Desperation’s Providence

A Droighneach by Thomas Davis

Crazed, the old man fled frightened from the house, unsettled
By spirit’s substance bled by the luminescence
Of energy, jangling jags nettled and re-nettled,
Made garish by the city’s flickering fluorescence.

Furious, he’d run to the dock, waters turbulent
On wet rock, his son’s stinging words echoing
Inside his head. He shoved his drumming discontent
Into a raging rhythm fed into his paddling.

Piercing into the moonlit island’s illumination,
Ancestral roots, rising from memories,
Deracinated, raging blood sparking rumination
Unlocked from a childhood’s flood of fantasies

Fulminating feelings long forgotten,
But still a song inside his consciousness.
He heard a singing unlike the jangling begotten
Of tangling time racing through his need to decompress.

Deciding suddenly, spirit wild, ascendant,
The child inside inspired, the old man, elated,
Grabbed his hand-held drum, descendants
Alive inside the meld decision’s dream created.

Climbing craggy cliffs where dark pines cling silhouettes
Against moon-silvered sky, spring serenading
Night as fields sigh slender, long-grass pirouettes
Beneath a breeze’s arc of shadow-waves cascading,

Carefree, careful, the old man seeks an overhang
Where cedars circle a coal-dark pool reflective
Of sky, human spirit whole, a boomerang
Fastening the eye on an earlier-earth perspective.

Palpitating lightning pulsed eeriness.
Above the old man moonlight convulsed, uncanny,
Until the sky-fire’s fury began to evanesce
Into circled cedars, dark-pool waters unearthly.

Unmanned, heart hammering, he stared at the intersperse
Of emptiness between stars, his son’s voice gravelling
In silence, “Stupid old man, your useless universe
Is cold dead bizarre,” he’d said. “Clueless! Repelling!”

Re-singing songs inside his head, immensity
In his breath, he stutter-stepped into a cataract
Of movement, dancing wildly, whirling festivity
Around the pool as he tried to counteract

Cacophony jangling madness, mauling senselessness
Into a waning world of troubled turbulence
As stars shining on the pool began to effloresce,
Out of his desperate dance, recovering providence.


A Droighneach is an ancient Irish, or Celtic, form of poetry. It is not commonly used by contemporary poets, although both Gerald Manley Hopkins, through his experiments with sprung rhythm, and Dylan Thomas, a bit more obscurely, modified old Celtic forms for their own purposes. This poem came about when Cynthia Jobin, an American poet who blogs at, discovered that Nick Moore ( and I were challenging each other to write Spenserian and Italian sonnets rather than our usual work with the Shakespearean rhyme forms. Cynthia’s response was, “Say….I have an idea. Let’s all try to write a DROIGHNEACH …..(.Just kidding.I haven’t life enough, or time…..).” On St. Patrick’s Day I started what turned into an agonizing struggle to write a Droighneach. In the meantime Ina Shroders-Zeeders, a poet and writer from the Netherlands (, produced one in response to the conversation between Cynthia and I, which triggered Cynthia to write a traditional praise Droighneach to Ina’s effort.


Filed under Poetry, Thomas Davis

19 responses to “Desperation’s Providence

  1. Ina

    Thomas I am absolutely dizzy now 🙂 what a fantastic poem! I shall need to read it several times to comprehend all of it!

  2. Overwhelmed I am, Thomas. I’ll be back when I’ve had a chance to give this the attention it so richly deserves!

  3. This is amazing, Thomas. I have some idea how difficult the form is as I tried a short seadhna once. Like Cynthia I’ll be back!

  4. A final insult crowns years of enforced submission
    Rekindling ancient rites and powers half forgotten
    Both form and content here pay homage to proud tradition
    Transcend a modernity bedazzled and misbegotten

    • Ahhh, Ray, I sometimes think you drip of poetry when you walk through a day. This little verse reminds me, though, of a trip with the World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium (WINHEC) to Hawaii where a group of Hawaiians got the international visitors in a circle and rekindled a ceremony that had not been done for hundreds of years. The magic of that day is inside me still. The line,
      “Transcend a modernity bedazzled and misbegotten”
      is really good. Thank you.

  5. Astonishnig, Tom, simply astonishing. To have tamed this (to me, at least) extraordinarily complex and challenging form at all is, in itself, a great achievement. That you’ve done so with a poem of such scope, power, vividness and beauty leaves me speechless. I will attempt the droighneach one day, but for now it’s an Everest I don’t feel ready to tackle. You, my friend, have already reached its summit, and the view is magnificent. My sincerest congratulations. N.

    • Nick, thanks for this. I am afraid I could not have written it earlier in life. I would have been too busy. I felt like Dylan Thomas writing it, crossing out lines, changing words, eliminating stanzas. I was elated when I got a four line stanza out in a day–a full day of work. The ending line is not quite right. I used alliteration to tie the last stanza into the first stanza, but did not use the Gaelic convention of making the last syllable, line, or word mirror the first line’s first syllable, line, or word. Cynthia forgave me, so I feel as if it’s okay. Have you visited her site? She is quite a poet. My advice is that if you try one, remember that balancing all the alliteration, internal rhymes, syllabic count, ending three syllable word, and ending line at once seems almost like a feat of legerdemain. I could not do it without going back and back to every line and rewriting and rewriting and that took time. Of course, I wanted to tell a story too, and that element added to the mix of elements that needed balancing. A story has to move and not be overly boxed up by language. Anyway, if I know anyone who can pull this off with skill it is you. I have been amazed how easy this seems to come to Ina. These ancient forms are really fascinating to work with, and I believe I’ll try another Celtic forms one of these days. Val has written a seadhna, so maybe I’ll try to follow her example. I always admire her poetry and wish that she would write more.

  6. What a beautifully conceived and executed tour de force!… and how appropriate to link an ancient poetic form with an ancient ritual dance, though they be culturally separated by time and space. The language rages, cavorts, and careens from the very start, and the outcome is prefigured as the “drumming discontent fed into his paddling.” He had to get away, get away and recover something, but what? Dylan Thomas has nothing on you and your alliterative largesse as “fulminating feelings long forgotten” provide the rhythm toward the dance. The “slender long grass pirouettes” suggested dance to me–the stomping Native American Grass Dance. But this poem wanted a different dance, more like the Ghost dance in the night, to reconnect with ancestors and with that foreseeing care and guidance of Nature which is Providence.
    I forgot any concern with whether or not this was a “good” droighneach,
    so rich and wonderful it is in itself! It qualifies, of course, though I looked for one feature which you decided to eliminate: that business common to all the gaelic forms which asks that the first syllable, word, or line be the same as the last in the poem. Who wants to reduce to a busybody skeleton what is a given work of art? Not me. I’ll be coming back to read it again, just to enjoy. Thank you, Thomas, for giving it to us, and for the great spirit of fun and challenge this all has been.

    • Thank you, Cynthia. You are the spark in this effort. It has been fun. I’m half afraid about seeing what you will come up with next. Your poetry is certainly of a quality that should be noticed. Your description of the poem here is amazing to me. Dylan Thomas had a mixed record as a poet, of course. He was so concerned with originality and music that obscurity was blown into a giant stalking his lines too often, but he was still not only one of the most interesting of modern poets, but one of the great poetic voices. To think that I may have touched his alliterative ability is a high compliment indeed. Thank you.

  7. My congratulations go to all of you who are involved in this adventure.

    I fear I have not got the level of concentration necessary but you are all an inspiration


    • The best known poet of us all, and he doesn’t have the concentration. There’s this place in the clouds, which, admittedly, comes and goes a bit, but then again, I’ll sell it cheap, David. What you do as poetry is plenty good enough for anyone.

  8. Thomas, I’m in awe! I’ll be printing out your poem to read over a few times. This form isn’t familiar to me, but I can tell it’s most complex and challenging. Anyone attempting it has my deepest respect.

  9. Anna Mark

    Thomas, I am not (not yet, anyway) very well “educated” when it comes to poetic form, but as I read this, the form had a circular effect in the mind, a whirling, turning, spinning effect which only increased as the poem went on. I, too, think the form was perfect for this poem about dance, it seemed to hold me, hold me within it because of the structure and yet also whirl me around. I guess I connected with it on a spiritual kind of level ; ) but not so much on an intellectual one.

  10. extrasimile

    I agree with Anna. The overall impression is one of whirling—sort of a cosmic rotation of the heavens—and one that works at cross purposes to the ‘narrative’ of the poem. I wonder, could one retell the ‘story’ of the poem in another form—or maybe in prose. Or would this simply be another poem—or would it be an ‘interpretation’. I incline to think that the poem is embodied in its words; this might be what makes a poem a poem.
    The strtictness and complexness of the Droighneach in this case have yielded a choppy, beautiful—and sometimes very beautiful—poem.
    moonlight convulsed, uncanny,
    Until the sky-fire’s fury began to evanesce
    Into circled cedars, dark-pool waters unearthly.
    The sky’s fire…evanescing. Its fury…evanescing. ‘Circled cedars’. ‘Waters unearthly’. The poem’s very denseness pulls it away from the commonplace. Imagine living in such a word hoard.
    He heard a singing unlike the jangling begotten
    Of tangling time racing through his need to decompress
    He might have had a need to ‘compress’ except he also had a need to have a three syllable word at the end of the line.
    And speaking of ‘he’, the old man…he starts out crazed, frightened, unsettled, furious. He’s also carefree and careful—I guess you have to be when you seek
    …a boomerang
    Fastening the eye on an earlier-earth perspective
    Whew! Cynthia is right when she fastens on the dance quality of the poem, it’s stomping. I will simply add drumming to the list:
    Grabbed his hand-held drum, descendants
    Alive inside the meld decision’s dream created.
    Thomas, I love it when you open a commentary on one of my poems with the words ‘Oh Lord…’ I know you’re engaged and thinking about it—which precious people are willing to do. This poem you’ve made is like a homemade, eccentric mechanical toy. When you wind it up, it produces wonders. And you do wind it up. Oh Lord…

  11. I’m also in awe, Thomas … there is wonderful freestyle poetry, of course, but I admire those who put the time and focus into giving it a specific form, and to take on this one is most admirable. I have to admit that I love alliteration which I think really brings out the music of words, which you have done here so beautifully and still told a story. (I am catching up, so hope you and Ethel will forgive the likes without comments). Hope you are both very well and that spring is finally coming to your part of the land!

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