James C. Mangan Rocks!


A Song from the Coptic

Quarrels have long been in vogue among sages;
Still, though in many things wranglers and rancorous,
All the philosopher-scribes of all ages
Join, una voce, on one point to anchor us.

Here is the gist of their mystified pages,
Here is the wisdom we purchase with gold—

Children of Light, leave the world to its mulishness,
Things to their natures, and fools to their foolishness,
Berries were bitter in forests of old.

 Hoary old Merlin, that great necromancer,
Made me, a student, a similar answer,
When I besought him for light and for lore:

Toiler in vain! Leave the world to its mulishness
Things to their natures, and fools to their foolishness;
Granite was hard in the quarries of yore.

 And on the ice-crested heights of Armenia,
And in the valleys of broad Abyssinia,
Still spake the Oracle just as before:

Wouldst thou have peace, leave the world to its mulishness
Things to their natures, and fools to their foolishness;
Beetles were blind in the ages of yore.

His poem above,  A Song from the Coptic, displays so many qualities I enjoy in poetry:
it  is light and witty yet profound, it rolls with a pronounced rhythm but the message is never compromised.
I first found it in an anthology of Irish verse back in the 80’s. I have never studied other poems of his; it was the only one by him in the collection and it just reached out and grabbed me.  When, 20+ years later, I went looking for it online it was near impossible to find for free. Then I located it in Google reader and transcribed it.  I have tried to faithfully preserve the punctuation, spacing, breaks etc. Somehow I know Mr. Mangan will not be upset . . .

I love the exotic geography and chronology – from Coptic Egypt and  Arthurian legend to Armenia and Abyssinia all in one short lyric.

Do you like this poem?

Do any of you know anything about James Mangan?

Is he well-known in Ireland?

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