Footsteps from Another World


an excerpt of poems


by Dáithí Ó hÓgáin




All The One
A Dream
A Note in the Air
A Pair of Ghosts
Fairy Feet in the Night
The World Rushes On
The Solitary
Hope by the Hedgerows
No Analysis!



He who goes on a long journey,
before he reaches the head of the course
will meet a stranger on the road ...
The stranger moves faster,
more intensely, his knife
cuts through reefs and realms of paper
on its journey straight through life.
So one enquires of the stranger
who he is or whence he came,
and the question and answer
are always the same.
The question is the answer,
alike to the traveller ...
In the answer lurks danger,
a smooth-moving stranger ...



A man dreamt
three nights running
that a treasure was hidden -
tittering gold and winking gems -
in a silver casket
somewhere deep in the earth,
and on the third night
it was revealed to him,
the exact location
- by a bridge
where four streams meet
and the moonlight beams.
Taking a spade and shovel
and a bag big enough for the task
he went there alone,
peering first through his creaking door
to make sure that nobody saw
as he departed;
he travelled through the night,
as the moon looked on
in curiosity,
and nothing interrupted him
except the owls in surprise
calling out as he passed,
a peculiarly hunched figure,
through the tall trees of graveyards
and other dark places.
He walked the long road
until he came to its end
where it branched off into a boreen
which opened into a field,
and at the end of the long field
found the first stream,
followed it to its source ...
but had to return, of course.
Then he scratched his head and thought it all out
- he must go back by the same stream
and listen to its voice
as it grew louder,
follow its directions;
and, as he might have known, it brought him on
and introduced him to its friends,
the other three rivulets, all with different accents
as they came from different parts,
and met there to consult,
and the moonlight presiding over all
with its officious gaze,
drenched all with its condescending rays.
He first cut a circle
with the spade, stabbing the quiet clay,
and then began to dig,
only once he stopped to draw his breath,
and soon after that
he hit something,
uncovered something
- the gold screamed and the gems shivered
as his hand reached down towards them,
the first touch in so long ...
Then he heard behind
the clatter,
then the raging noise,
and turned and saw the angry thing
viciously approaching,
he made to run but could not,
his feet frozen, wouldn’t move for him
- the force pushed in on the circle
mocking dark wings engulfed it,
banged it, shoved it, scraped at it,
but couldn’t penetrate it.
So he had to stay all night
out in the depth of the black countryside,
and when quiet morning grew
from the orb in the east,
and a distant cock crew,
and the morning came too quietly,
he was left all dishevelled
with broken spade and shovel ...
And the farmer, collecting his cows,
asking who, why, how,
and what was he up to?



Walking out of the church
on a bright summer evening,
as the weakened sun walks down through shadows
on the narrow streets between the red houses
on every side,
and the sound of prayers in syllables
linking the crown of the Virgin on the world.
The blue sky standing over all,
the circle of bright clouds in its centre
white as snow
walking slow
and slowly moving around,
so that the prayers themselves seemed to be turning
- taking us back
from the streets and houses
away by the hour
into the years,
and into the generations,
and back yet further
from the ages to the epochs
through withering and growing
of quiet forests.
The movement never ceased
until we returned again to blue heaven and white clouds,
and all was still,
as I gazed at the trees,
at the heart of a wood
on the edge of a new-hewn mountain,
and a circle of bleached skulls laid on the ground,
skulls of huge creatures,
a dumb ritual
by silent men
for quiet Mary,
for our ancient lady,
for her gentle smile
and white blue-shaded eyes
our lady of the mammoths...



A spirit has passed down by me
in the darkness of this room,
walking slowly without noticing
me at all;
and another spirit has passed up by me
sounding like a breezy tremor,
bowing to me courteously as it went by -
the two met together in the middle of the room
just as the moonlight appeared through the window.
They turned to each other,
speaking some words undecipherable,
and then both turned and looked back at me
- one lifted his finger
in reproach, or perhaps jestfully;
and the other bowed his head
with solemnity, yet hurriedly.
But those words which they spoke
can never be told ...



Eyes, someone said,
are but two orbs in the forehead,
two planets revolving
only part of the way,
and these two eyes cast light into the brain ...
But they only look outwards,
and see nothing at all within ...



Along the road to the west,
where the sun goes down
behind the climbing trees
I hear the spirits coming,
and then passing by so free.
Yet, for all their bustle,
from where they come
I know not.
As a result of all this coming
what seed will blossom the land,
or what hell will lie in waiting
which a fool will find so grand?
Or what will there be for us to divide
in the place our faces find?



Still we are thinking
of the great quiet forest
I cannot remember a day ever as beautiful as this -
all the elements dance and sparkle -
and I can depend on my eyes
which can without effort in this clime
see crystal clear
as along the shaft of a telescope
each blade of grass, each mountain slope
reaching away from me,
their outlines and profiles are so magnified -
Everything lives in the mind just now,
every business to be done is neatly filed in rows,
marked even with precise numbers,
making everything so controllable.
The fine big ball is moving on
with speed so great as not to be noticed,
and every neatly arranged planet and star far away,
never denying the music of the spheres
in their steady rush from the ancient day
when all exploded.
Every single thing walks quietly here,
but there are a million billion of worlds outside
fleeing, escaping, bellowing, shaking -
something will crash!
The eternal circle
races on its axis
at a pace of a thousand miles at least
the wheel revolves every hour ...
The dregs of poison drip from a broken glass,
the bowls of the sea are rent and torn
and crimson cutting go the wind-mill arms
without let up into the dumb body of the earth,
teeth grow sharper, animals are shredded,
comrades stumble deserted in the eye of the storm,
withered trees make tables and beds and baskets
... and never a question ever answered.
We are being flung headlong through space
at over ten thousand miles
every hour, or more
for all I know.
Something will collide
with something else
with a mighty crash,
will detonate and bang
and burst asunder -



A being is walking
through the night,
footsteps are biting
into the dark, the hungry.
Outside of the temple
where the crowds gather
the shoes are sounding
on the black frost.
The people inside
are leaving now
so politely -
one here, one there,
the shaking of hands so neatly,
and the warm chatter.
When they hear the footsteps
coming in strange but human shape,
they look towards it
to scrutinise the features.
And the strong voice speaks
from their midst shrewd and experienced.
and he hears it:
‘Who is that snooping around?’
‘What is his excuse
- we know there is always one -
for being abroad at this hour of night -
the shadow passed through the gate just now,
the hand is grasping something,
the harm is lurking?’
Loudly again speaks that voice,
more sharply this time,
growing in authority,
and the shade replies
oddly and low:
‘I am a lost spirit searching,
in straight lines and circles,
always on my course,
seeking a candle...
But don’t you be worried,
I am just passing by,
I may not even return -
the deep night will find me
far away from your town...’



I saw you riding down along by hedges
going out to the noise-ridden plain,
to a broad countryside full of fashion and of favour,
disappearing along the edge of my mind I saw you go.
And how I heard the pounding of hooves upon hard earth,
beating out a tune in music harsh and raw,
I saw your head, or at least its back, as you departed -
a face more beautiful than that I never saw.



A broad green vacant field
in a cloud without colour,
the space is empty, cold, and clean,
and my sight becomes dizzy;
I am running for my life -
strange life that it is -
racing like a crumbling stone
up the slope where athletes groan.
The wicked black bull,
angry and bitter of tongue,
whose meaning I don’t conceive,
but know, and this suffices,
that he gives
the sign of fear.
All at once is the impact,
the fence, the bull, and myself,
as if all was from the beginning bound to happen
- this again and again into which we return
and look for a reason before we scream -
and if I don’t wake up from my dream now
what will be there for you to read?
Regardless of all the men in glasses,
and their laboratories and marking-up sheets,
and papers to be delivered on the personality
and twists of sex and the environment,
and the sudden and lasting paralysis of mind,
I know that it is no murky clammy spectre once experienced
which torments me so tonight.
But horror from an ancient world
which comes before its time -
the savage old black bull
bellowing to the skies.


Dáithí Ó hÓgáin is associate professor of Irish Folklore at University College Dublin and one of Ireland’s leading writers. Born in Bruff, Co Limerick, he is the author of six poetry collections, three collections of short stories, eight research books and numerous articles on literature, folklore, history and lexicography, writing in both English and Irish. He has lectured and read poetry throughout Ireland and Europe. In 1987 he played a leading role in the drafting of the Unesco recommendations on the safeguarding of world folklore and in 1994 was co-founder of the European Centre for Traditional Culture in Budapest. His poetry draws on his extensive knowledge of Irish literary and folk tradition and is both mystical and realistic.

Dáithí Ó hÓgáin


Copyright © Dáithí Ó hÓgáin P.O. Box 580 New York, NY 10113