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When Fr Peter Steele SJ recited the poem during a lecture he delivered at the Bloomsday event at Newman College, Melbourne, in 2007, he said: ‘I wrote this poem, which is called simply “Joycepoem”, at Newman College, but it is designed to take us to the Jesuit-run Belvedere College, in the north of Dublin, where Joyce had most of his secondary schooling — free, I might add — and in which I have stayed a number of times.’


No bad eminence this, Lord Belvedere’s 
        hill, and the house, a Jesuit perch,
from whose broad upper window I watch the city.
        A minute’s trail downslope, and your Centre
offers decorum, celebrity and pamphlets –
        as though to mime, so late in the piece,
the Church you couldn’t stand. A swing on the heel
        would take your ghost through a modern thicket –
the buffed-up-bar for cubs of the Celtic Tiger,
        some corner shops, their dust in amber,
boom of construction, a placard for lapdancing –
        to museums of seeing, writing, saying,
and the little park from which by night or day
        the Children of Lir rise for the dead.

Ironic hunter, you’d bag it, every morsel.
        Stalker of streets, scuffer of pavements,
dawdler on bridges, prowler by close and parade,
        you bought the place for habitat
and made it all domain. And now you share it,
        wary as ever but hungry still,
with Lilliput’s master, the tangle-hearted Swift,
        your better at scorn, your brother in laughter,
a singleton like yourself in the press of crowds.
        By O’Connell Street, by Stephen’s Green,
by Dolphin’s Barn, Kilmainham, and Phoenix Park,
        you’re out with your wits about you for game,
while the rain of matter falls from one soft day
        to the next, and you drink as though mortal.

A moody harlequin, you dander the banks
        of Anna Livia Plurabelle, tracing
now the lozenge of furious red, and now
        sable’s badge of your being unseen –
feral and brilliant, come of a darker selvage
        than took the Florentine aback
and sent him God knows where. Your golden thread
        is the tainted stream itself, the walk's ravines,
the mouth of your mind as fluent as the traffic
        by Trinity’s walls. A one-man-fugue,
you move by cadence, interval, revision:
        by climax deferred, and silence courted.
Everything melts, as though to the Grand Canal,
        commanded and lost, measure by measure.

Gulls have come over Parnell Square, to raise
        ‘the screaming practice of their peace’,
and newly-landed Americans are shuttling
        in and out of your shrine, a cane
someone’s caduceus come down in the world,
        a guidebook feathered in winter sunshine.
Singer of flesh and its withering, mind and its fall,
        there are worse places to be than this one,
your portrait in honour a floor below me, the air
        shivered with fragments of light reflected
from window and doorface painted in carnival, and
        your foxing spirit here for a term
becoming again and again the flambeau it carries,
        dear dirty Dublin a thing of fire. 




Peter Steele SJ was a poet and and academic at the University of Melbourne, and a longtime contributor to Eureka Street. He was awarded the Christopher Brennan Award for lifetime achievement in poetry in 2010. Peter Steele SJ passed away in June 2012.


Topic tags: Peter Steele, poem, Bloomsday, poetry, Jesuit, Belvedere College, James Joyce



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Existing comments

Masterfully controlled eloquence, with the poet's eye for evocative detail.
A fitting inclusion for 'Bloomsday' and remembrance of Peter Steele SJ, scholar, educator, poet, and priest as the anniversary of his passing approaches (27th June 2012).
Thank you.

John Kelly | 20 June 2024  

In Memoriam
(for Peter Steele SJ 22.8.1939 - 27.6.2012)

" . . . a very parfait gentil knight" - Geoffrey Chaucer

"On arrival in London for my doctoral studies, they remarked I was lean as an Oxford clerk. Now I'm back in Melbourne and they're saying I more resemble Friar Tuck."
- Peter Steele

God grant we meet again in heaven's great Hall
where broad cup brims and plenty-plate is full,
in company with our dearest Word of words
and all his friends, our Christ Lord
and his merry throng - all home at last. . .

And let the Spirit of Him and Father
of all the Mary-mothered light up in us
full-bodied words and songs of joy
and thanks and praise that raise
our Heaven's roof in din so glad
that all our here-world's too close
sad news and strife be sung
and soothed with hope
and enemies feel welcomed in
and hurts and hates and harms heed
Heaven-sent overtures of forever-peace. . .

Meantime, our final courses must be run,
each parting fraught
with conscious loss and lesion
(Eve's and Adam's mark on all our kind). . .

So then, now - here and now,
Lord Christ be strongest with us
where battle's thick and stench of death,
the merely mortal, all-too-close-for comfort. . .

You, saving Christ-friend be full true to You:
bridge build and bind, now and ever,
earth and Heaven for pilgrims' passage
to Your new creation:
this journey's ending, exiles' at-last homing.

John Kelly | 27 June 2024  

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