These poems appear in John Montague’s forthcoming collection Speech Lessons, published by the Gallery Press, which will be launched in Dublin on June 23rd

Patience and Time

Winifred Montague (1900-1983)

Patience and time

will bring the snail

to Jerusalem . . .

my Aunt Winifred’s favourite saying

as she sits playing Patience

after she had spent hours

mucking out the byre,

wearing man’s boots or wellies

then straddling the runnel

to wash it down.

Or wheeling the barrow

heavy with dung to

the mound of the dunghill:

hardly the occupation

for a bright convent girl

summoned all the way

from college quad to farmyard

when Ireland divided

and her brothers slid into bankruptcy.

(Or balanced on a stool,

leaning against the warm

flank of a feeding heifer,

squeezing and squirting

the swollen teats until

they fill the frothing pail.)

Patience and time

bring the snail to Jerusalem:

I see the tiny pilgrim

on his gleaming liquid course;

his periscopic horns,

his silver slide forward.

(Or whirling the churn,

the slosh of the cream,

until a yellow gleam

lights the small window:

I glimpse the Golden Dome

of his tireless dream.)

In the winter evenings,

Patience or Solitaire,

by the tilly lamp.

Card falls on card

upon the baize table:

no matter how hard

there is no complaint,

no thunder against fate.

As numbers mount

from Ace to Ten,

according to suit,

and a red row climbs

beside the black:

Spades against Diamonds,

Clubs against Hearts,

Queens fall on Jacks,

Kings fall on Queens

and the snail halts.


for Father Ken Letts

After October Devotions

cigarette-tips glowed

as my old neighbours

jostled at the chapel gates

or under the big tree,

for their shy autumnal chat

before their bicycle lamps

drew wobbly circles

upon the darkness while

they flowed homewards

over the country roads,

to Brackagh, Tychany,

Rarogan and Altcloghfin.

(From the gaslit church

the sound of Aunt Winifred

running once again through

an old hymn: ‘Faith of our Fathers’

or ‘Tantum Ergo Sacramentum’,

on the creaking harmonium.)

Folding my surplice,

sometimes i joined them,

sometimes raced home.

If I were to return now

would their friendly shades

part to receive me,

offering a light from

a frail match shielded

in an old jacket’s fold?

John Montague