6. Poems for occasions

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,
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 compositesinstead 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 questionstwinkle 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
3in appendix A 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
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