Diary of the Plague Year: Day 16 31 March 2020: Keats, Sonnet to Sleep

The Keats poem from Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings:

Sonnet, to Sleep

O soft embalmer of the still midnight,
Shutting with careful fingers and benign
Our gloom‑pleas’d eyes, embower’d from the light,
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine:

O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee, close
In midst of this thine hymn my willing eyes,
Or wait the “Amen” ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities.

Then save me, or the passèd day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes,
Save me from curious Conscience, that still lords

Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oilèd wards,
And seal the hushèd Casket of my Soul.

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 16 31 March 2020: Cooking up a storm, Benjamin Britten and Soul Bossa Nova

A cold and blustery day.

Quickly dropped off some provisions to Bairbre and Josie this morning and spent the rest of the day drawing.

Nearly finished the drawing so to celebrate decided to marinade some duck breasts that have been lurking in the fridge:

Chinese 5-spice powder
Soy sauce
Salt and pepper

I then started the beginnings of a curry which I will leave simmering for a bit before finishing on Thursday. Fast day tomorrow!

Took a break to listen to Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings by Benjamin Britten on R3. Premiered in 1943, during the darkest days of WWII, at the Wigmore with Dennis Brain on horn and Peter Pears singing. The most wonderfully plangent piece of music.

I looked up the words which are:

And this has just come on the radio:

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 16 31 March 2020: Bairbre Flood, Journalist and Radio Broadcaster


Please have a look at Bairbre’s website.  Bairbre spent six months working with refugees and asylum seekers at the camps in Calais and has recently returned from Lesvos.

She will be coming out of self-imposed quarantine soon we hope! Meanwhile, we have been communicating fenestrially. If that is not a word it should be. Especially in these times.

Bairbre Flood March 2020




Diary of the Plague Year: Day 16 31 March 2020: Quotidian Poetry Jo Shapcott

Jo Shapcott Of Mutability

Of Mutability

Too many of the best cells in my body
are itching, feeling jagged, turning raw
in this spring chill. It’s two thousand and four
and I don’t know a soul who doesn’t feel small
among the numbers. Razor small.
Look down these days to see your fee
mistrust the pavement and your blood tests
turn the doctor’s expression grave.

Look up to catch eclipses, gold leaf, comets,
angels, chandeliers, out of the corner of your eye,
join them if you like, learn astrophysics, or
learn folksong, human sacrifice, mortality,
flying, fishing, sex without touching much.
Don’t trouble, though, to head anywhere but the sky.

Jo Shapcott

Of Mutability
Faber and Faber

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 15 30 March 2020: A thing worth doing …

It is a bitterly cold day with a freezing wind. Just finished writing a proposal for an AIR at UCD. I probably don’t stand a hope in hell but feel I have nothing to lose.

Watching the film on Vermeer was curiously sustaining considering he is such a magician. You should really feel like giving up in the face of such mastery but curiously it has the opposite effect.

There have been times when I have just felt like throwing in the towel. Sometimes it feels like too hard a life, full of petty frustrations. So it is important to keep reading about artists/watching films like this – for one thing Vermeer himself died in debt and was more-or-less forgotten about for years. And for another, because had I ever given up and had afterwards seen that film, I think I would have had a nervous breakdown at the realisation of what I had lost.

What I mean is, and to put it simply, I want to live in a world where how light falls and how you put down a small blob of paint or a brushstroke really matters. And what is exciting and really important is the juxtaposition and relationship between two colours. However badly you do it. Because a thing worth doing is worth doing badly.

Off to the studio which in weather like this is the only warm room in the house.


Diary of the Plague Year: Day 15 30 March 2020: Quotidian Poetry Anna Akhmatova – some words


And the marsh rusalka,
Mistress of those parts,
Gazes, sighing, up at
The bell-tower cross.

Rusalka: In Slavic folklore, the rusalka is a female entity, often malicious toward mankind and frequently associated with water. Folklorists have proposed a variety of origins for the entity, including that they may originally stem from Slavic paganism, where they may have been seen as benevolent spirits.


Sun baked the well’s depths
Grilled scolopendras on stone, …

Scolopendra: Scolopendra is a species-rich genus of large tropical centipedes of the family Scolopendridae.

From: By the Seashore (1914)

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 15 30 March 2020: Quotidian Poetry Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966)


The reading light is on. Today’s poet is Anna Akhmatova.

Anna Akhmatova

Selected Poems
Penguin Twentieth Century Classics

I won’t beg for your love: it’s laid
Safely to rest, let the earth settle …
Don’t expect my jealous letters
But let me nevertheless advise you:
Give her my poems to read in bed,
Give her my portraits to keep – it’s wise to
Be kind like that when newly-wed.
For it’s more needful to such geese
To know that they have won completely
Than to have converse light and sweet or
Honeymoons of remembered bliss …
When you have spent your kopeck’s worth
Of happiness with your new friend,
And like a taste that sates in the mouth
Your soul has recognized the end –
Don’t come crawling like a whelp
Into my bed of loneliness.
I don’t know you. Nor could I help.
I’m not yet cured of happiness.



Diary of the Plague Year: Day 14 29 March 2020: Quotidian Poetry Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966)

We’re all drunkards here. Harlots.
Joylessly we’re stuck together.
On the walls, scarlet
Flowers, birds of a feather,

Pine for clouds. Your black pipe
Makes strange shapes rise.
I wear my skirt tight
to my slim thighs.

Windows tightly shut.
What’s that? Frost? Thunder?
Did you steal your eyes, I wonder,
From a cautious cat?

Oh my heart, how you yearn
For your dying hour …
And that woman dancing there
Will eternally burn.

1 January, 1913

From:     Anna Akmatova
                Selected Poems

Translated by D M Thomas
Penguin Twentieth Century Classics

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 14 29 March 2020: Quotidian Poetry Osip Mandelstam (1891-1937)

The idle life has sent us insane.
Wine in the morning, hungover by night,
How can pointless gaiety be restrained,
Your flushing face, plague-drunk again?

In handshakes at parting lies a torturing rite,
And kisses in the street at night
When heavily the rivers flow
And streetlamps like ancient torches glow.

We lie in wait for death like a wolf of myth,
But I fear the one who’ll first be dead
Is he whose lips are a care-racked red
And over whose eyes a long curl twists.

November, 1913

Poem No 2

Written in response to Anna Akhmatova – “We’re all drunkards here. …”

From:          Osip Mandelstam
                     50 Poems

Translated by Bernard Meares
New York