The Film of Murder in the Cathedral

On My Bookshelf for National Poetry Month I find a book on a film of a play by a poet, the verse drama Murder in the Cathedral by T. S. Eliot. It is a story of faith, conscience, power, and murder. 

I first saw this film decades ago when I was a student. Of all the films one sees in a lifetime only a few leave indelible images in the memory. I think of the first appearance of Death in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. And just as powerful, the chorus of women in Murder in the Cathedral who kneel in prayer and intone the sonorous words:

Since golden October declined into sombre November
And the apples were gathered and stored, and the land
became brown sharp points of death in a waste of water and mud,
The New Year waits, breathes, waits, whispers in darkness…

Now I fear disturbance of the quiet seasons:
Winter shall come bringing death from the sea,
Ruinous spring shall beat at our doors,
Root and shoot shall eat our eyes and our ears,
Disastrous summer burn up the beds of our streams
And the poor shall wait for another decaying October..

Some malady is coming upon us. We wait, we wait.

It is easy to discern the voice of the poet who wrote “April is the cruelest month,” the famous first line of The Waste Land. The chorus chant of the sufferings of the poor and set a tone of anguish and foreboding for the event to come.

The chorus – scene from the film
Continue reading “The Film of Murder in the Cathedral”


This cycle of poems is dedicated to my son Patrick Francis Hanrahan 1979-2002. Today would be his birthday. I wrote them at different stages of his life, the third shortly after his death from complications of mono. It was inspired by the last photo taken of him on his 23rd birthday.

I. Boy

          Golden-haired quicksilver boy
          You crash and rage
          About the house,
          All knees and elbows,
          Tumble of limbs and words
          In daring, perfect poise
          Of near-falls, cries, yells.

          My golden-haired quicksilver boy,
          Dropped into sleep
          Your delicate, pale-moonglow face,
          Curled, uncoiled body
Continue reading “Triptych”

My Love Affair with Gerard Manley Hopkins

Last Saturday I watched the funeral service for Senator John McCain at the National Cathedral. I really tuned in because I wanted to hear President Obama’s eulogy, but I was soon drawn in by the beauty and dignity of the ceremony. The music was magnificent, particularly John Rutter’s setting of The Lord is my Shepherd and Renee Fleming’s Oh Danny Boy. Several speakers mentioned McCain’s love of literature, but I could not have been more surprised by his choice of a reading from the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. The chosen passage was from As Kingfishers Catch Fire beginning with the line “the just man justices.” One rarely hears mention of Hopkins in public life in America and Continue reading “My Love Affair with Gerard Manley Hopkins”

The Great Again Colossus


The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus is a poem written in 1883 to help raise money for a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. In 1903 it was mounted on the pedestal on a bronze plaque. Though beloved by Americans for over a century, the poem no longer reflects the America in which we live today.

I propose this new version as more in the spirit of the times:

The Great Again Colossus by Emma Mortifer

Not like the woman of New York harbor fame,
Who welcomed desperate migrants to our land;
Here at our brutal border wall shall stand
A bloated, boastful bigot, one whose flame
Is destroyer of truth and justice, and his name
Con-Man in Chief. From his puny hand
Tweet hate and lies; his heartless eyes command
This Land of Immigrants that twin oceans frame.
But “Keep, ancient lands, your worthless horde,” cries he
With pouting lips. “I banish your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
Your wretched refuse shall not infest our shore.
Send them, the suffering children, unto me,
And they shall rot in cages outside our golden door!”

In Yeats Country

Yeats mural in Sligo

Our boat slowed and began to circle the little island in the lake. Then over the loudspeaker came the voice of our captain, George, reciting the W. B. Yeats poem The Lake Isle of Innisfree. We were circling that very island. We were in Yeats country, “the land of heart’s desire” around Sligo in the west of Ireland. This was just one of the magical moments we experienced in my first visit to my paternal grandparents’ country. And George was just one of the marvelous characters we met who made Irish history Continue reading “In Yeats Country”

On My Bookshelf – Turning Tides

Turning Tides

At a dinner party in Berkeley some years ago I met a visiting history professor from the University of Leuven in Flanders. Naturally I told him I am half Flemish. When I tell people that they usually just assume that the other half is English. But the professor didn’t assume. “What’s the other half?” he asked. When I responded “Irish” he reared back in mock horror and said “Goodness, what a volatile combination!” My family has had a few laughs over that ever since, blaming our volatile combination for any number of sins.

In consequence of this heredity Continue reading “On My Bookshelf – Turning Tides”