To exhilarate their minds



Upright again, fritters of mint in my fingers,
         I’m given pause in the kitchen patch
by the car’s whine, the loud harrumph of lorries
         that round the stand on Two-Tree Hill
                   and hustle past the boneyard. 

I’ve taken leave of the Cliffs of Moher, the unsmiling
        campus guard at Georgetown, the fall
of Richelieu’s scarlet enclosed by the London gloom:
         I’ve watched my last candle gutter
                   for dear ones, back in Paris,

sung, as with Francis, the spill of an Umbrian morning,
         each breath a gift, each glance a blessing:
have said farewell to Bhutan of the high passes
         and the ragged hillmen, to the Basque dancers
                     praising their limping fellow,

to the square of Blood in Beijing, to the virid islands
         that speckle the Pacific acres,
to moseying sheep in Judaean scrub, to leopard
         and bison, a zoo for quartering, and
                    to the airy stone of Chartres,

But here’s the mint still on my hands. A wreath,
        so Pliny thought was ‘good for students,
to exhilarate their minds.’  Late in the course,
         I’ll settle for a sprig or two – 
the savour gracious, the leaves brimmingly green –
                     as if never to say die.


This poem was selected by Andrew Hamilton. It was first published in Peter Steele's collection The Gossip and the Wine (John Leonard Press 2011). Fr Brendan Byrne referred to its significance at the end of his homily at Peter Steele's funeral at Newman College Chapel on 2 July 2012:

Peter Steele in the KitchenMany have remarked on the equanimity with which Peter accepted his terminal illness and the medical procedures it increasingly required. The poem Rehearsal is, I believe, his Nunc Dimittis. He addressed it publicly on several occasions in recent months, including what was to be in fact his last class of all, given to our Jesuit students at Jesuit Theological College early in May. Several times, in the course, of that event, granted his physical condition, I tried to bring the session to close but, try my best, he kept on explaining, drawing out responses—the teacher to the end. 

The poem is ... a reverie while preparing (Peter the cook in action to the last!) the ingredients of a meal. He runs through all those places in a life of travel to which he must now say ‘Farewell’.

Peter SteelePeter Steele SJ died last Wednesday, two weeks after being present for the launch of his final publication Braiding the Voices (John Leonard Press 2012).

Topic tags: new australian poems, poetry, Peter Steele, Rehearsal, The Gossip and the Wine, John Leonard Press



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Existing comments

Thank you for including this farewell poem. A further glimpse. I did not know the man but his loss is every ones.
Rosa | 03 July 2012

What Peter Steele could make and multiply from nature's raw materials! James McAuley's last lines come to mind: "Welcome now to bread and wine Creature comfort, heavenly sign: Winter will grow dark and cold Before the wattle turns to gold."
John | 03 July 2012

Thanks Andy. On the occasion of his mother's 80th birthday Peter made the soup and was in and out the kitchen lovingly tending his course. It was a family tradition to spend most of Sunday cooking all sorts of dishes and preserves.
Chris Gardner | 03 July 2012

A glorious poem. Vale Peter Steele.
Tessa | 04 July 2012

I had the privilege of being taught by Peter Steele in the 1970s. I have never forgotten him and have read his poetry with growing appreciation over the years. Thank you, Father, for the course you ran.
Jo McInerney | 13 January 2014


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