Austin Clarke at Templeogue

R. Dardis Clarke

Austin Oarke (1896-1974) returned from England early in 1937 and moved into Bridge House in what was then the small village of Templeogue, Co. Dublin. He remained there for the rest of his life, dying in the armchair from which he had done all his writing on March 19, 1974. Whilst at first you would not think of Oarke as a personal poet overall, in that he did not write poetry of an obviously personal nature, he did in fact introduce a number of private matters into his poems.
Reading his poems you would not glean very much about his private life. There is a reference to his wife by name, though you would not necessarily know it was his wife, in the first line of 'Beyond the Pale'-"Pleasant, my Nora, on a May morning to drive ... " (from Flight to Africa published in 1963). He had three sons and you would learn this- from the lines in 'The Loss of Strength' (published in Too Great a Vine in 1957, satires and other poems).
When hope was active, I stood taller Than my own sons. Beloved strength Springs past me, three to one. Halldoor Keeps open, estimates the length
To which I go: a mile to tire-a.
But I knew the stone beds of Ireland.
In looking at the personal side of Clarke and at the years spent in T empleogue, you will find most references in the two collections already mentioned. The circumstances of acquiring Bridge House would be enough to cause bitterness to the poet. It would seem an ironic, if not cruel, twist of fate that Oarke should only have a life interest in Bridge House and that upon the death of himself and his wife the gainers should be the Catholic Church at which he had railed for so many years in his writing. However, there is, as in all these things, an Irish explanation. Oarke's mother was not a literary woman but she seems to have regarded herself as something of a businesswoman, and she moved house quite a number of times during her life. It was because Clarke was in England firstly, and secondly had no business acumen, that he arranged that his mother should buy a house for him when he decided to return to Ireland because he knew the Second W orId War was on its way.
Clarke had sent over the money and a number of houses were looked at. The field was reduced to two, both in Templeogue, and Clarke opted for Bridge House. Unfortunately, the house was bought in his mother's name with just a life interest in it for the poet. On his death and of his wife, it would become the property of the Propagation of the Faith. It is this matter of the house which concerns Clarke in the first poem in Too Great a Vine- 'Usufruct' . Clarke chose the title aptly for in one word it summed up his situation: Usufruct-' 'the use and profit, but not the property of a thing; liferent." In the first line Clarke presents us with a stark sentence again saying it all with an
economy of words.
This house cannot be handed down. Before the scriven ink is brown, Clergy will sell the lease of it.
I live here, thinking, ready to flit
From Templeogue, but not at ease.
I hear the flood unclay the trees, Road-stream of traffic. So does the midge, With myriads below the bridge,
Having his own enormous day, Unswallowed. Ireland was never lay.
My moth wore no rural curch
Yet left her savings to the Church, That she might aid me by-and-by, Somewhere beyond the threatening sky. What could she do, if such in faith
Be second nature? A blue wraith
That exquisites the pool, I mean
The kingfisher, too seldom seen,
Is warier than I am. Flash
Of inspiration makes thought rash.
When you know the circumstance of the house purchase, you are surprised that Clarke was not more bitter in his poem about the issue. He avoids the fact th~t he was deceived. This is probably because of his affection for his mother. Either he did not like to introduce the issue into the poem or he may have pushed it from his min:d. He was not sufficiently materially-minded to have worried about the fact that he could have been sitting on a growing asset. His main concern was that he and his wife had a roof over their heads until they should die.
H0',Vever, it probably suited Clarke's purpose better to assume that hlS mother had left the house to the church so that he could be helped come back to it. He had rejected the church from an early age and t~is had ~stressed his mother. The deception must ~ave hurt and It was a plty that the issue was not contested at the time.
. The reference to the "flood unday the trees" refers to the River Dodder which ran at the bottom of the garden along the banks of which Clarke would walk. A treat on one of these walks was to glimpse the kingfisher as it flashed past. Birds in general gave ~larke great pl~asure and the kingfisher was probably his fa~~unte because ~f Its beauty and illusiveness and independent Splflt. He had a .blrd table on which he would place Trill and bread each mornmg when he got up.
The river bank concerned Clarke in 'Right of Wa ' fr Fli~ht to Africa. It is a bitter poem about the selfish~ess 0: ~elghbours who had fenced off the narrow walkways by the riverslde. The field ~side Bridge House was one which it was said could not be built ~n because of the drainage difficulties. Clarke could have ~ught It at one stage for £200 but did not have the money .. As It happened during the Fifties, a number of houses ~ere butlt on the ~and. The drainage problem was got over by the lllegal use ~f tanks. Dublin County Council turned a blind ~ye to the l11egahty at the time, but years later the houses were lin~ed to the main sewerage system. Interestingly, opposite Bn?ge House. a row of semi-detached houses had been erected whlch had th~lr sewage pipes running along the back wall. Again Clarke mentlons the kingfisher in this poem-'Right of Way'-and not only for assonance.
I cannot walk by the river now swishing
The grass, far as the dart of the kingfisher, See cress, marsh-marigold, beyond the willow, Hazel, wild privet, for the fields are villa'd.
Small owners have fenced the right of way, mere inches. No wider than their graves. So, the green inches,
All tiny Irelands, are hidden around the bend
Of Summer-seen gravel. Walk has come to an end. Outlawed by greed, I look down from the Bridge, Remembering our covetous religion:
Held back, as when the sluices at Bohemabreena Open and waters rush here through a mock ravine.
Here again Clarke uses an economy of words. The title is an emphatic statement. There is no doubt in his mind that there was a Right of Way and later in the poem using a strong and emotive word he tells us starkly that he was: "Outlawed by greed".
Bridge House was on a short road between the bridge and the turns for Rathfarnham and Firhouse. The T-junction here became a busy crossroads as the fields were taken over by the developers. Even closer at the bridge itself, a large estate, Cypress Grove, owned by the Walsh sisters, was sold with the family retaining a small section and building a smaller house on it. Again in Flight to Africa Clarke turned his attention to his changing surroundings. He could not understand the sale of the house, though for the Walsh family it was a practical step at the time as the house and its upkeep must have been crippling. In 'Cypress Grove' , he bemoans the development. One of the greatest crimes was that almost as soon as the land was sold the tree-lined drive to the large house vanished as the machines moved in. It was a time when landscaping was not even a consideration. It was just a question of getting as many houses into the site as possible. The last lines of the poem 'Cypress Grove' concern themselves with its destruction with Clarke using again a strong and emotive word-" vomit" -to express his disgust.
One Gallagher bought the estate. Now concrete-mixers Vomit new villas: builder, they say, from Belfast
With his surveyors turning down the oil-wicks.
The shadow is going out from Cypress Grove,
The solemn branches echoing our groan,
Where open carriages, barouches, drove:
Walnut, rare corktree, tom up by machine. I hear the shrills of the electric saw
Lopping the shelter, unsapping the winter-green For wood-yards, miss at breakfast time the cawing Of local rooks. Many have moved to Fortrose. They hear in my lifted hand a gun-report,
Scatter their peace in another volley.
I stare:
Elegant past blown out like a torchere.
With the expansion of Templeogue and its development into suburbia came, of course, young married couples and these feature in his 'Midnight in T empleogue', again from Flight to Africa .. He compacts his satiric c~mments in the poem's opening eight hne st~nza, of the expanding suburb and the increasing num~r o.f births .. An ambulance heard passing Bridge House sounding .its warn10g was never regarded as rushing to the scene of an accident, but merely on its way to take another pregnant woman to the maternity hospital.
Young wives unzipple near our Bridge, Suburbed, soon to be bigger again.
C~rk, Kerry, gossip above their weanlings Wl~ Moy, Claremorris. Little ones fidget, Whlffiper at drop of skirt, slack, jean. Villa by villa, condition makes friend.
All dress, remark that lunch is late, or Tidy the pair in perambulator.
. As T empleogue became more and more developed the traffic 10creased and, despite having shutters on his windows, Clarke found that the early morning movement of vehicles disturbed his slee~ and .so we find in A Sermon on Swift and other poems, publis~ed 10 1968,.a reference to his wearing of stopples to keep the nOise out. The field next to the house is mentioned again, as is Cypress Gr.ove, an~ la~er he refers to the local pub, The Blue Haven (which he didn t frequent). The first lines of 'Stopples' record the area quickly.
Lifting a har.d, I stopple Ear. Lorries come to a stop:
I pass into silence. Green acres in their silo:
Those fields that swayed from billhook In the past, now cess-pooled, built
On. Ghosted by Cypress Grove,
I long for Cecilia, sigh, press
Her lips in my afternoon
Drowse. But at night Affrec
Lies in my arms, supine,
Moon-spent, half bare in a pinewood.
So while he became more and more surrounded and the traffic built up, it was to be expected that he would refer ;0 the changing Templeogue. From a quiet country village in the late Thirties it ~am~, in his lifetime, a rapidly developing suburb. The increase 10 traffic led to the imposition of a compulsory purchase order on part of the land and house to provide for a new wider bridge. The house lay at right angles to the road with a scullery bounding on to the road itself. He, of course, resisted the compulsory purch~ order and, in fact, it did not take effect until some years after ~IS death. He would have found amusement in the fact that the hne from Right of Way-"Outlawed by greed, I look down ~om the Bridge' '-takes on a new meaning in that the new bndge ~as been named the Austin Clarke Bridge. He would also have smil~ at the fact that no member of his family was invited to the official opening. Largely ignored in his. lifetime, he ,:,"ould h~ve f?und no surprise in the fact that his famtly should be Ignored 10 hIS death.

R Dardis Clarke.

Page 41, Poetry Ireland Review Issue 21