For the bark, dulled argent, roundly wrapped
For the splitter-splatter, guttering
For the snub and clot of the first green cones,
Smelted emerald, chlorophyll.
For the scut and scat of cones in winter,
So rattle-skinned, so fossil-brittle.
For the alder-wood, flame-red when torn
Branch from branch.
But mostly for the swinging locks
Of yellow catkins,
Plant it, plant it,
Streel-head in the rain.
Eye-stitcher, Ear-cutter, Darner.
Perhaps the unenhanced stubbornness
of the protoform engenders this fear,
how the eons have wrought nothing
but their exquisite miniatuization, down
from meter-wide Paleozoic fossils.
Beryl-rods, lapis-sticks--small comforts:
They've still the savage-seeming jaws, the outsized
heads arrayed like NORAD radar domes
attuned to every tic. But perhaps what we fear
the most is admitting the thousand cells
of their compound eyes--those prismatic shards
polished and fixed in Fibonacci strands
a quarter billion years ago--can cast
a mosaic us across the hidden sancta
of their minds. Flying adder, Blue dragon,
Devil's butcher. How better to apprehend
such frightful mastery of the world, make sense
of the fact our miraculous centuries pale
beside their membranous haze and mullions
of these primitive wings? Globe-skimmer
Gauze-hawk, Measuring-stick. Our litanies
swarm up above the pond, tentative mayflies, brief
atonements, wheeling around a definition.
These are the grey nights, high tide, high summer.
Ash-trees in the hedgerows are stirring in the mists
and you can see the fields laid out in shifting patterns;
somewhere in the night a cow is lowing, sorrowful
as a distant foghorn; dreams are disturbed, something
gleams a moment and will disappear, like a sea-trout
rising, like a distant phosphorescence; breezes
that come shuffling through the alders are the breathing
of waves against a strand; no need to fear
ghosts of your loved dead who go drifting by, offshore,
their dark sails holding; the Joseph lilies, the white
Canterbury bells, hold within them, as you do,
their own light and though they will sink through the rough
autumn days, as you will, they have worked wonders
and will resurface, firmer in themselves and more fruitful.
John F. Deane
The mist sucks in our car to a world
That's pure except for the leaves that drop
Like bits of flame or scraps of gold.
We arrive just as the drizzle stops;
The lake deepens the unpeeling hills.
The pilgrim hostel has no guests.
The chapel's closed; and at the well
We marvel at a sign's request
To refrain from throwing in our pence --
As if officials could outlaw
Whistling or smiling, song or dance.
We walk beside the lake, and sure
Enough the shallows buff a mine
Of coins, like amber eyes of fish,
That keep lit, and hard, the faith behind
The spinning moment of each wish.
I have lived in important places, times
When great events were decided, who owned
That half a rood of rock, a no-man's land
Surrounded by our pitchfork-armed claims.
I heard the Duffys shouting "Damn your soul!"
And old McCabe stripped to the waist, seen
Step the plot defying blue cast-steel -
"Here is the march along these iron stones."
That was the year of the Munich bother. Which
Was more important? I inclined
To lose my faith in Ballyrush and Gortin
Till Homer's ghost came whispering to my mind.
He said: I made the Iliad from such
A local row. Gods make their own importance.
The blessed stretch and ease of it –
heart’s ease. The hills blue. All the flowering weeds
bursting open. Balm in the air. The birdsong
bouncing back out of the sky. The cattle
lain down in the meadow, forgetting to feed.
The horses swishing their tails.
The yellow flare of furze on the near hill.
And the first cream splatters of blossom
high on the thorns where the day rests longest.
All hardship, hunger, treachery of winter forgotten.
This unfounded conviction: forgiveness, hope.
Bluebells for Love
There will be bluebells growing under the big trees
And you will be there and I will be there in May;
For some other reason we both will have to delay
The evening in Dunshaughlin--to please
Some imagined relation,
So both of us came to walk through that plantation.
We will be interested in the grass,
In an old bucket-hoop, in the ivy that weaves
Green incongruity among dead leaves,
We will put on surprise at carts that pass--
Only sometimes looking sideways at the bluebells in the plantation
And never frighten them with too wild an exclamation.
We will be wise, we will not let them guess
That we are watching them or they will pose
A mere facade like boys
Caught out in virtue's naturalness.
We will not impose on the bluebells in that plantation
Too much of our desire's adulation.
We will have other loves--or so they'll think;
The primroses or the ferns or the briars,
Or even the rusty paling wires,
Or the violets on the sunless sorrel bank.
Only as an aside the bluebells in the plantation
Will mean a thing to our dark contemplation.
We'll know love little by little, glance by glance.
Ah, the clay under these roots is so brown!
We'll steal from Heaven while God is in the town--
I caught an angel smiling in a chance
Look through the tree-trunks of the plantation
As you and I walked slowly to the station.
It was as if
someone had only to say
to set alight
Bloom and blossom
everywhere, on furze,
on Queen Anne's Lace.
A breeze blew
on the common place.
Weeds on walls;
the long grass
of the long acre:
the elderberry bushes
to their maker.
Loud leaves of
the reticent buds of ash,
the reach of undergrowth
were voices, voices,
themselves to sing.
The white thorn flowers
were the light infantry
marching down the headlands.
A new flock flowed
through a breach,
a makeshift gate.
And this is heaven:
sunrise through a copper beech.
A bird is calling from the willow
with lovely beak, a clean call.
Sweet yellow tip; he is black and strong.
It is doing a dance, the blackbird's song.
Anonymous (9th Century Ireland), translated by Thomas Kinsella.
“The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there's little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.” Carl Sagan
Wet Evening in April
The birds sang in the wet trees
And as I listened to them it was a hundred years from now
And I was dead and someone else was listening to them.
But I was glad I had recorded for him
Seeing them, sun-flooded at sunset, their three
ovate leaves paddling out from a single whorl,
their solitary stalks rising into the seraphic
flutter of three green sepals and three
white tongues, I wonder where in the rhizome,
slipped under what mat of its soul
lies the key that trips the lock to door
after door after door. A riven voice sings
through the corridors--wake-robin, birth-root,
toadshade--faint incantatory notes like a tonic
chord taken from a dusty hymnal.
Perfume can pass through bars...
Perfume can pass through bars
like the swallow of freedom
made of silken breezes
So you, my dear Kambakhsh, know
that spring is climbing down
the crystalline ladder of rain
A butterfly sits on the barbed wire
of Pul-i-charkhi like a new-born rainbow,
and you know, my dear Kambakhsh,
tulips cross the grey-skin slopes of Hindukush
bringing forth a sense of fresh living
Your green horse stands restlessly for you
waiting a new adventure
alongside colourful gazelles; bars
can not block your way, you
are the perfume now of freedom
Abdul Samay Hamed
(adapted to English by John F Deane)