Take an Irish Poetry Crawl for St. Paddy’s Day

Pint of GuinnessThis post appeared on Book Riot on St. Patrick’s Day of last year. Find it here.

According to Irish lore, you can’t walk down a street in Dublin without passing at least one pub. That bit of trivia, whether entirely accurate or not, means there are endless possibilities for a pub crawl, that age-old tradition of touring as many drinking houses as possible in a single outing. In Ireland, there’s a poet to be found on just about every corner as well. So, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we want to celebrate by combining two of the Emerald Isle’s greatest traditions: verse and drink. We’re taking you on a good old-fashioned Irish poetry crawl, but for this experience you won’t have to leave your chair or lift a pint—unless you want to go grab a Guinness and drink along.

The bards we’ve chosen will treat us to a true pub crawl with all the usual elements: plenty of drink, a lot of fun, and maybe even a little debauchery. Come along!


Our crawl gets off to a raucous start with poet Patrick Kavanagh, who’s serving up the hard stuff—whiskey, rum, and gin. In Kavanagh’s satiric poem “The Paddiad,” the devil brings together a handful of Ireland’s most popular writers to drink and debate literature. Reading this opening stanza from the poem, we down the first drinks of our journey, while still managing to hold the devil at bay.

 In the corner of a Dublin pub

This party opens—blub-a-blub—

Paddy Whiskey, Rum and Gin

Paddy Three sheets in the wind . . .        

                            — from “The Paddiad” (1949), by Patrick Kavanagh



What’s a night on the town without a little love thrown into the mix? Irish master William Butler Yeats hosts our next stop with a little ditty about drinking and romance. Known more for his politics, mysticism, and myth, here Yeats focuses on the simple pleasures in life. It’s not clear whether the poem ends in pleasure or pain, but that’s true of most barroom romances, right?

Wine comes in at the mouth

And love comes in at the eye;

That’s all we shall know for truth

Before we grow old and die.

I lift the glass to my mouth,

I look at you, and I sigh.

— “A Drinking Song” (1916), by W. B. Yeats




The stout is still going down easy at the next pub, which takes us back to the Gaelic days of old. “The Yellow Bittern,” translated by Thomas MacDonagh, is based on a true classic, an Irish-language lament called “An Bonnán Buí” by 18th-century poet Cathal Buí Mac Giolla Ghunna. It’s a response to the teetotalers who might be saying it’s time to slow down. We’re sticking with the poem on this one: we have a ways to go, and we want a few more pints to fortify us for the journey.


My darling told me to drink no more

            Or my life would be o’er in a little short while;

But I told her ’tis drink gives me health and strength

            And will lengthen my road by many a mile.

                    — from “The Yellow Bittern” (1913), trans. by Thomas MacDonagh



Emboldened by drink, we’re bound to start some trouble. It happens at our fourth stop, where we enjoy an old Irish-language poem composed by a 16th-century bard named O’Bruadair and translated for posterity by Dubliner James Stephens. We were merely asking for a beer—just for the “loan” of it, in fact—but maybe we didn’t ask nicely? We’re not hanging around for the rest of this poem; based on the first stanza, we’re not likely to make friends here.


The lanky hank of a she in the inn over there

Nearly killed me for asking the loan of a glass of beer;

May the devil grip the whey-faced slut by the hair,

And beat bad manners out of her skin for a year.

                        — “Righteous Anger” (1918), trans. by James Stephens




The next destination is more hospitable. It’s Yeats again, a familiar voice that bids us come in and make ourselves at home. But as the night wears on things take a turn for the worse, often the case when guests overstay their welcome (or, as Yeats tells it, when the English completely crash Ireland’s party). By morning, when we come to, the festive atmosphere is gone. And we’re not feeling too great either.


I came on a great house in the middle of the night,

Its open lighted doorway and its windows all alight,

And all my friends were there and made me welcome too;

But I woke in an old ruin that the winds howled through . . .

                        — from “The Curse of Cromwell” (1938), by W. B. Yeats



We’ve hit one too many stops, and overindulgence has taken its toll. When Samuel Beckett, the Irish-born French expat, greets us, we know we’ve bottomed out and entered a bleak, existential place. Taking advantage of our wasted state, Beckett convinces us that life is not only mournful but maybe even meaningless.


I would like my love to die

and the rain to be falling on the graveyard

and on me walking the streets

mourning the first and last to love me

                                                — “Poem” (1948), by Samuel Beckett



Modernist Denis Devlin plays host near the end of our tour. But we no longer have the brainpower or the sobriety to follow his meditation on God, humanity, and the modern world. We listen to a few lines and, unfortunately for us, all we hear is incoherent babbling.


It was said stone dreams and animal sleeps and man

Is awake; but sleep with its drama on us bred

Animal articulate, only somnambulist can

Conscience like Cawdor give the blood its head

For the dim moors to reign through druids again.

O first geometer! tangent-feelered brain

                        — from “Lough Derg” (1946), by Denis Devlin



It’s time to head—or crawl—home, fittingly to the rhythm of a soothing Irish 19th-century ballad. After a long evening of many stops and much to drink, we’re ready for rest, relief, and the comfort of a mum’s arms. Until next year . . .


Lulla lo! to the rise and fall of mother’s bosom ’tis sleep has bound you,

And O, my child, what cosier nest for rosier rest could love have found you?

                        Sleep, baby dear;

                        Sleep without fear;

            Mother’s two arms are clasped around you.

                   — from “Irish Lullaby” (1873), by Alfred Perceval Graves

Correcting Grammar One Song at a Time

For some of us, every day is National Grammar Day. But did you know that one date has been designated to pay homage to punctuation, parts of speech, and all things grammar related? Today, March 4, is a day of celebration for rule followers everywhere. Last year, The Snail offered 10 Heartfelt Sentiments to send to your language-loving friends. Now we’re seeing how some of our favorite song titles and lyrics play out when we give them a grammatical tune-up. Take a look; can you think of any other musical mistakes that could use a fix?

Correcting Grammar_U2


Correcting Grammar_Push It



Correcting Grammar_Ghostbusters



Correcting Grammar_One Less Problem


Correcting Grammar_Dylan



Correcting Grammar _BTO



Correcting Grammar_Foreigner

(All above images labeled for noncommercial reuse with modification.)

Dubliners, by James Joyce

Reasons to Read Dubliners 2

1. You want to go beyond the green fields and quaint sheep of the Emerald Isle, deep into the heart of “dear dirty Dublin” at the turn of the 20th century.

2. Now that you’re all grown up, you’re ready to relive the sometimes painful experiences of childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.

 3. You’re a reader with a real life, looking for something short that packs a powerful punch. Joyce gives you 15 for the price of one in this collection.

4. You like singular characters and even more singular descriptions of them. In “A Mother,” Mr. O’Madden Burke’s “magniloquent western name was the moral umbrella upon which he balanced the fine problem of his finances.”

5. In every story, Joyce gives new meaning to “epiphany”—a moment that suddenly reveals “whatness” of a thing, person, or situation.

6. You want to see how people can be shaped by all kinds of circumstances, from religion to money to family history to politics.

7. Common people often make the most interesting characters, and everyday, ordinary experiences make for rich stories.

8. You’d like to understand the sense of paralysis that drove Joyce to leave Ireland and become an expat in Paris. “There was no doubt about it: if you wanted to succeed you had to go away. You could do nothing in Dublin,” muses the main character in “A Little Cloud.”

9. You gave up on Ulysses—and you didn’t even try Finnegans Wake—but you still want to read James Joyce.

10. This is the perfect book to go with a pint.

Fat Books for Fat Tuesday

Mardi Gras fat books

While most are reveling in food, drink, and bad habits on this Fat Tuesday, we’re celebrating fat books. These 500-plus-pagers are an indulgence you can feel good about, even if they take you all 40 days of Lent to finish. From Tolstoy to Tartt, Rowling to Delillo, these wordy authors aren’t afraid to spend 1,000 pages or more to spin their yarns. And we shouldn’t be afraid to pick them up as a result. Happy Mardi Gras—and laissez les bons livres roulez!

Tell The Snail—what’s your favorite fat book?

Reading Red


The Snail is seeing red today in honor of National Wear Red Day and the American Heart Association. Women all over the country are wearing red on this special Friday as part of the fight against heart disease, which claims more women’s lives than anything else. So let’s sport some red, too, if not in our wardrobe then in our reading choices. Above is a stack of some powerful female-authored red selections from my library. But the bookstores have plenty of new red titles gracing their shelves. Here are a few new releases with a whole lot of heart between their crimson covers.


13579626Rooms, by Lauren Oliver
According to the blurb: The New York Times bestselling author of Before I Fall and the Deliriumtrilogy makes her brilliant adult debut with this mesmerizing story in the tradition of The Lovely Bones, Her Fearful Symmetry, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane—a tale of family, ghosts, secrets, and mystery, in which the lives of the living and the dead intersect in shocking, surprising, and moving ways.”




How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You,  by The Oatmeal
According to the blurb: If your cat is kneading you, that’s not a sign of affection. Your cat is actually checking your internal organs for weakness. If your cat brings you a dead animal, this isn’t a gift. It’s a warning. How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You is an offering of cat comics, facts, and instructional guides from the creative wonderland at The Oatmeal.com.”







A Map of Betrayal, by Ha Jin
According to the blurb: “A riveting tale of espionage and conflicted loyalties that spans half a century in the entwined histories of two countries—China and the United States—and two families. When Lilian Shang, born and raised in America, discovers her father’s diary after the death of her parents, she is shocked by the secrets it contains. She knew that her father, Gary, convicted decades ago of being a mole in the CIA, was the most important Chinese spy ever caught. But his diary, an astonishing chronicle of his journey as a Communist intelligence agent, reveals the pain and longing that his double life entailed—and point to a hidden second family that he’d left behind in China.”


Creativity, Inc., by Ed Catmull
According to the blurb:18077903 “For nearly twenty years, Pixar has dominated the world of animation, producing such beloved films as the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Up, and WALL-E, which have gone on to set box-office records and garner thirty Academy Awards. The joyousness of the storytelling, the inventive plots, the emotional authenticity: In some ways, Pixar movies are an object lesson in what creativity really is. Here, in this book, Catmull reveals the ideals and techniques that have made Pixar so widely admired—and so profitable.”






The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert
According to the blurb: “New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tells us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before. Interweaving research in half a dozen disciplines, descriptions of the fascinating species that have already been lost, and the history of extinction as a concept, Kolbert provides a moving and comprehensive account of the disappearances occurring before our very eyes. She shows that the sixth extinction is likely to be mankind’s most lasting legacy, compelling us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.”