a Conversation

I have imagined a correspondence between Paula Meehan, a former Ireland’s Professor of Poetry and W H Auden, Professor of Poetry at Oxford concerning sonnets written by each of them. Then I created my own two sonnets, one in each of their style.

It is an unusually long Blog this time so I encourage you to persevere.

As usual, comments and sharing are welcome.


A remembrance of my grandfather, Wattie,

who taught me to read and write

Heading towards the Natural History Museum

across the snowy paths of Merrion Square

the city hushed, the park deserted, in a da ydream

I look up: a heaving net of branches, leaf-bare

against the pearly sky. There, like a trireme

on an opalescent ocean, or some creature of the upper air

come down to nest, a cargo with a forest meme,

only begotten of gall, of pulp, of page, of leaflight, of feather.

What snagged that book in the high reaches of the oak?

A child let out of school, casting heavenward the dreary yoke?

An eco installation from an artist of the avant-garde?

Or the books own deep need to be with kindred –

a rootling cradled again in grandfather’s arms,

freed of her history, her spells, her runes, her fading charms?

Paula Meehan

June 2009


March 1936

Dear Paula,

Your sonnet Dublin: A remembrance of my grandfather, Wattie, who taught me to read and write has just reached me. I have read it several times with great interest. I also showed it to Chris, Chester and Stephen. We had a very exercised discussion about it. When I was growing up books were my escape and were to be extracted from the mainly non literary, technical library of my father and mother, a doctor and, rare for those days, a female graduate. I poured over books of engineering, medicine and theology.

Your poem shows a marked contrast to my early reading. I could no more explain reading and writing in anything other than a hard objective end purpose of doing and learning. It was cold and arid and devoid of people or emotions, something I didn’t come to until well into my teens. In fact as a young man, a pornographic story excited me far more that any physical contact with other people. The others, to my gratification expressed similar experiences, except perhaps Chester. But then he is European so what do you expect.

It pleased me greatly that you have remained faithful to the English sonnet form, more or less – one or two extra syllables. I abhor the practice that your generation of poets have of making up their own corruption of form. I enclose one of my own sonnets, written whimsically years ago, for your perusal. I would value your 21st Century appraisal albeit somewhat too late for me to avail of it.

I remain,

Yours intrigued as always,


Who’s Who

A shilling life will give you all the facts

How father beat him, how he ran away,

What were the struggles of his youth, what acts

Made him the greatest figure of his day:

Of how he fished, hunted, worked all night,

Though giddy, climbed new mountains; named a sea:

Some of the last researchers even write

Love made him weep his pints like you and me

With all his honours on, he sighed for one

Who, say astonished critics, lived at home;

Did little jobs about the house with skill

And nothing else; could whistle; would sit still

Or pottered round the garden; answered some

Of his long marvellous letters but kept none.

W. H. Auden


June 2009

Dear W,

Thanks a million for the letter and comments on my poem. I’m delighted and excited that you showed it to the lads. I have this shiver and tremour going through me at the idea that the austere British greats of the 20s and 30s are reading the meanderings of a Dublin working class woman. What a giggle.

I read your sonnet Who’s Who very carefully and showed it to Tony and Michael my two great writing friends. Michael reckons you to be the greatest of that lot over there, by the way, and he has a very canny ear for poetic rhythm. His first language is what you lot would have called Erse in your blind arrogant ignorance, not personally directed, but you know what I mean, so he has a very musical ear.

Now here’s where I have to diverge with you about the piece. We all here agree that it sounds and feels like a tiny leak of the intensely personal Wystan, in a profoundly nostalgic and, dare I say it, spiritual craving mode. It’s a wistful desire to return to the womb of the family library away from public gaze and comment. There is nothing cold, impersonal or objective about it. We loved it and, of course, in strict English sonnet form – what else would you expect.

By the way was God what you finally expected?

Yours affectionately


A remembrance of my Nana who taught me how to cook

(After Paula Meehan)

There is delight to be alone and dine

To choose what might a gourmet like to cook

beuf bourguignon, salade nicoise, to hook the

Discerned palette with high class wine

To bring along the flavour, baste the tongue

With top drawer tastes exciting aliment-

ary nerves to a point ecstatically spent

a sensation high to which the body clung

At once an echo back to early years

When he was tasked to win his first scout badge

He begged his Nan for help to cook. Through tears

Of laughter she set him on the task

And out of all the mess and strife, a pie

Of apple, edible, no cause to die.

Peter Clarke

August 2010

A Nobody’s Dream

(After W.H.Auden)

Consider a young boy of little note

No life outside the home of humble seam

So he would never share his secret dream

though masters were unmoved by what he wrote

He would never let it slip even by chance

The yearning ache, that went against the trend

Deep longing for his great big friend

Who passed him out without a backward glance

Who’s ego compensated for his brain

So large in fact his frame could not contain

So big that his ambition caused him strife

And when he found his niche in public life

He drove himself right to the top

Until tribunals cut him down and made him stop

Peter Clarke

August 2010



16.10.2017 20:52

Interesting idea. I like your poems much better!

Latest comments

25.11 | 22:15

Grief is experience through the mundane. Simple but powerful. The accompanying image really compliments the poem.

07.11 | 11:14

Hi Peter,

A great observation! Social media can be a scary place... I also need to reduce my time there



06.11 | 16:24

A great one, Peter, in the context you describe. I don't read social media myself, I doubt my equilibrium could stand it. 'The balance of his mind disturbed' yes, I think it would be.

06.11 | 15:59

Yes, gossip is a weapon of mass destruction.

In my business as well as personal life I have zero tolerance.

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