#Dublin: “But oh the days are soft, soft enough to forget the lesson better learnt…”

I wish I could embed this, but it’s the exclusive work of the Irish Times. It features Dublin slam poet Stephen James Smith as he recites Louis MacNeice’s poem ‘Dublin’ which in turn makes a powerful esoteric argument for the great city of Dublin…

Grey brick upon brick,
Declamatory bronze
On sombre pedestals –
O’Connell, Grattan, Moore –
And the brewery tugs and the swans
On the balustraded stream
And the bare bones of a fanlight
Over a hungry door
And the air soft on the cheek
And porter running from the taps
With a head of yellow cream
And Nelson on his pillar
Watching his world collapse.

This never was my town,
I was not born or bred
Nor schooled here and she will not
Have me alive or dead
But yet she holds my mind
With her seedy elegance,
With her gentle veils of rain
And all her ghosts that walk
And all that hide behind
Her Georgian facades –
The catcalls and the pain,
The glamour of her squalor,
The bravado of her talk.

The lights jig in the river
With a concertina movement
And the sun comes up in the morning
Like barley-sugar on the water
And the mist on the Wicklow hills
Is close, as close
As the peasantry were to the landlord,
As the Irish to the Anglo-Irish,
As the killer is close one moment
To the man he kills,
Or as the moment itself
Is close to the next moment.

She is not an Irish town
And she is not English,
Historic with guns and vermin
And the cold renown
Of a fragment of Church latin,
Of an oratorical phrase.
But oh the days are soft,
Soft enough to forget
The lesson better learnt,
The bullet on the wet
Streets, the crooked deal,
The steel behind the laugh,
The Four Courts burnt.

Fort of the Dane,
Garrison of the Saxon,
Augustan capital
Of a Gaelic nation,
Appropriating all
The alien brought,
You give me time for thought
And by a juggler’s trick
You poise the toppling hour –
O greyness run to flower,
Grey stone, grey water,
And brick upon grey brick.

Oh, and there’s this great piece by Trevor White 0n how contemporary Dubliners growing for miles beyond the city’s Georgian and Victorian core feel about their city…

Himself, for instance…

Dublin often seems to me like two towns separated by the Liffey. There are people among us who can’t get over a river. On bad days – when, say, the councillors of Fingal resisted the popular demand for a directly elected mayor of Dublin – I think of the capital as a lot of different villages run by men and women who are too small to make decisions to serve the greater good.

Yet most of the time I love this place: the architecture, the sea, the mountains, the flea markets, the parks, the theatre, the pubs and the locals. Champion spoofers, I love their outsize conversation, what MacNeice called “the bravado of her talk”. And I also buy the financial argument. Dublin is the engine that drives the economy. Without a strong capital, the rest of this country is finished. For all these reasons, I’m bemused by our lack of civic pride.


  • MainlandUlsterman

    He captures the two things I most associate with Dublin physically: greyness and softness. But I also like “the steel behind the laugh”, that’s very Dublin too. There’s a great urban hardness there, cushioned in bonhomie – it’s what I like best about the place. There’s a sharp, no nonsense pragmatism in the culture. To the extent attitudes in the Republic have thawed towards unionists in NI, it’s down to that – not, I’m sure, any great affection or love for us, but that’s OK. Dublin remains distant and exotic as a place for me, even having lived there. (I’d say the same of London btw, the city that most excites me in the world, where I lived for 10 years).

  • Anglo-Irish

    That’s a wonderful poem, evocative is probably the word. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

    Dublin is a wonderful city, and somehow manages to be both intimate and cosmopolitan at the same time.

    Cities all have similarities and yet are all unique with their own character.

    In Ireland I’m also a fan of Cork and Galway. Not so keen on Limerick which is a shame seeing as how it’s the closest to Clare.

    London is tremendous and like most major cities is a collection of villages which have been absorbed into an entity and it’s all the better for that.

    Vienna is a particular favourite and we’ve been lucky enough to have a Viennese friend who has enjoyed showing it to us on two separate occasions.

    Dublin is counted, quite rightly, among the great cities of the world and like all of them it is special in its own unique way.

  • Nevin

  • John Collins

    I am 66 myself and l have lived in different parts of the ROI and I can identify with a lot of what you say about the Capital. As regards Unionists, I think most of us down here are now happy to live side by side with NI people of all hues and maintain friendly and cooperative relations with them.
    The people down are for the most part happy to live in an independent Ireland and if NI people want to remain in the UK that is OK as well
    PS I have just completed a short course called ‘Walks and Talks’ at UCD. It consisted of five two hour lectures and five two hour walks, in which some of the cities most interesting churches, monuments, architecture,historic sites etc were visited. Our excellent lecturer conducted the walks and they were most enjoyable and informative.

  • Cosmo

    Pleasurable words…thank you.