Drunk Poets Society

The Pogues decoded

o fans around the globe, Celt-punkers the Pogues are the very embodiment of Irish craic, or rollicking good times. And many know their frontman, Shane MacGowan, as one of the most powerful poetic voices of his generation. Alas, MacGowan's endearing delivery is muddled not only in the briny brogue of his native County Tipperary, but also by his affection for whisky and wine — as well as his total lack of teeth. Still, his lyrics, when intelligible, shine with vivid imagery and often include heavy historical and literary references. To aid in deciphering the Pogues' genius, we offer these open interpretations to a few of their more confounding gems:

"Lorca's Novena" — Tells a tale of art, death, and resurrection. In 1936, Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca was brutally executed and buried in an unmarked grave. As late as the 1970s, the Franco regime tried to erase his works — sophisticated, often surrealist social critiques — from the public record. The Spanish public demanded his plays performed, and Lorca is today recognized as a literary hero. A novena is a Catholic prayer repeated nine times.

"Waxie's Dargle" — A traditional Irish tune that dates back to Queen Elizabeth. Waxies are candlemakers; Dargle is a river in the Wicklow Mountains of southeast Ireland. Or possibly it was also the name of a pub in the area. The differences between the traditional lyrics and the Pogues' are slight, and both include the line, "Here's a nice piece of advice/ I got from an aul' fishmonger: "When food is scarce and you see the hearse/ You'll know you've died of hunger."

"The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn" — Contains more references to mythology, music, and politics than can be elucidated here. Cuchulainn was a warrior in Irish folklore known for his indestructible berserker rage and who spent a bedridden year recovering from an attack by spirits in a dream. John McCormack and Richard Tauber, mentioned kneeling at Cuchulainn's side in the first line, were important British émigré composers in the early 20th century. The song seems to be about Irish republican solidarity, especially between minorities, in the face of government persecution.

 
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