Colonnades and Balconies

When I read Cyril Connolly’s collection “The Evening Colonnade” some considerable time ago, I was as impressed by the writings but also the cover, the title having been derived from a poem of Pope on Lady Mary Wortley Montagu:-

“What are the gay parterre, the chequer’d shade

The morning bower, the ev’ning colonnade

But soft recesses of uneasy minds

To sigh unheard in, to the passing winds?”

I imagine that many a his moment feel a sense of isolation and confinement that make an impact on our uneasy minds. So in a sense of splendid and slightly superior sense of looking down on events I came across a very interesting poem by Derek Mahon in his New Selected Poems (page 108) called Balcony of Europe. It is dedicated to Aidan and Alannah Higgins. So this is a poem about a novel with the title written to the author and his wife. There is a new imprint of the original book which is about Spain as discussed in the Irish Times, some two years ago.

However, when I first read the poem the view I conjured up was of some Eastern European Country after the fall of some dictator. The first stanza reads:-

The dictator’s portrait dominated the airport

in those days, the first thing you noticed

after the cold police; his arms, a vivid

fistful of forked lightning, blazed

on the bus station and the road north-east

to the olive hills where the novelist lived.

The kitchen tap gave only a dry cough;

it was pitch black up there with the light off.

This short poem has underlying classical themes and moves from the darkness under the dictator to light and liberation. it is a metamorphosis in which not only does time move on but also seeing a youngster on the beach the poet from a bar filled with music invokes a somewhat scary but idyllic antiquity.

when she wasn’t just a girl but a creature

of myth, a Phoenician king’s abducted daughter

with a white bull between her knees,

borne out to a sun-white sea shaking with fear

and exhilaration, far from her shocked sisters,

gripping the horns, clutching the curly hair,

et tremulae sinuantur flamine vestes

(‘her floaty garments fluttering in the breeze’)

In praise of Aidan Higgins: six Irish writers and his publisher pay tribute
Aidan Higgins from The Irish Times

Tto mere is a very useful Open University site on classical links to modern poetry, and for the above poem see

By penwithlit

Freelance writer and radio presenter

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