A Place As Kind As It Is Green

Feb 6, 2014 by

20th century American poet Marianne Moore traced her heritage back to Ireland;  her fascination with those roots comes through clearly in her poem “Spenser’s Ireland”, a meditation on Ireland and the Irish from the perspective of an Irish-American who has never set foot on the Emerald Isle.   The Spenser of the poem’s title is Edmund Spenser, 16th century English author of The Faerie Queene, who wrote a highly inflammatory prose pamphlet called  A View of the Present State of Ireland ; in this 1596 work, Spenser urges harsh reforms be used against the barbaric native Irish , who refuse to conform to what he believes is proper, civilized behavior.

By contrast,  Moore speaks gently, if somewhat ironically, of her green ancestral homeland, a small country which has long resisted more powerful invaders rather than bend a knee to a foreign ruler.  The Irish man and woman’s bone-deep refusal to give in ultimately saved Ireland from famine and continued dependence on the English Crown.  It’s a stubborn streak familiar to Irish-Americans, whose forefathers and foremothers courageously crossed the Atlantic and brought that “no surrender, no retreat”  disposition with them.    As a result,  many of us with Irish roots proudly share Moore’s slightly tongue-in-cheek sentiment :  “I am troubled, I’m dissatisfied, I’m Irish.”



Spenser’s Ireland

has not altered; –
a place as kind as it is green,
the greenest place I’ve never seen.
Every name is a tune.
Denunciations do not affect
the culprit; nor blows, but it
is torture to him to not be spoken to.
They’re natural, –
the coat, like Venus’
mantle lined with stars,
buttoned close at the neck, – the
sleeves new from disuse.

If in Ireland
they play the harp backward at need,
and gather at midday the seed
of the fern, eluding
their “giants all covered with iron,” might
there be fern seed for unlearn-
ing obduracy and for reinstating
the enchantment?
Hindered characters
seldom have mothers
in Irish stories, but they all have grandmothers.

It was Irish;
a match not a marriage was made
when my great great grandmother’d said
with native genius for
disunion, “Although your suitor be
perfection, one objection
is enough; he is not
Irish.” Outwitting
the fairies, befriending the furies,
whoever again
and again says, “I’ll never give in,” never sees

that you’re not free
until you’ve been made captive by
supreme belief, – credulity
you say? When large dainty
fingers tremblingly divide the wings
of the fly for mid-July
with a needle and wrap it with peacock-tail,
or tie wool and
buzzard’s wing, their pride,
like the enchanter’s
is in care, not madness. Concurring hands divide

flax for damask
that when bleached by Irish weather
has the silvered chamois-leather
water-tightness of a
skin. Twisted torcs and gold new-moon-shaped
lunulae aren’t jewelry
like the purple-coral fuchsia-tree’s. Eire –
the guillemot
so neat and the hen
of the heath and the
linnet spinet-sweet-bespeak relentlessness? Then

they are to me
like enchanted Earl Gerald who
changed himself into a stag, to
a great green-eyed cat of
the mountain. Discommodity makes
them invisible; they’ve dis-
appeared. The Irish say your trouble is their
trouble and your
joy their joy? I wish
I could believe it;
I am troubled, I’m dissatisfied, I’m Irish.

from The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore, 1961


468 ad