National Poetry Day 2019

3 October 2019

We are celebrating this year’s National Poetry Day with a poem by Louis MacNeice, ‘Rugby Football Excursion’. Whilst the poem is nominally about the 1938 Home Nations Championship match between Ireland and England, which England won 36-14, at its heart are the memories the event evokes for MacNeice.

Sporting reminiscence is a powerful social tool and one which, through various Sporting Memories groups, is now being used to help people with memory loss and those suffering from social isolation. For more information about this and how Raeburn Place Foundation will get involved, please click here.

Rugby Football Excursion
Euston — the smell of fish and soot and petrol;
Then in the train jogging and jogging,
The sheaf of wires from pole to pole running beside us
Dogging the fancy northward

And walking to board the Hibernia — Bass and Guinness,
Bull-necks and brogues and favours
And Kerry-coloured girls; the whole excursion
Savours of twelve years back

Back to my adolescence, back to Ireland,
‘Ilka Moor ba’t a’t’ from Midland voices,
and Wicklow apricot in early sunshine
Rejoices what was jaded.

Horse-cabs and outside cars—the ballyhoo for trippers—
And College Park reposeful behind the railings;
Emphatic old ladies’ voices in a lounge lamenting
Failings of health and budgets.

Lansdowne Road—the swirl of faces, flags,
Gilbert and Sullivan music, emerald jerseys;
Spire and crane beyond remind the mind on furlough
Of Mersey’s code and Rome’s.

Eccentric scoring—Nicholson, Marshall and Unwin,
Replies by Bailey and Daly;
Rugs around our shins, the effortless place-kick
Gaily carving the goalposts.

Then tea and toast with Fellows and Bishops in a huge
Regency room in the warmth of a classic assurance
Looking on Stephen’s Green where they blew up George
the Second—
Endurance of one-way thinking.

And then a walk through Dublin down the great
Grey streets broad and straight and drowned in twilight,
Statues of poets and Anglo-Irish patriots—
High lights of merged traditions.

Junkshops, the smell of poverty, pubs at the corner,
A chimney on fire and street on street of broken
Fanlights over the doors of tenement houses—
Token of the days of Reason.

In a frame from Sir Isaac Newton the dusk of Ireland
Bathes the children whipping their tops on the cobbles
Or swinging by ropes from a lamp post while a cripple
Hobbles like a Hogarth sketch.

These I must leave, rejoin the beery trippers
Whose other days prefer today delirious
Packing the bar on the boat, while a sapphire pinhead
Sirius marks Dun Laoghaire.

Louis MacNeice 1907-1963
From the poetry collection "The Earth Compels"
Published in 1938