Writing from the north of Ireland Home Roy McFadden Essays on Robert Greacen

Robert Greacen
Robert Greacen was born in Derry in 1920. He studied at Methodist College , Belfast , and Trinity College , Dublin . He worked for the United Nations Association in London and subsequently became a lecturer in adult education. His poetry collections include The Bird (1941), One Recent Evening (1944), The Undying Day (1948), A Garland for Captain Fox (1975), I, Brother Stephen (1978), A Bright Mask (1985), Carnival at the River (1990), Protestant Without a Horse (1997) and Lunch at the Ivy (2002). In 1995, his Collected Poems won the Irish Times Literature Prize for Poetry. His autobiography, Even Without Irene , was published in 1969 and revised in 1995, while another volume, The Sash My Father Wore , appeared in 1997. In 1949, at the request of T.S. Eliot, he co-edited the Faber Book of Contemporary Poetry with Valentin Iremonger. He has published several volumes of criticism, and won bursaries from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland in 1971 and 1984. Greacen published his last collection, Robert Greacen: Selected & New Poems (Clare: Salmon), in 2006. A member of Aosdána , he lived his last years in Dublin where he died aged 87 on 13 April 2008.

Robert Greacen
(1920 - 2008)



'The Man Who Weeps: December 1940'


'... Pause and think:
I'm only a man with a bundle of self-made griefs,
A crew in the chassis of life, a dot in the design,
Whose mind is a whore and a swaggering thief.
Get out of the Cabinet, mind! Resign!

But, in the unrelenting end,
They break, who do not bend.

Weeping is the refuge of us all.'




©Greacen, Robert. Collected Poems, 1944-1994. Belfast: Lagan Press, 1995, p. 23




'October 1939'

McFadden hawked Peace News in Royal Avenue,
Outraged the moon-faced citizens,

While I was buying stamps in the GPO
For frantic letters to Irene.

McFadden showed me his singing poems.
I said, 'John Keats is dead.'

©Greacen, Robert. Collected Poems, 1944-1994. Belfast: Lagan Press, 1995, p. 139


Robert Greacen reading 'The Man Who Weeps: December 1940'
(Recorded at his home in Dublin, 8 July 2005)

©Reproduced by kind permission of Robert Greacen

John Hewitt

Sports jacket, corduroys, red tie.
A voice in Belfast middle-class
Proclaims the Marxist line of '38.
A plump young man, moustached,
Defines the issue of the time.

'Some want conscription' - pause -
'But others are of military age.'
'Who's that?' I ask. Boyd whispers:
'Another John - surname's Hewitt.'

I'll pass him on Stranmillis Road.
'Hello,' he'll say, abrupt and shy,
Museum man not yet in coventry.
One day he bids me call him John,
Asks me to his Mount Charles flat.

He's not a man who seeks
Confessions, drunk alliances,
The praise of coteries,
lounge bar politics.

We rarely write or phone
To bridge the Irish Sea.
He and McFadden tried to break
The mould of bigotry.
Last met in '84, John bearded,
Frail, eye-troubled, stick in hand,
Snug in the Châlet d'or.
We chat of friends, our craft,
The temper of the local streets.

Talk done, I watch him walk away,
Admire his stubborn gait.

©Greacen, Robert. Collected Poems, 1944-1994. Belfast: Lagan Press, 1995, p. 141.


NB: 'Boyd' in stanza 2 of 'John Hewitt' is playwright John Boyd (d). Boyd (b.1912) was born in Belfast into a working-class Protestant family. He played a central part in north's literary life Co-founded Lagan with John Hewitt and Sam Hanna Bell. Became a BBC Northern producer in 1947. See Collected Plays (2 vols., 1981-82). His autobiography, The Middle of My Journey. Belfast: Blackstaff Press, 1990, deals with his life in the Belfast of the 1930s through to the l950s.