Samarra or Isfahan?

I found this poem by Dutch poet PN Van Eyck (1887-1954) in a novel by Kader Abdolah called My Father’s Notebook (Canongate Books, 2006). I bought it in 2008 when I was working in Dún Laoghaire; you will be impressed to know that it didn’t stay on the TBR Pile for very long. It tells the story of Ishmael in exile in Europe who is trying to piece his father’s story together from notebooks written in a strange code. Poetry is a very important part of Abdolah’s book, but the following poem in particular caught my eye and I copied it into a notebook in case I ever lost track of the novel.

Van Eyck’s poem closely resembles a story that I remembered from many years ago that I never got around to tracking down. It has many variations and I think the version that I must have heard was the retelling of what is actually a very ancient story, by Somerset Maugham (1933) called Appointment in Samarra. The story that Maugham re-wrote and that Van Eyck turned into a poem is possibly a thousand years old. I’ve been delving into the history a little and it seems as though I wasn’t the only person to have this ghost of a story about Death and Samarra floating around in my head all this time.

Death and the Gardener (translated from Dutch by David McKay)book jacket to My Father's Notebook by Kader Abdolah

A Persian Nobleman:
One morning, pale with fright, my gardener
Rushed in and cried, “I beg your pardon, Sir!

“Just now, down there where the roses bloom, I swear
I turned around and saw Death standing there.

“Though not another moment did I linger,
Before I fled he raised a threatening finger.

“Oh, Sir lend me your horse, and if I can,
By nightfall I shall ride to Isfahan!”

Later that day, long after he had gone,
I found death by the cedars on the lawn.

Breaking his silence in the fading light,
I asked, “Why give my gardener such a fright?”

Death smiled at me and said, “I meant no harm
This morning when I caused him such alarm.

“Imagine my surprise to see the man
I’m meant to meet tonight in Isfahan!”

You never know when and where you are going to find literary connections; with Van Eyck, I discovered a connection to one of my previous #PoetryinJune authors, WB Yeats. Apparently Van Eyck was very interested in the Irish Question and Irish Literature. He subscribed to the Cuala Press and corresponded with Lily Yeats and WB and Georgie Yeats during the 1920s and 30s. It’s an amazingly small literary world; either that or serendipity has been at work again.

That’s all for now on #PoetryinJune…but there’s plenty here to return to discuss another time. I spotted another of Kader Abdolah’s books in the library recently so I am sure he will feature as an extra to my Landing Reading Challenge at some point.

Meanwhile, if anyone else remembers Appointment in Samarra (or Isfahan) from childhood, I would love to hear about it, so drop me a line below.

NB – the ‘history’ link above seems to work better in Firefox than IE (haven’t tried Chrome but let me know)



Having reached day thirteen of my #PoetryinJune Reading Challenge, we come to another literary festival marking the life of a famous poet. I have therefore decided to choose a poem by W.B. Yeats (1865-1939) in honour of Yeats Day today. This was originally the title poem from the Cuala Press volume (published in 1904) that I mentioned in my feature on Lily and Lolly Yeats. I have copied the text of this short poem from my Everyman’s Poetry edition which contains a selection of verse spanning Yeats’ career.

I first encountered Yeats’ work on my ‘O’ Level literature syllabus, which was more years ago than I care to remember. We also studied W.H. Auden and Wilfred Owen’s poetry, though sadly I don’t have a copy of the text-book. Since Auden has already had a spot in my #PoetryinJune series, I should certainly make room for Owen at some point this month. But in the meantime I hope you enjoy this evocative piece from W.B. As someone who tries to attract our stripey furry friends to the garden, I love the thought of the bees humming in the flowers in this scene. The contrast of the lime-tree flowers with paper flowers a few lines later seems to me to point up the beauties of the country.

book cover of Yeats Selected Poems

Everyman paperback edition, 1997

In the Seven Woods

I have heard the pigeons of the Seven Woods,
Make their faint thunder, and the garden bees
Hum in the lime-tree flowers; and put away
The unavailing outcries and the old bitterness
That empty the heart. I have forgotten awhile
Tara uprooted, and new commonness
Upon the throne and crying about the streets
And hanging its paper flowers from post to post
Because it is alone of all things happy.
I am contented, for I know that Quiet
Wanders laughing and eating her wild heart
Among pigeons and bees, while that Great Archer,
Who but awaits His hour to shoot, still hangs
 A cloudy quiver over Pairc-na-lee.

There’s lots going on in Sligo today to honour its former resident and his creative siblings. The Yeats Society in Sligo was formed in 1958 ‘to promote appreciation of his poetry and other writings, and an awareness of the other members of this talented family‘. The society, based in the Yeats Memorial Building has been running both a summer and a winter school for several years as well as being involved in many other literary and cultural activities.

Click on the Press Release Link for more information about the Second Annual Yeats Day events in Sligo which runs from 8am until late.

Now, I must go and peruse the shelves for tomorrow’s #PoetryinJune verse…

Literary graveyard visiting in St Nahi’s Churchyard

Before I get stuck into my latest post I want to thank all of the people who have followed this blog so far. I am very grateful for the vote of confidence and I shall try to keep up my blogging efforts. Now, down to business….

This is an out-and –about post which ties in with the The Blurb page on the Cuala Press that I mentioned in the last post. I said in that piece that I had discovered to my surprise that the Yeats sisters Lolly and Lily were buried in St Nahi’s Churchyard, Dundrum (part of Taney Parish). It has taken me some months but I finally got around to visiting the churchyard last Saturday afternoon.

For a short while, the sun shone so my daughter and I decided to look for the Yeats grave and generally explore the churchyard a little (possibly this is not everyone’s idea of summer holiday entertainment). After wrestling with the latch of a squeaky iron gate we let ourselves in and located a sign with the map of the burial plots.

Fortunately, an enterprising person has prepared a Podcast tour of the churchyard featuring notable names buried at St Nahi’s. While this was not on our agenda for the day, it did mean that the numbers allocated to the stops on the tour came in handy for our mini self-guided tour. We therefore found the grave (number 7) we were searching for easily enough, which looks towards the nearby Luas Green line (not that it was around at the time the sisters were buried I hasten to add).

I forgot to take photographs of the graveyard but I did find this video tour of the churchyard produced by Taney Parish on You Tube. The video has a bonus in that it shows the interior of the church (closed when we were there) with some shots of tapestries behind the altar that were made by Lily and Lolly Yeats. The video was made in 2009 and so is fairly recent and gives a useful overview of the history of the church and burial grounds, as well as highlighting the particular bit in which I was interested. Look out for the lovely stained glass (including some by Evie Hone) too.

I am still amazed that my technological skills have stretched as far as putting a copy of the video into my post so I might just quit while the going’s good and go and put the kettle on. Many thanks to Taney Parish for the fascinating tour of St Nahi’s Church and grounds. I would still like to find out exactly where Cuala Press was situated and whether the building still exists so I would love to hear from anyone who can point me in the right direction. I believe it was on Lower Churchtown Road but as I can’t be sure if the building still stands I’m a bit stuck at the moment.

Next time I post I will hope to have a positive report on the progress of the ‘Landing Eight’ Reading Challenge to give you…..

John Buchan and the Arts and Events File

Since my last post I have been busy getting stuck into The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan so I will shortly be well on the way to ticking off another title from the ‘Landing Eight’ selected recently. More on this in the next post. I have recently watched one of the film versions of the book (Robert Donat as Richard Hannay) thanks to one of those free DVDs you sometimes get with the Sunday papers. The comparison of page to screen was interesting.


A pile of classic novels


Other News: I have also been busy trying to add new chapters to my site to incorporate more cultural bits and bobs than I can include on the main blog stream. In my Arts and Events File I have added a few pieces that were previously published elsewhere and that I have tweaked and edited slightly before posting up here.

This bit will be a random collection of arts related topics – anything that grabs my attention really. Another section called The Blurb features small publishers, one current (Red Fox Press) and one the iconic Cuala Press run by the Yeats sisters in Churchtown, Dublin. There will also be other literary related articles, such as one on Marsh’s Library, Dublin.

I have included links on these pages so anyone interested in following up any of the information can easily do so. I test the links as I go along but would appreciate feedback if any of them fail to connect.

cover of Mandy Moore's Yarn Bombing

Yarn Bombing by Mandy Moore

Another of my arts pages highlights the fantastic ‘knitted graffiti’  (or yarn bombing) trend, which is something that I came across at an exhibition in the Royal Artis Zoo in Amsterdam last year. I just wish my own knitting was up to the challenge!

Last, but by no mean least I have posted up a page about a famous American Civil War quilt and Jane Stickle who created it so beautifully. This was inspired by a visit last year to the Knitting and Stitching Show at the Royal Dublin Showground (RDS).

I hope these pieces in the Arts and Events File and The Blurb pique your interest in the topics; if anyone has any ideas for future posts I would love to hear them.

Thanks for reading!