Original: February or early March 1951. First filed under the tide "The Magic Pencil", and I have some lines reflecting that, but here I'm calling it just "The Pencil" and returning to the earliest notion I had of the poem.
Take note Theresa as you read this line
And all the rest that follow it below
The pencil I was using wasn't mine
The day I printed out this simple poem.
And how I come to have it, I don't know
I found it in my pocket here at home
I'm fairly certain it belongs to you.
And I return it with these lines it made
To show you what a pencil held with care can do.
Beir d'aire air, ag léamh na líne seo
Is ar na cinn a leanann ina déidh,
Nár liomsa í an pionsail úsáidte
An lá ar phriontáil mé an dán amach.
Ní eol dom cé an chaoi ar tháinig sé
Gan fhios dom nó go rabhas ag mo theach.
Gur leatsa í, is beag nach cinnte dhom.
Is fillim é le línte 'dhéantar leis
Ag taispeáint pionsail seo ar lámh le haire lom.
Version in Irish: 22 March 2006 Raymond J Clarke / Réamonn Ó C1éiirigh
Comment: This is not much, a common ordinary note in rhyme. And it's surviving here only as a kind of laboratory specimen for this project of practicing and exercising the Irish language. That's true, but I'll try to promote it a bit anyway.
The language: This reminds me that in some of my early poems I was consciously using what I thought of as 'plain' language, avoiding a lot of adjectives and big words. I'm not sure why I was doing this. One thing was, my family had recently moved a few streets and roads away from the old neighborhood that I had grown up in since I was five. I missed it and I used to go back there all the time. I began hanging around with a guy called Charlie Smith. He had the real neighborhood talk, like I remembered it from before I went to high school, It was coming back to me. I was picking it up from Charlie. For something like 'Do you remember that?' I'd say ' You memba dat?' and Charlie would say 'Yeah, I memba' This got me into trouble in college. One day, Professor Mullaney, the speech teacher, stood me and Walter Reardon from Manhattan up in front of the class as two excellent examples of how English should not be spoken.
I can't blame it all on Charlie. I had my own speech problems. Eventually, I learned the college way of talking and I got by. Even before all this happened, I think I knew the difference between levels in the language and I had made efforts to use 'plain talk' in some of my poems, like here. I am not able to do the same in the Irish. My people are too long out of the 'old neighborhoods' in Ireland. To get the Irish to fit the meter and the rhyme-scheme of my old poems, I often have to use phrases that I wouldn't use if it was just a matter of free and easy translation. But in this poem, I tried to keep at least the feeling of 'plain talk' in the Irish version as well. On the other hand, because I'm not limited to a strict translation, I'm learning that I can sometimes bring out things in the Irish that didn't quite come out in the English. The last line is an instance of this perhaps. I intended it to mean something like: To show a pencil here 'handled' with 'unadorned' (unaffected, simple) care. This sort of gives an internal reason why the poem is simple, hinting that simplicity is the admirable quality of both the pencil and the author.
The structure: This is not just a note that rhymes. It's a note that rhymes about the instrument that writes the note that rhymes, namely, the pencil. The pencil is writing about itself. This sort of fits into one of the ideas I had about poems in those days --- making little 'creatures' out of them that can act independently. In other later versions I made, probably in 1961 or so when I was indexing the poems I had saved, I began to carry this idea further by having the pencil not only write the poem but create a picture out of it. That's when I called it 'The Magic Pencil'.
The girl: If I remember right I met Theresa at a tea dance hosted by Manhattan College for the girls from Marymount College. She was from County Leitrim. I went out with her one time after that and I think we saw the film 'The Red Shoes'. That must have been the night I took the pencil. After finishing school, she might have gone home to Ireland. I don't think I sent her the poem and I may never have returned her pencil --- though I should have done that at least.
The pencil: It was a metal tube pencil and I know from my notes that its color was gold.