John Jordan

John Jordan (poet, critic and short story writer)

…the painter Patrick Swift, who died in the Algarve in Portugal in July 1983. It was on 20 July at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig in County Monaghan that I heard the news from the novelist and former secretary of the Arts Council, Mervyn Wall, who had found it in The Irish Times. There were others present, but I doubt if any of them was as much affected as myself; after all, Patrick, had been in exile for well over twenty years, and his return visits were brief and infrequent. I myself had met him on only two of those visits, which involved a memorable but scarcely recountable trip to the Drogheda home of the painter Nano Reid (who died in 1982), whom he not alone admired immensely as an artist but loved as a person, though she was about twenty years older...
We first met when... with unwonted audacity and quite exceptional naïveté, I founded the Synge Street Literary Society and to the first meeting... there came some past pupils: Mr Anthony Hughes... the late John O'Donovan... and Patrick Swift... In the next four years or so he became involved in the texture of my life... I knew at the time that Patrick Swift painted, but at this stage, I must confess that I hardly took him seriously; if anything he struck me as being a literary man...
By 1950 he had abandoned his job in the Gas Company and moved into a room in a house in Lower Baggot Street, which once contained a modern art gallery called Contemporary Pictures. It was there he painted his first portrait of me which was reproduced in the magazine Envoy whose editor-in-chief was to become his brother-in-law. John Ryan also published an article Patrick Swift wrote on Nano Reid. Among others he was to paint at that time were the poet Patrick Kavanagh and the novelist-to-be, Julia O’Faolain. By 1951 Patrick Swift had moved into a flat in Hatch Street and it was there that he painted his second portrait of me. I do not know where the two portraits are now.
But it was not those vanished images of my youth I thought of during the next few days at Annaghmakerrig. Only of what seemed the enchanted world of my late teens, where the Master of the Revels, the tragic-comedian-in-chief, was Patrick Swift from Rialto, from Synge Street, from Baggot Street, from Hatch Street and after that, an Anglo-Portuguese world I was never to know. Perhaps I spoke too sentimentally about Patrick Swift to my fellow-guests at Annaghmakerrig: the night before I left, the writer Dermot Healy read to them a verse-letter I had addressed to Patrick Swift in 1948, and which I was foolhardy enough to include in a book published twenty-seven years later. I am so glad now that I did. Here is some of it:
Thespis’s children stick together
In sunlight and shadow and weather
When the proud rose must surely fall…
Yes, mine was a mime of lime scent and quiet heart
Yours one of cypresses and blood on the snow

Thirty-eight years ago, neither of us dreamed that the proud rose would waste away in the South of Portugal. I must one day go and see if near his grave in Porches in the Algarve there are cypresses.
— John Jordan (poet, critic and short story writer), Patrick Swift 1927-83, Gandon Editions, 1993


Second Letter:
John Jordan

Dear P.,

This letter may explain better
than words of the mouth,
words, words, words,
that soothed our drought
through rain and stars,
the mockery of dawn,
we cold as the trees.

For you must keep in mind
that we are less than kin,
but more than kind, for

While you were ranting your lyceum lines
careering the vaults of your glittering dooms,
bleeding at the heart from paper knives—
I have my nuances and Chekhovian glooms—
But we were both mummers, and so we got on.

mine was a mime of lime-scent and heart-break
quiet, frail, imbecile, thirsty for applause
and O you knew that and nurtured me, because —
Thespis's children stick together
in sunlight and shower and weather
when the proud rose must surely fall,
thrown on a dump with all the rest of the trappings,

the split gold tights
the ragged brocade gown
the mothy ermine choker
the sweet tinsel crown
and our cascades of pasten jewels,
bright as tears,
worthless as tears,
your tears,
my tears.

Yes, mine was a mime of lime-scent and quiet heart
yours one of cypresses, and blood on the snow
but we both were mummers and didn't care to know,

to realize
to dig,
to pick away the paint,
to clutch the hand lovingly
around the white skull.
Skull last seen at the dead of night
or glimpsed at waking in the submarine light,
skull precious ivory,
to be kissed and touched tenderly...

As you may have noticed
the games are done
and I for one, my friend, am very tired.
I must confess, too, I find it hard
not to have regrets,
for years spent in plays
so unworthy of our talents.

It will be difficult to adapt ourselves to
ordinary life. And of course we'll always be
peculiar, rearing the head, pouting the
lips, stancing the body, when a stranger
comes into the room. You know that as well
as I do.

John Jordan
Dublin 1948


Dublin Oil - Dublin Watercolour/ Ink - Italy - Oakridge/ Ashwell Watercolour - Oakridge/ Ashwell Oil - London Oil - London Watercolour/ Ink - France - Algarve Oil - Algarve Watercolour/ Ink - Self-Portraits - Trees - Portraits I - Portraits II - Porches Pottery - Books - Misc - Algarve Studio
Note: many of the reproductions displayed here are of poor quality

By Swift
Nano Reid - Some notes on Caravaggio - Italian Report - The Artist Speaks - X magazine - RHA Exhibition 1951 - Eça de Queiroz & Fernando Pessoa - The Portuguese Enigma - Notebooks - All

About Swift
Patrick Swift: An Irish Painter in Portugal - IMMA 1993 Retrospective Catalogue - Dublin 1950-2 - By His Friends - X magazine - Poems - Further Quotes About - All

By His Friends
Anthony Cronin - John Ryan - John Jordan - C.H.Sisson - Martin Green - John McGahern - David Wright - Lima de Freitas - Katherine Swift - Tim Motion - Lionel Miskin - Jacques D'Arribehaude - Brian Higgins - George Barker - Patrick Kavanagh

Further Quotes
Brian Fallon - Aidan Dunne - Derek Hill - Brendan Behan - Lucian Freud - Patrick Kavanagh - Elizabeth Smart - Further Quotes About