dominates the dreaming lives of those of us who cling to the literary landscape. ‘Tower’ is always present, a colossus,


ancient sand       crack
                                it cannot
                    its wall.


There is space to walk beneath the tower. There is a huge, mostly dry and cavernous space. It feels light beneath tower because the heavy arches are doing the work carrying that fearful weight of poetry tradition. Small trickles of water run down the old walls nourishing blue flowers, daisies too and maybe there are some forget-me-nots. Small and quite insignificant flowers dwell beneath this austerity. The run-off makes its way to an underground drainage system, eventually it emptying into the adjacent river,

Alongside tower,
           a babel-brook sings out her silks and silver,
                 many-tongued she is.

Her song is of salmon, of hazel nuts, of night
                 of men.

Boann shrugs off the impertinence of the tower in the great schema of things.

The rulers of tower, those king-worshippers and idolaters, left no space in their making for light, for the shallow play of water, for a sliver of coloured glass to carry the multiplicity of her reflection(s) There is in fact nothing to blunt the edge of the austerity in their conception of ‘tower’.

Tower is not a burden due to us, nor is it ours to carry.

The corbelled stonework in the archway under the tower allows air to drive through while keeping the rain off. Of course the supporting arches are of low roman design. These huge arches have the ability to carry great architectural weight. Tower’s unquestioned authority is set in the language of stone, of austerity, a music of heroic manhood, of conquest, of collapse and ruination. It only takes a second to turn away from that anomalous ruin, and face the river that survived the shaping of the tower,

Alongside Tower,
babel-brook sings out her silks and silvers,

                   many-tongued she is.

Her song is of salmon, of hazel nuts, of night of men.

Boann shrugs off the impertinence of tower in the great schema of things.

%d bloggers like this: