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This report is taken from PN Review 251, Volume 46 Number 3, January - February 2020.

Sheila Wingfield
from Finnesburie to Enniskerry
John Clegg
Here is Sheila Wingfield’s ‘When Moore Field was all Grazed’ in its entirety (first published in her 1964 collection The Leaves Darken):
When Moore Field was all grazed
And Finnesburie ploughed,
People were firey, clever, glum, or crazed; [ed: ‘fiery?]
Hard knuckled; and proud
Liars; and well-phrased.

It’s appealed to me since the first time I read it; Wingfield had from the beginning of her career a gift for Yeatsian diction (sometimes verging on Yeatsian pastiche), and this was Yeatsian in the best sense, earning that final ‘well-phrased’ for the author as well as the ‘people’. But it’s also subtler than I initially gave it credit for.

The poem was probably written in Ireland; Wingfield was the Viscountess Powerscourt, and her home until 1963 was the enormous Powerscourt estate. Ireland and the Irish landscapes are preoccupations throughout her work, and I’d initially taken the two place-names in the poem as local to Powerscourt (or at least personal to Wingfield) – although that un-Gaelic termination ‘-burie’ should have been a warning. In fact, of course, they are familiar London place-names, Moorfield and Finsbury. Wingfield may well have encountered the spelling ‘Finnesburie’ in Holinshed’s Chronicles, while she was researching her genealogical poem ‘Origins’. (Holinshed: ‘At the comming back of the lord protector from his iournie into Scotland [...] the maior and aldermen [...] met him in Finnesburie field’.)

The poem is not, then, a piece of straightforward nostalgia or plaint against urbanisation, as (say) James Stephens might have ...


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