Diary of the Plague Year: Day 46 30 April 2020: The Horses – Edwin Muir

My neighbours moving some of their horses. A good cue for one of my favourite poems, by Edwin Muir. Some eerie correspondences with the present situation …


Barely a twelvemonth after
The seven days war that put the world to sleep,
Late in the evening the strange horses came.
By then we had made our covenant with silence,
But in the first few days it was so still
We listened to our breathing and were afraid.
On the second day
The radios failed; we turned the knobs; no answer.
On the third day a warship passed us, heading north,
Dead bodies piled on the deck. On the sixth day
A plane plunged over us into the sea. Thereafter
Nothing. The radios dumb;
And still they stand in corners of our kitchens,
And stand, perhaps, turned on, in a million rooms
All over the world. But now if they should speak,
If on a sudden they should speak again,
If on the stroke of noon a voice should speak,
We would not listen, we would not let it bring
That old bad world that swallowed its children quick
At one great gulp. We would not have it again.
Sometimes we think of the nations lying asleep,
Curled blindly in impenetrable sorrow,
And then the thought confounds us with its strangeness.
The tractors lie about our fields; at evening
They look like dank sea-monsters couched and waiting.
We leave them where they are and let them rust:
“They’ll moulder away and be like other loam.”
We make our oxen drag our rusty plows,
Long laid aside. We have gone back
Far past our fathers’ land.
                           And then, that evening
Late in the summer the strange horses came.
We heard a distant tapping on the road,
A deepening drumming; it stopped, went on again
And at the corner changed to hollow thunder.
We saw the heads
Like a wild wave charging and were afraid.
We had sold our horses in our fathers’ time
To buy new tractors. Now they were strange to us
As fabulous steeds set on an ancient shield.
Or illustrations in a book of knights.
We did not dare go near them. Yet they waited,
Stubborn and shy, as if they had been sent
By an old command to find our whereabouts
And that long-lost archaic companionship.
In the first moment we had never a thought
That they were creatures to be owned and used.
Among them were some half a dozen colts
Dropped in some wilderness of the broken world,
Yet new as if they had come from their own Eden.
Since then they have pulled our plows and borne our
But that free servitude still can pierce our hearts.
Our life is changed; their coming our beginning.

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 46 30 April 2020: Pollarding

Blessed, blessed rain. It rained all night and this morning the garden was shining and varnished with wet. I had started to tackle the far corner – it has been a mess ever since a huge tree fell during Ophelia and the stump was overgrown with a plethora of crazy branches all growing inwards and crossing. So I decided a bit of amateur pollarding was in order. There was a pile of rotten wood in the corner by the wall so I just added any other bits I found and chopped up the cut branches too. Apparently bees and other insects love it. I also trimmed two hawthorns that were horribly ingrown – I could almost feel the relief. There are some fallen slates by the wall which look as if they could provide habitats so left them where they fell.

I have also given myself some DIY pollarding – the dreaded lockdown haircut. I have lopped about six inches off and had to stop as it kept getting shorter and shorter as I tried to even it up. I find that my nails need to be kept very short too for gardening and all the scrubbing and washing of hands generally.

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 46 30 April 2020: Quotidian Poetry: Eight Metaphysical Poets Henry Vaughan (1621-1695)

O joys! Infinite sweetness! With what flowres,
And shoots of glory, my soul breakes, and buds!
                   All the long houres
                   Of night, and Rest
                   Through the still shrouds
                   Of sleep, and Clouds,
             This Dew fell on my Breast;
                   O how it Blouds,
And Spirits all my Earth! heark! In what Rings,
And Hymning Circulations the quick world
                   Awakes, and sings;
                   And rising winds,
                   And failing springs,
                   Birds, beasts, all things
            Adore him in their kinds.
                   Thus all is hurl’d
In sacred Hymnes, and Order, the great Chime
And Symphony of nature. Prayer is
                   The world in tune,
                   A spirit-voyce,
                   And vocall joyes
            Whose Echo is heav’ns blisse.          
                   O let me climbe.
When I lye down! The Pious soul by night
Is like a clouded starre, whose beames though said
                   To shed their light
                   Under some Cloud
                   Yet are above,
                   And shine, and move
            Beyond that mistie shroud.
                   So in my Bed
That Curtain’d grave, though sleep, like ashes, hide
My lamp, and life, both shall in thee abide.

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 45 29 April 2020: Quotidian Poetry: Eight Metaphysical Poets Richard Crashaw (1612/13-1649)

Love, brave Vertues younger Brother,
    Erst hath made my Heart a Mother,
    Shee consults the conscious Sphreares,
    To calculate her young sons years.
    She askes if sad, or saving powers,
    Gave Omen to his infant howers,
    Shee akses each starre that then stood by,
    If poore Love shall live or dy.
Ah my Heart, is that the way?
   Are these the Beames that rule thy Day?
   Thou know’st a Face in whose each looke,
   Beauty layes ope Loves Fortune-booke
   On whose faire revolutions wait
   The obsequious motions of Loves fate;
   Ah my Heart, her eyes and shee,
   Have taught thee new Astrologie.
   How e’er Loves native hours were set,
   What ever starry Synod met,
   ‘Tis in the mercy of her eye,
   If poore Love shall live or dye.
If those sharpe Rayes putting on
  Points of Death bid Love be gon,
  (Though the Heavens in counsel sate,
  To crowne an uncontrouled Fate,
  Though their best Aspects twin’d upon
  The kindest Constellation,
  Cast amorous glances on his Birth,
  And whisper’d the confederate Earth
  To pave his paths with all the good
  That wars the Bed of youth and blood;)
  Love has not plea against her eye,
  Beauty frownes, and Love must dye.
But if her milder influence move,
  And gild the hopes of humble Love:
  (Though heavens inauspicious eye
  Lay blacke on Loves Nativitie;
  Though every Diamond in Joves crowne
  Fix his forehead to a frowne,)
  Her eye a strong appeale can give,
  Beauty smiles and Love shall live.
O if Love shall live, O where,
  But in her Eye, or in her Eare,
  In her Brest, or in her Breath,
  Shall I hide poore Love from Death?
  For in the life ought else can give,
  Love shall dye, although he live.
Or if Love shall duye, O where
  But in her Eye, or in her Eare
  In her Breath, or in her Breast,
  Shall I Build his funeral Nest?
  While Love shall thus entombed lye,
  Love shall live, although he dye.

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 44 28 April 2020: The first swallow …

I have just seen the first swallow!

Today I spent most of the day in the shed working on my drawings.

In the late afternoon I walked round zapping the docks. I love docks actually but they do tend to take over and are more-or-less ineradicable. So off with their heads.

As I was walking around I noticed a few flowers …

The first day of the creative writing course arranged by Cork Arts Office. I hope the swallow is a good omen. There seem to be so many birds in the garden this year. The crows actually stand on the windowsills and bang on the glass. Cheeky buggers. Not to mention insects. Sometimes it looks like one of those old fashioned science fictions films with layers of flying machines in the sky only the insects are more haphazard and do not fly in straight formations. I wonder if it is because I will not use any chemicals in the garden whatsoever and only the mildest soap, Dr Bonner’s Castile, in the house. The birds seemed to love it when I mowed the long grass.

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 44 28 April 2020: Quotidian Poetry: Eight Metaphysical Poets Cont’d Thomas Carew (1594/5-1639/40)

Know Celia, (since thou art so proud,)
  ‘Twas I that gave thee thy renown:
Thou hadst, in the forgotten crowd
  Of common beauties, liv’d unknown,
Had not my verse exhal’d thy name
And with it impt the wings of fame.
That killing power is none of thine,
  I gave it to thy voyce, and eyes:
Thy sweets, thy graces, are all mine:
  Thou are my star, shin’st in my skies;
Then dart not from thy borrowed sphere
Lightning on him that fixt thee there.
Tempt me with such affrights no more,
  Lest what I made, I uncreate:
Let fools thy mystique forms adore,
  I’ll know thee in thy mortall state;
Wise Poets that wrapp’d Truth in tales,
Knew her themselves through all her vailes.

An example of 17th century PR.

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 43 27 April 2020: Cardboard

Another grey and cloudy day. I had vowed not to go into the garden thinking I should get on with some work in the shed. Instead, I started going through the cardboard I would normally recycle but at the mo we are able to only recycle household waste. I don’t want the cardboard going into landfill so decided to cut it up to put round the trees to prevent grass growth. I then piled grass cuttings on top as mulch. I am going to cut up the smaller bits of card and mix it up for the compost heap.

Ended up trimming all the hedges as well. It is impossible to go into the garden to do just one quick job. Very tempted to get an electric hedge trimmer for all the dead brambles along the back wall …

I wish it would actually rain – this is the forecast.

Corylopsis Sinensis

A not very clear photo of my corylopsis. I wanted a picture of the leaves which seem to unfurl like butterflies emerging from the crysalis. It is a Chinese tree – Corylopsis Sinensis. It was very badly burned and battered by the freak North-easter we had about this time last year. It will be very interesting to see how it recovers this year. All the trees were badly affected, the leaves were burnt brown – it was horrible

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 43 27 April 2020: Quotidian Poetry: Eight Metaphysical Poets George Herbert (1593-1633)


After Donne I decided to read one of the Metaphysical poets each day for the next seven days.  Today’s poet is George Herbert.

Prayer the Churches banquet, Angels age,
  Gods breath in man returning to his birth,
  The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth;
Engine against th’Almightie, sinners towre,
  Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
  The six-daies world transposing in an houre,
A kind of tune, which all things heare and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and blisse,
  Exalted Manna, gladnesse of the best,
  Heaven in ordinarie, man well drest,
The milkie way, the bird of Paradise,
  Church-bells beyond the stares heard, the souls blood,
  The land of spices, something understood.

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 42 26 April 2020: Ratatouille

Another grey and cool day.

Yesterday, I made Ratatouille, at least my version of it.

I realise I have been very cavalier with Ratatouille.  It’s not enough just to sling the ingredients into a pan, fry and stew.

For some reason I decided to change the habit of a lifetime and cook the onions slowly first. I then added a sliced red pepper, then two courgettes and then the aubergine. I added more olive oil and five crushed cloves of garlic.

I cooked all this very slowly on a low heat for about an hour then added a single tin of tomatoes. I also added a bayleaf and a bunch of thyme. I took out the bayleaf after about half an hour as I thought the flavour might take over.

This is only slightly different to how I had been doing it for years but it made a huge difference to the final result. I think the slow cooking, extra olive oil and fewer tomatoes made all the difference.

NB: This is not a classic Ratatouille recipe.


2 onions
1 red pepper
2 courgettes
1 aubergine
5 cloves of garlic
Salt and pepper