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To exhilarate their minds

  • 03 July 2012

RehearsalUpright again, fritters of mint in my fingers,         I’m given pause in the kitchen patchby 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 fallof 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:

Many 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