Mahon is the only child of a blameless and hard-working father who became an inspector of engines at Harland and Wolff and of a frugal mother who had worked at a local flax-spinning company. The displacement caused by a change of social class, from the child of a shipyard worker to a leader of the Irish intellectual elite, as well as the great disruption caused by broken adult relationships, combine powerfully in the best work of Derek Mahon to create a poetry as magnificent as a sheet of Belfast steel and as painful as the Blues. For years he assembled the great Amory University archive of Irish writing, one of the last American gifts to Irish posterity.
Why write, why persevere, what point? Pat Keane, as usual, with his vast reading, snatches references and parallels out of the ether, but he never fails to draw a passionately political moral out of the poetic argument. Here are two poems written half a century apart. Both are by Irish poets, both have to do with the Irish Civil Warand both radiate out from a focus on minute particulars to embrace universal meaning.
The first is by W. It is the sixth lyric in Meditations in Time of Civil War, a poetic sequence Yeats wrote in the midst of that tragic conflict, a war fought between supporters of the new Irish Free State, which emerged from the Anglo-Irish Treaty following the War of Independence, and Republicans who rejected the terms of that Treaty, ratified in January The anti-Treaty forces objected particularly to the required oath to the British king and to the partition between predominantly Protestant Northern Ireland and the rest of the island.
To clarify the title: The poet, now 57, and his young wife and two children were living there during much of the Irish Civil War.
My wall is loosening; honey-bees Come build in the empty house of the stare. We are closed in, and the key is turned On our uncertainty; somewhere A man is killed, or a house burned, Yet no clear fact to be discerned; Come build in the empty house of the stare.
A barricade of stone or of wood; Some fourteen days of civil war; Last night they trundled down the road That dead young soldier in his blood; Come build in the empty house of the stare.
It was written soon after Bloody Sunday, the day in when British paratroopers fired into a crowd of Catholic protesters, initiating the violent stage of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Mahon wants his readers to associate that event with the Partition of Ireland back in and the subsequent Civil War. The poem is dedicated to J. Farrell, whose novel, The Troubles, has a scene including an old shed on the grounds of one of the many buildings burned down during the Irish Civil War.
Along with having particular resonance for those who lived through one or the other of the two phases of the Irish Troubles, these poems by Yeats and Mahon are of universal significance. Both have roots going back to Wordsworth, writing during the era of the French Revolution, and they seem relevant to our current troubles: A Disused Shed in Co.
Wexford Let them not forget us, the weak souls among the asphodels. Seferis, Mythistorema Even now there are places where a thought might grow— Peruvian mines, worked out and abandoned To a slow clock of condensation, An echo trapped for ever, and a flutter Of wildflowers in the lift-shaft, Indian compounds where the wind dances And a door bangs with diminished confidence, Lime crevices behind rippling rainbarrels, Dog corners for bone burials; And, in a disused shed in Co.
Wexford, Deep in the grounds of a burnt-out hotel, Among the bathtubs and washbasins A thousand mushrooms crowd to a keyhole. This is the one star in their firmament Or frames a star within a star. What should they do there but desire? So many days beyond the rhododendrons With the world waltzing in its bowl of cloud, They have learnt patience and silence Listening to the rooks querulous in the high wood.
They have been waiting for us in a foeter of Vegetable sweat since civil war days, Since the gravel-crunching, interminable departure Of the expropriated mycologist.
He never came back, and light since then Is a keyhole rusting gently after rain. Spiders have spun, flies dusted to mildew, And once a day, perhaps, they have heard something— A trickle of masonry, a shout from the blue Or a lorry changing gear at the end of the lane.
There have been deaths, the pale flesh flaking Into the earth that nourished it; And nightmares, born of these and the grim Dominion of stale air and rank moisture. A half-century, without visitors, in the dark— Poor preparation for the cracking lock And creak of hinges. Magi, moonmen, Powdery prisoners of the old regime, Web-throated, stalked like triffids, racked by drought And insomnia, only the ghost of a scream At the flash-bulb firing squad we wake them with Shows there is life yet in their feverish forms.
Grown beyond nature now, soft food for worms, They lift frail heads in gravity and good faith. They are begging us, you see, in their wordless way, To do something, to speak on their behalf Or at least not to close the door again.
Lost people of Treblinka and Pompeii!Derek Mahon was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in and was educated at Trinity College in Dublin and at the Sorbonne in Paris. Wake Forest published three of his volumes: The Hunt by Night (, redesigned in ), The Hudson Letter (), and The Yellow Book (), as well as his translation of Philippe Jaccottet’s Selected Poems in Price: Four Poems by Derek Mahon INTRODUCTION Derek Mahon belongs to the same generation of Northern Ireland poets as Seamus Heaney.
But, whereas many of Heaney's poems are rooted firmly in the rural landscape of Ulster where he grew up, Mahon's poems reflect his childhood spent in Belfast. Derek Mahon, "The Hunt by Night" Derek Mahon (–) was born in Belfast and educated at the Royal Academical Institution and Trinity College, Dublin.
He traveled in North America and France before returning to Ireland in , and moved to London in A powerful new book on the life of Derek Mahon sent Thomas McCarthy back to Mahon’s four key works, The Yaddo Letter, The Hudson Letter, The Yellow Book and Harbour Lights.
Page numbers given refer to Collected Poems: Derek Mahon [CP]: The Gallery Press, Length / Form Four Stanzas. Relationship to Classical text Mahon presents a sharp disjuncture between idealised poetic notions of a heroic past and the prosaic realities of modern life in the suburbs.
All of which brings me back to Derek Mahon’s ‘The Snow Party. Set in 17th Century Japan, its protagonist is Bashō, a zen poet who wrote a book of travel sketches, The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Mahon’s poem is clearly influenced by Japanese poetic forms. Four poems at Peony Moon. Share.
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