Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Michael Longley, "Leaving Inishmore"

Rain and sunlight and the boat between them
Shifted whole hillsides through the afternoon –
Quiet variations on an urgent theme
Reminding me now that we left too soon
The island awash in wave and anthem.

Miles from the brimming enclave of the bay
I hear again the Atlantic's voices,
the gulls above us as we pulled away –
So munificent their final noises
These are the broadcasts from our holiday.

Oh, the crooked walkers on that tilting floor!
And the girls singing on the upper deck
Whose hair took the light like a downpour –
Interim nor change of scene shall shipwreck
Those folk on the move between shore and shore.
Summer and solstice as the seasons turn
Anchor our boat in a perfect standstill,
The harbour wall of Inishmore astern
Where the Atlantic waters overspill –
I shall name this the point of no return

Lest that excursion out of light and heat
Take on a January idiom –
Our ocean icebound when the year is hurt,
Wintertime past cure - the curriculum
Vitae of sailors and the sick at heart.


From No Continuing City (1968)

Being that I my library has not managed to join me on this coast yet, I was bound to choose a travel poem about Ireland. My first choice would probably have been MacNeice's "Train to Dublin", but I've already written on that, so I've chosen instead this Michael Longley poem, with its rapturous image - "And the girls singing on the upper deck / Whose hair took the light like a downpour" – which I used to remember as having been by MacNeice. This poem gives a less explicit take on travel than those we've seen thus far; the speaker's own subjectivity takes a back seat to displaying the majesty of the scenery. Implicit in the beauty - here so dependent on transient effects of light and season - is the sense of insufficiency or loss; inevitably, the poem is of leaving, itself recording "the point of no return" for imaginative return, this scrupulously crafted memory a small flame to warm in the "Wintertime past cure" of our chronic human travels. We all live the lives of sailors, and to behold transient beauty, while transient ourselves, is to be "sick at heart."

(More about Michael Longley, including audio:

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