Desmond Egan

Desmond Egan

Desmond Egan was born in Athlone, in the centre of Ireland. Educated in Irish Midlands; in The National Universities of Ireland at Maynooth and Dublin. Desmond works full-time as a poet.

Desmond Egan has published 23 Collections of Poetry; two of Prose and two Translations of Greek Plays. Collections of his Poetry, in translation, have appeared in book form in: France, Germany, Japan, China, Italy, Greece, Netherlands, Poland, Luxembourg, Croatia, Spain, Czech Republic, Hungary, Russia, Bulgaria – all, in dual-language format. There are also two Documentary Films on Desmond Egan and his poetry.

Desmond Egan has won several prizes and awards:

  • National Poetry Foundation of USA Award, 1983
  • Pilgrims Progress Prize, 1983
  • Osaka University (Japan) Citation, 1986
  • Chicago Haymarket Literary Award, 1987
  • The Farrell Prize, 1988
  • The Bologna Literary Award, 1988
  • Honorary Doctorate: Washburn University, USA, 1996
  • Macedonian Poetry Award, 2004
  • Macedonian Poetry Prize, 2004
  • Prix de Livre Insulaire 2005, Salon International de Livre Insulaire île d’Oeussant, Bretagne

Since 1987 Desmond Egan is a full-time writer, living near Newbridge, Co. Kildare. In 1998 he was appointed to The Cultural Relations Committee of the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs.

Some words about his poetry:

A major Irish poet, his poems represent an enormous advance. I know of nothing quite like them: it makes me think we have moved a generation beyond even the accomplishment of Heaney.     Hugh Kenner

Desmond Egan was a founder of The Gerard Manley Hopkins Festival in 1987. Ever since, Egan has been Artistic Director for this Festival. A feast of poetry, music and fun.

Please check out the Gerard Manley Hopkins Festival’s web site!


through the mists around Aphrodite’s mountain
a lookout I’m told could sight the Carthaginian
longships cutting out from Lybia
and that’s the way I’m cupping my hands now to
catch Sicily a glimpse of you

knowing that what lodges in travelling always includes
off-centre things: Thucydides in a traffic jam
the smell of Marsala an actor’s gravy voice as much as
that vast bay of Siracusa beyond imagination
coldblue murderous
where the triremes had thumped and smashed and
drowned slowly like men
dragging down the Athenian dream partly our own
to break the surface again in history’s flotsam
with Nikias’ last speech

and only the sound of a wave away I can hear
the chatter of tourists turning Greek translating into
thousands of soldier sailors moaning dying
in limestone mines too hot then too cold
where caverns dripped despair and beneath overhangs
the shadows were corpses heaped on one another

yes Sicily black Palermo of no music
where there are mountains there is harshness
and the seas all islanders know must foam with tragedy
sure as the Doric skyline of Selinunte

but when we each lug about our happiness unhappiness
and you were only mixing-in your own
with the faces the lives that pass on a path
with the laughs the che bellas for infant Kate
with Scammaca chained to his glasses dentures whistling

with Nina and Pietro smiling from the distance of language
with Enzo in short sleeves lugging like a talisman
his translator’s briefcase through the punic heat
or with a twinkle-eyed grannie dressed like a nun
who hadn’t to hide behind books

memory a scent of oleander the shirt sticking to my back
tyres screeching down the black mafia streets
the lift door to our pension slapping in the darkness

after the reading we sip beer at 2 a.m. in a lobby
and I know that time is already refining crude experience
and will leave a signature indelibly like Euainetos’

so since it’s unlikely I’ll make it back again
that’s how I’ll carry you Sicily in my wallet:
a silver tetradrachm with dolphins leaping
around your Arethusa head


Through centuries of waves
to the bottom of europe      where
it arises
          out of the rising flood
brown faience
          light’s honeyed vertigo
(memory’s knossos
the rustling labyrinths)
as in the nebula of a dream

a farmer, gripping, stares off the rail
leather leggings, breeches, harsh face
axeing together the wind:
a bronze land
                    tentacled there

rubbing the sleep from sleepless eyes
     measuring time with its engines
towards that amber
                    the groves of ancient cicadas
the fertile waves.

PHAISTOS – the new place

Bonewhite cottages in ravening sun
     sluggish sea
               tamed now
into a concrete
where villagers splash
and one leathery
peasant kneads
a limp octopus
Kapori, unsmiling.

                    Frescoes littered through masonry

But Ah! that visor nose, that glossy hair
of the shy wasp-waisted
serving thirsty tourists
retsina beside the baked sands.

                    golden cups in the muddy trees

Fawn hens aflutter before the bus
that labours like time up the dust;
the only armies now
crickets quacking                     only emperor
african darkness

                    Frescoes littered through masonry
                    golden cups in the muddy trees.


     poised on ice
above the lake’s throb

          this blue translucense
          flexing across rocks

                    frozen sprays of fern

          – remind me of your History
          for, if the stretched town is become
          part of nature           so
          are your sentences:

like gulls they cry
down the cold shores

Poetry in this post: © Desmond Egan
Published with the permission of Desmond Egan