Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Dead

I'm a bit of a movie buff. Every since I was very young and my best friend of the time had a father who was a manager of the Savoy Cinema in Cork. Free passes. Need I say more. To add to this bounty, I used to stay with an uncle and aunt during the summer. They lived in a small town in East Cork and my uncle was the owner of the local cinema. Unlimited access to the double bills, the serials, the documentaries and the cartoons. Bliss. In those days, it seemed like a visit to the cinema was a huge event that took place for the entire afternoon or evening.

I have many favourite films. But top of my list would have to be "The Dead". This is a movie based on James Joyce's short story - a short story many have voted the best ever. John Huston directed it. A very ill and dying John Huston. It would his last film. And what a swan song! His son, Tony, adapted the story for the film, and his daughter Anjelica starred in it. The performance of her career.

The premise of the film revolves around a dinner party in Dublin at the turn of the last century with a great mix of characters drawn together to share food, music, poetry and dancing, and the remembrance of one great lost love.

My review of the movie is here.

I get a lot of correspondence from people who love the film as much as I do. We are almost a cult, I would think :-).

Many ask me for the words of the poem that is recited half way through the film and I send it to them.

Here is the wonderful, heart-breaking poem, by Lady Gregory.

Donal Óg
by Isabella Augusta, Lady Gregory

Translated from an anonymous eighth-century Irish poem

It is late last night the dog was speaking of you;
the snipe was speaking of you in her deep marsh.
It is you are the lonely bird through the woods;
and that you may be without a mate until you find me.

You promised me, and you said a lie to me,
that you would be before me where the sheep are flocked;
I gave a whistle and three hundred cries to you,
and I found nothing there but a bleating lamb.

You promised me a thing that was hard for you,
a ship of gold under a silver mast;
twelve towns with a market in all of them,
and a fine white court by the side of the sea.

You promised me a thing that is not possible,
that you would give me gloves of the skin of a fish;
that you would give me shoes of the skin of a bird;
and a suit of the dearest silk in Ireland.

When I go by myself to the Well of Loneliness,
I sit down and I go through my trouble;
when I see the world and do not see my boy,
he that has an amber shade in his hair.

It was on that Sunday I gave my love to you;
the Sunday that is last before Easter Sunday.
And myself on my knees reading the Passion;
and my two eyes giving love to you for ever.

My mother said to me not to be talking with you today,
or tomorrow, or on the Sunday;
it was a bad time she took for telling me that;
it was shutting the door after the house was robbed.

My heart is as black as the blackness of the sloe,
or as the black coal that is on the smith's forge;
or as the sole of a shoe left in white halls;
it was you that put that darkness over my life.

You have taken the east from me; you have taken the west from me;
you have taken what is before me and what is behind me;
you have taken the moon, you have taken the sun from me;
and my fear is great that you have taken God from me!


  1. Funny, it seems like it should be a sad poem but somehow it isn't. I think because despite the loss and heartbreak at the same time she's coming to a new understanding of herself and of life which will help her in the future.

  2. Well, I couldn't agree more. It's the most wonderful film and does add something to the original story, particularly Donal McCann's voice over at the end reading Joyce's final pages. Thanks for the poem. It's longer than I thought - Dan O'Herlihy's reading shortens it considerably I think.
    The whole film is a wonderful sign off by Huston to a great career, and clearly a labour of love. His daughter Angelica has done nothing better. And isn't her accent good!

  3. Nick:
    You take a different perspective than I. My perception is that bitterness would overtake her for the rest of her life. I prefer yours!

  4. OF:
    Yes, Donal McCann at the end, a heart stopping reading of the last lines of the short story. Incredible film. And I believe Anjelica was raised in Ireland, thus her accent came easily. John had an estate in the West of Ireland and lived there for the majority of his adult life.

  5. I'd never heard of this one WWW.
    Love the poem.
    I'll watch for it at the DVD hire stores, orperhaps a used version on our trips to antique shops. I have a feeling though, that to get the absolute essence of it, one would have to be Irish born and bred? :-)

  6. Ah yes, you can count me as a cult member. I loved the story so much that I was afraid to see the movie at first. But John Huston directed it as if it were his own, capturing the very essence of Joyce in the process.

    Like you, I see only bitterness and anger in Lady Gregory's poem - my heart is as black as the blackness as the sloe - which, as we know, is also pretty damn bitter (until you souse it in gin for a few months *wink*)

  7. T:
    Oh you and Himself would love it, I'm sure. Many couples in the 'cult' tell me they have a date every year to watch it and get something else out of it.
    And nearly all are from USA, UK and Oz.
    It is not out on DVD even though we've begged. Just VCR.

  8. Tessa:
    I agree, I've never seen a better done movie treatment of a story.
    Have you heard of the documentary of the making of the film? I've tried to track it with no success. One guy even went so far as to try and rip me off saying he had it when he didn't.
    I really really want it on DVD.

  9. Lady Gregory's poem shows glimpses of influence on Yeats, her protege. I too find it both dark and hopeful at the same time. It is life itself, looking back at us in a cadenced measure, which is what poetry is all about. I have not seen the film, but now must do so immediately, so as to not be left behind my energizing Irish friends.

  10. didn't mean to be anonymous...

  11. Oh Marylou:
    You will truly, truly love this film. Unfortunately only on VCR but I keep hoping for the DVD.


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