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The Importance of Poetry

Sarah Courthope
Mon 29 Jul, 2019

Sarah Courthope, daughter of Stanley Middleton, explains how her father shaped how she saw poetry.

"The wind has bundled up the clouds high over Knocknarea, And thrown the thunder on the stones for all that Maeve can say. Angers that are like noisy clouds have set our hearts abeat; But we have all bent low and low and kissed the quiet feet Of Cathleen, the daughter of Houlihan"

I learnt this poem from my Pa when walking up Knocknarea aged seven, after a day of running about on the beach (and ice cream, Pa always bought us ice creams) and a hearty farmhouse dinner. As I recall, it was raining. It seemed to rain a lot on our holidays, or perhaps we just went to rainy places. No Costa del Sol for us….holidays were where poets and writers dwelt. It was Sligo for Yeats, Wales for Dylan Thomas and Devon for R D Blackmore. And we always learned some poetry – not because we had to, but because it fitted with the beautiful landscapes and we felt the inspiration.

However, being the child I was, I didn’t always think the poets got it right…

“Under bare Ben Bulben's head In Drumcliffe churchyard Yeats is laid. An ancestor was rector there Long years ago, a church stands near, By the road an ancient cross. No marble, no conventional phrase; On limestone quarried near the spot By his command these words are cut: Cast a cold eye On life, on death . Horseman, pass by!”

My small self was convinced that the last word in the second line should have been “dead”. I was sure it rhymed better and made more sense! But it made for an excellent discussion with Pa about rhyme and meter and scanning and poetic licence. He loved discussions like this and I learnt so much without even knowing it.

I thought everyone did this. This was my normal, my upbringing, my world. I thought everyone has the internal treasure of learned poetry. Later in life I understood that this was not so, and what I had absorbed was very special. And I am so grateful to my lovely Pa for giving me that and leaving it with me for a lifetime.


This post is tagged in

Stanley Middleton poetry

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