“Now I am a Tower of Darkness” and Other Poems by Freda Laughton

Now I am a Tower of Darkness

As a child I knew
How, beyond the lamp’s circuit,
Lay the shadow of the shadow
Of this darkness,
Waiting with an arctic kiss
In the well of the staircase,
Ready to drape the bed with visions
No eyelids can vanquish.
Now I am a tower of darkness,
Whose windows, opening inward,
Stare down upon tidal thoughts.
And in this responsive bell,
Hollowed by the silence of the eyes,
The mind swings its clapper.
And life resolves into relationships
Of cadence and dissonance.

The Woman with Child

How I am held within a tranquil shell,
As if I too were close within a womb,
I too enfolded as I fold the child
As the tight bud enwraps the pleated leaf,
The blossom furled like an enfolded fan,
So life enfolds me as I fold my flower.
As water lies within a lovely bowl,
I lie within my life, and life again
Lies folded fast within my living cell.
The apple waxes at the blossom’s root,
And like the moon I mellow to the round
Full circle of my being, till I too
Am ripe with living and my fruit is grown.
Then break the shell of life. We shall be born,
My child and I, together, to the sun.

The Welcome

Awaits no solar quadriga,
But a musty cab,
Whose wheels revolving spiders scare
Pigeons from plump pavanes among the cobbles.
Past the green and yellow grins
Of bold advertisements
On the walls of the Temple of Arrivals and Departures,
(Due homage to the puffing goddesses
Stout, butting with iron bosoms),
We drive, and watch
The geometry of the Dublin houses
Circle and square themselves; march orderly;
Past the waterfalls of lace dripping
Elegantly in tall windows;
Under a sun oblique above the streets’
Ravines; and past the river,
Like the slippery eel of Time,
Eluding us; eight miles clopping
Behind the horses rump to where
The mouth of Dublin gulps at the sea.
And there beside the harbour
And the Castle,
And the yellow rocks and the black-beaked gulls,
The piebald oyster-catchers, limpets, lobster-pots,
There is a house with a child in it,
Two cats like ebony
(Or liquorice); and a kitten with a face
Like a black pansy, a bunch of fronded paws;
And a dog brighter than a chestnut,–
A house with a bed
Like an emperor’s in it, –
It is late. Let us pay the cabman and go in.

Now I Am A Tower of Darkness and other poems are © Freda Laughton.


Freda Laughton (1907-1995) was born in Bristol and moved to Co. Down after her marriage. She published one collection of poetry A Transitory House (Jonathan Cape, 1945), little else is known of her life and work. She may have lived in Dublin for some time, as her poem The Welcome details the textures of Dublin City and its suburbs, and suggests she knows the city by heart.  Freda Laughton’s poems were submitted by Emma Penney, a graduate of the Oscar Wilde Centre, Trinity College Dublin. Her thesis, Now I am a Tower of Darkness: A Critical History of Poetry by Women in Ireland, challenges the critical reception of Eavan Boland and the restrictive criteria, developed in the 1970’s, under which poetry by women in Ireland has been assessed. She considers the subversive nature of women’s poetry written between 1921 and 1950, and calls into question the critical assumption that Eavan Boland represents “the first serious attempt in Ireland to make a body of poems that arise out of the contemporary female consciousness”. In Object Lessons, Boland concluded that there were no women poets before her who communicated “an expressed poetic life” in their work. Emma’s thesis reveals how this view has permeated the critical landscape of women’s poetry, facilitating an absurd privation of the history of poetry by women in Ireland and simplifying it in the process


8 thoughts on ““Now I am a Tower of Darkness” and Other Poems by Freda Laughton

  1. Laughton is an exciting discovery. She’s the real thing, her lines, rhythms, word choice communicating the intellectual excitement of being alive here and now. We owe Penny a debt of gratitude for knowing enough — the cost of such knowledge!– to write her revisionist history. So double thanks this gray morning from across the pond!


  2. I really enjoyed Freda Laughton’s poems. glad they were preserved……is there anywhere we can read Emma Penney’s thesis?


  3. I just reread “The Welcome” and am struck again but harder how exciting the poetry of Laughton is– how intelligent, how precise, how smart (the quiet formidable technique), how readable, how mindful of what it is not. Exceptional. The absurdity of Bolland’s self-serving thesis aside, this is news that stays news! Poethead continues to make history– the real thing, not the solipsistic celebration of dubious ” value” so often celebrated today.


  4. Boland’s thesis was backed up by (one assumes) a neglectful bunch of academics who virtually ignored the consciousness of the Irish female poet !! I see it as tokenism in operation, a guilty rush to amend past negligence by dumping it all on the shoulders of one woman.


  5. These are painful issues. I have reviewed Irish poetry for many years — mostly from Wake Forest University Press — especially that of women, so even I know from this distance that Boland is among a wonderful group of 20th and 21st century Irish women poets. She is a great academic success of course, even in the States. She is formidable, as the French say, especially as a presenter of her own poetry. I may give it another go sometime soon. But not at the expense of neglecting Poethead’s extraordinary stream of lesser known poets!


  6. We make colossi here in Ireland and I think we find it hard for us to shift focus. I do not know if that is neuroticism or simple lack of confidence. I do know that I went through an English Literature Degree without studying a single Irish woman poet and I see Poethead as a slight remedy to the experience of absence in the academic approach to poetry which appears wilfully neglectful. I’d love if Eavan Boland made allusions to her poetic inheritance, as she, like many others has a suppressed narrative to contend with- she is an inheritor rather than an avant gardeist !


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