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Wake Forest
University Press

Wake Forest University Press

Dedicated to Irish Poetry

Wake: Up to Poetry

"The act of poetry is a rebel act."

Poem of the Week: “Samhain” by John Montague


Sing a song
for the mistress
of the bones

the player
on the black keys
the darker harmonies

light jig
of shoe buckles
on a coffin lid


Harsh glint
of the wrecker’s lantern
on a jagged cliff

across the ceaseless
glitter of the spume:
a seagull’s creak.

The damp-haired
seaweed-stained sorceress
marshflight of defeat


Chill of winter
a slowly failing fire
faltering desire

Darkness of Darkness
we meet on our way
in loneliness

Blind Carolan
Blind Raftery
Blind Tadgh

John Montague, from “Ó Riada’s Farewell” in A Slow Dance (1975)

Historically, Samhain was a Gaelic festival that marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. It was celebrated from sunset on October 31 to sunset on November 1. According to tradition, Samhain was a liminal time in which spirits could travel between the worlds of the living and the dead. Feasts were held in which the souls of the dead were called to attend and large bond fires were lit to offer protection and purification for the living. In addition, people donned costumes and went door to door reciting verses in exchange for food (sound familiar?)

Today, some Celtic Restructionist Pagans and Wiccans celebrate versions of Samhain. However, the traditional festival is often seen as a pre-cursor to modern-day Halloween festivities.

Categories: John Montague, Poem of the WeekTags: , ,


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