London. The year is 1977 and the Sex Pistols, Damned and The Clash are taking on the disco, pop and rock establishment. Bowie is across The English Channel in Berlin recording Heroes with Brian Eno.
One person seems fairly much oblivious to the noise in the bedsits and in clubs. Zachary Cox is frustrated. His love of good poetry has taken him on a quest for more published works from Swinburne yet he becomes increasingly dismayed at what he finds some 70 years after the poet's death.
His thinking at the time is summarised in his own words within the foreward of “Swinburne 77,” a little book he subsequently publishes that year:-
“It is a sobering fact that ….there is no complete edition of the work of Algernon Charles Swinburne in print nor even an edition of any one of his complete volumes of verse. All that can be found are 'selections' – selections made by lesser and later poets, who appear to be determined to select only those works which match up to the emasculated fashions of 20th-century poetry at its most bloodless.”
I'm fairly sure Old Man Crowley, the self-proclaimed Beast, would have been disgusted too given the enormous influence Swinburne had on his own work. It is clear that Cox figures people should be able to readily access the beautiful output of a man who was one of England's greatest poets. Not content to wait for others to act, Cox decides to do something about about it and privately publishes “Swinburne 77” under the imprint of The Neopantheist Society. The edition is a collection of some of the most sublime poetry and visionary lyricism from 19th Century England. The book was followed with a double cassette of Cox reading the poems contained in the collection.
Time passes....a few whiskers short of 40 years.
The Big Hills. The year is 2015. Things have thankfully shifted on the Swinburne front. The internet and book publishers are now awash with Swinburne's work. We can get a selection of his complete works and volumes delivered within 24 hours of ordering. Just as well, as my copy of Swinburne 77 has fallen to pieces! Everytime I read Swinburne now I can't help but think of Zachary Cox and I send him a little inner “thank you for keeping a glint in the kindling. The fire has returned.”
However, I find myself extrapolating and morphing some of Zach's frustration from '77 into '15, but this time with Art O'Murnaghan as opposed to Swinburne. I'm annoyed that almost 60 years after the death of O'Murnaghan I can get hold of next to nothing of his creative output out there in the market place. There is a sense of deja vu with '77. No complete or comprehensive works. Little bits and pieces on the internet, poorly photographed images of some of his artistic masterpieces, a chapter of a book here, contributions and paragraphs there and articles gathering dust in a library in Dublin or in old Theosophical Society libraries spread across the globe.
Somewhat shamefully, there really isn't much out there. Come on Ireland! What of the Celtic Revival? Did it die? Come on those of you inspired by Dion Fortune's magical and visionary writings! Let's have some research, insights and a compendium.
I've written three previous scantily detailed blogs summarising my own researches into Art. The first covered a viewpoint of Art as Dion Fortune's “Hibernian Adept”. The second touched upon more of his creative genius, in particular in relation to Irish Theatre. Finally, the third presented one of his retellings of an old Irish myth or particular interest. Throughout the process I was delighted to be contacted by some of Art's family with a degree of interest and encouragement. That said, impatience is setting in.
Surely someone out there, a family member, a scholar looking for a PhD thesis, a wealthy chronicler with plenty of time and resource on their hands feels a calling to go out there, capture and share the humanity and creative greatness of the man in more depth and detail for perpetuity? Plays, music, stories, writing and artwork. Anecdotes and recollections. Yes?
So, here's a gauntlet thrown down on this day, the Summer Solstice of 2015. To that person out there - now is the time to do it!
I suspect this is the last blog I will write about Art O'Murnaghan, at least until more material is unearthed. Hopefully the few embers I've wafted will spark a flame somewhere. As a parting farewell I will leave you with one last little gem from the man.
In October 1939 W.B Yeats and Lady Dorothy Wellesley produced some low circulation arts magazines called “A Broadside”. In issue 10, Art supplied two tunes for pieces of poetry contained within. The first was for Willie Yeats poem, “The Pilgrim.” The second was a tune for F Higgins's “Sleep Song”. As I wrap up this blog and my adventures with Art O'Murnaghan, I'd ask you to try out Art's tune with the Yeat's poem. It may take you a few attempts but you should be able to sing the poem to the tune. As Mike Scott showed recently with The Waterboys' stunning “An Appointment with Mr Yeats”, some poems are even better appreciated when expressed as songs. They can be lifted to a whole different level of experience. Art understood that and has left us some beautiful examples. Enjoy this one.
“Is fol de rol de rolly O!”
July 2015 Update
Readers may be interested to know that I have written a total of four blog posts about Art O'Murnaghan:-
Art and Irish Theatre
Art and Irish Mythology
Art and his unavailable works
Art and Dion Fortune