Poems for Occcasions
(3) To celebrate the recognition of Birr Castle as a site of scientific interest by the European Physical Society, 20.09.19
It starts with Newton and the first reflector, a concave disk of speculum, pitch lap1, and later Herschel questioning each spectre, a gas cloud or a very dense star map? He has a simple plan; he understands that fashioning a mirror of that size will not be easy and the first demands are money, patience, logic, enterprise. With composites2 instead of single disks he solves a myriad of complications, not least the close entanglement of risks of structural and thermal variations. At last he has a three foot composite and then a single disk of equal span; comparison soon makes it apposite: a six foot disk will serve Leviathan. Five further years to raise it from the deep with gothic arches and mock crenellations; they promise winter nights of broken sleep in his unequalled challenge to the nations.
But first, Dean Peacock will agree to strut inside the tube for its inauguration, a forty-six foot length of water butt. They come from near and far in admiration, astronomers T Romney Robinson, Sir James South and Sir George Biddell Airy; his friend Sir William Rowan Hamilton will write a sonnet in the gallery.3 In one short month he has secured his place Messier 51 dubbed The Whirlpool, its spiral arms flung out in wide embrace, the sum of pencil sketches on high stool. The rest is history; when all was spent a great-great-grandson laboured to restore his masterpiece, a fitting monument or fresh To Do list nailed to heaven’s door: – how many questions4 twinkle in a star? – how many new eyes seek to play their part? – whose spirit germinated I-LOFAR? The Universe reflected in his Art.
1 polishing technique attributed to Newton
2strips of speculum metal soldered to a brass base
3inA Mystic Dream of 4, Iggy McGovern (Dedalus Press 2013)
4Early recognition that this was not just a spectacular observation, but the opening of an exploration of the Universe includes The System of the Heavens as Revealed by Lord Rosse’s Telescopes, by Thomas de Quincey 1848
© Iggy McGovern 2019
(2) To celebrate the opening of the exhibition Lithosphere by sculptor Eileen MacDonagh, at the Visual Gallery in Carlow:
Steel & Stone & Sticks & Styrofoam
We stand outside, and catch with straining eye Bright stainless fingers reaching for the sky And muse, perhaps in wintry afterthought, That The Medusa Tree has somehow brought Its chilly gaze to rest on flesh and bone, This six-hand reel of dancers turned to stone. And over there, seduti in terrazza, The camera of some vile paparazzo? Ah, poor Medusa, mythic beauty queen You suffered much for that one bout of spleen. We vow to make amends, this Imbolc tide And warmed with Brigid’s fire, step inside.
At first, we are transported back to school When igneous described the daily rule And hear the teacher quizzing us which rock Was pretty much the toughest on the block? We stop before the reddened oven grill Of granite test bed for the diamond drill And think of that first joyous chink of light On miners trapped within eternal night, Then read the seeming ogham in the face Of standing stones and find the nerve to place Our fingers in the notches for the cleave, Each Doubting Thomas wanting to believe.
The next will bring us farther back in time When all was number, composite or prime And of the five Platonic shapes, their peer icosahedron is the model here: And this recalls the old role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, where the final aim Of seeing off the monsters must rely Upon the throw of twenty-sided die And now they are to hand, both big and small (we’re tempted then to roll one down the hall) How apt that twenty faces can cohere Twelve vertices to calibrate this year!
Meanwhile, up in the attic smaller boys Are woken from their dreams by all the noise They struggle to their feet on spindly legs Stone heads and feet connected by stick pegs; We fear they will some day pontificate As solemn building blocks of Church & State With truss and buttress, parliament and nave All pledged to Kali, India’s Queen Maeve? Too fanciful, they’re all tucked up in bed And when their children’s story has been read Instead of sleep, egged on by double-dares come slowly creeping down forbidden stairs
As if they know about the big event Cathedral promise that seems heaven-sent Where geometries of space and time conspire To send our spirits floating ever higher A magic forest of Medusa trees Where we create our own mythologies. Cold steel transformed to nimble styrofoam Reminding us that we have feet of loam; They are the shadows of our school Debs’ Ball When all the girls are beautifully tall We choose our partners, risk one upward glance Await the summons: Music, Maestro, Dance!
© Iggy McGovern 2012
(1) To celebrate 300 years of The Medical School at Trinity College Dublin:
A Tercentenary Ode
The enterprise begins, of course, in verse A Scholar’s scorn of English, much less Erse; Virgilian, the fragment spared the flame Has ninety-five hexameters proclaim The right to plumb the depths where Nature hid In days of passage tomb and pyramid. One hundred pounds of Widow Parsons’ boon: Laboratory and Dissecting Room, In unadorned red brick, two storeys high Though lacking drainage and water supply; Professor, Lecturers, Anatomist; Three King’s professors added to the list Are funded by Sir Patrick Dun’s estate The balance building in 1808 The hospital that proudly bears his name To close a century of growing fame.
The second opened with uncertainty The absence of expected poetry Reflects the swift departure from the scene Of parliamentary friends in College Green. Stokes and McCartney, once “United” men (but judged the sword less mighty than the pen) Pushed on, in proof they never ceased to strive, The New School opening in ’twenty-five. McCartney never shy to lend a hand Or shovel with cadavers in demand Might lead to Graves (forgive me!) first to bring The students to some bedside tutoring And thence his protegé, the younger Stokes Among the first to value stethoscopes And just as swift as Haughton’s hangman’s drop A golden century comes to a stop.
The third, despite the rhyming repartee From scalpel nib of St John Gogarty, Must see the College altering its stance Towards another kind of governance, That sea change separating two World Wars When Medic staff and students earn their spurs. In aftermath, like battles then are joined As fierce competing acronyms are coined And hospitals are merged, but from the flames A Centre, phoenix-like, rose at St James; The Biomedical Sciences Institute In this centenary year then followed suit Where students witness at first hand the quick Of teaching and research that is Physick A treasure trove of scientific wealth The patient in the very best of health!
With opportunity on every side What better end can poetry provide Than this, the College poet’s sweet refrain: Begin (something insists), begin again!
© Iggy McGovern 2011