Joseph Campbell (1879-1944) was an Irish poet who wrote in both English and Gaelic (publishing his latter work under the name Seosamh Mac Cathmhaoil or Seosamh MacCathmhaoil). Like pioneering modernist poet T. E. Hulme, who was four years younger than him, Campbell wrote a small number of short poems in free verse and utilising a pared back and understated style. There is no rhetoric here, no outpouring of emotion (perhaps too little for some readers); but what these poems show is the emergence of a distinctly modern style of poetry that rejects the gushing excesses of the worst Victorian verse. Written towards the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, they are among the first poems written in English which can be confidently labelled ‘modern’.
We’ve made these four poems by Campbell available here because they are not online anywhere else, so far as we could tell. All four are taken from Seosamh MacCathmhaoil (Joseph Campbell), The Mountainy Singer (Dublin: Maunsel and Company, 1909). Campbell died in 1944, so according to UK copyright law The Mountainy Singer is now in the public domain.
I stop to watch a star shine in the boghole –
A star no longer, but a silver ribbon of light.
I look at it, and pass on.
2. On the Top-Stone.
On the top-stone.
A nipping wind blowing.
Winter dusk closing in from the south Ards.
The moon rising, white and fantastic, over the loch and the town below.
I take off my hat, salute her, and descend into the darkness.
3. Night, and I Travelling.
Night, and I travelling.
An open door by the wayside,
Throwing out a shaft of warm yellow light.
A whiff of peat-smoke;
A gleam of delf on the dresser within;
A woman’s voice crooning, as if to a child.
I pass on into the darkness.
4. The Dawn Whiteness.
The dawn whiteness.
A bank of slate-grey cloud lying heavily over it.
The moon, like a hunted thing, dropping into the cloud.