Derek Mahon, Belfast man, died yesterday aged 78. He was considered one of the most innovative Irish poets in the sixties and seventies. This poem has been widely quoted since the arrival of Covid 19:
How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, and there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.
Four Aprils old
His heart knows
Proud and brave
He stands up straight
My girl intent
Upon his lunchbox
Balancing . . .
Her eyelids not quite dry
I look at her
She looks at him
He waves at me
We spin in a ring of love
And recognise the day
CLABBER: THE POET AT THREE
“That’s clabber! Clutching clabber
sucks caddies down,” said my father harshly
while I was stomping happily
in the ditch on the side of the road.
“Climb out of that clabber pit
before you catch your death of it!”
But I went on splattering and splashing,
and scattering whoops of joy:
“Clabber! Clabber! I belong to it,”
although the word meant nothing to me
until I heard a squelch in my wellies
and felt through every fibre of my duds
the cold tremors of awakening knowledge.
O elected clabber, you chilled me to the bone.
(Clábar is the Irish word for mud.)
I’m in a Yeats mood today and this is one of my favourites. So romantic, so beautiful and all for nothing; Maud Gonne didn’t love him back.
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
A rattle of keys at the back door
We waited – wary
His face shut tight against us
Like a fist
Toed-in, he crouched over furtive whiskeys
Over chin and cigarette
And we ghosted from the room
With nervous grins
But once he showed me Dickens
And Maurice Walsh
And he was The Small Dark Man
Alone in a house of women
Cut off by his country voice
From the town
From an old melodeon
Sometimes – surprised
His face would lift with love
And fall again
Now I surprise myself
Toed-in, crouched over flagrant whiskeys
Fingers curled over chin and cigarette
And I have to leave the room.