Derek Mahon

Derek Mahon Poems

I lie and imagine a first light gleam in the bay
After one more night of erosion and nearer the grave,
Then stand and gaze from the window at break of day
As a shearwater skims the ridge of an incoming wave;

They said I got away in a boat
And humbled me at the inquiry. I tell you
I sank as far that night as any
Hero. As I sat shivering on the dark water

(for James Simmons)

I wake in a dark flat
To the soft roar of the world.

There is an old
statue in the courtyard
that weeps, like Niobe, its sorrow in stone.

What night-rule now about this haunted grove?
The spirits have dispersed, the woods
faded to grey from midnight blue

Surely you paused at this roadside oasis
In your nomadic youth, and saw the mound
Of never-used cement, the curious faces,


(for Seamus Heaney)
First time out
I was a torc of gold
And wept tears of the sun.

Nurses and nuns —
their sails whiter than those
of the yachts in the bay, they come and go

The bright drop quivering on a thorn
in the rich silence after rain,
lute music in the orchard aisles,

(after Saba)

Anyone watching you in the water would think: ‘A siren!'
Winner in the women's swimming event, you seem
strange on the screen of my inglorious life.

Walking among my own this windy morning
In a tide of sunlight between shower and shower,
I resume my old conspiracy with the wet

A heron-like species, rare visitors, most recent records
referring to winter months . . . very active at dusk.
—Guide to Irish Birds
A sobering thought, the idea of you stretched there,
bittern, under a dark sky, your exposed bones
yellow too in a ditch among cold stones,
ice glittering everywhere on bog and river,
the whole unfortunate country frozen over
and your voice stilled by enforced sobriety —
a thought more wrenching than the fall of Troy
because more intimate; for we'd hear your shout
of delight from a pale patch of watery sunlight
out on the mud there as you took your first
drink of the day and now, destroyed by thirst,
you lie in brambles while the rats rotate.
I'd've broken the ice for you, given an inkling;
now, had I known it, we might both be drinking
and singing too; for ours is the same story.
Others have perished — heron, blackbird, thrushes —
and lie shivering like you under whin-bushes;
but I mourn only the bittern, withdrawn and solitary,
who used to carouse alone among the rushes
and sleep rough in the star-glimmering bog-drain.
It used to be, with characters like us,
they'd let us wander the roads in wind and rain
or lock us up and throw away the key —
but now they have a cure for these psychoses
as indeed they do for most social diseases
and, rich at last, we can forget our pain.
She says I'm done for if I drink again;
so now, relieved of dangerous stimuli,
as peace with my plastic bottle of H2O
and the slack strings of insouciance, I sit
with bronze Kavanagh on his canal-bank seat
not in ‘the tremendous silence of mid-July'
but the fast bright zing of a winter afternoon
dizzy with head-set, flash-bulb and digifone,
to learn the tao he once claimed as his own
and share with him the moor-hen and the swan,
the thoughtless lyric of a cloud in the sky
and the play of light and shadow on the slow
commemorative waters; relax, go with the flow.

A roof over my head, protected from the rain,
I'm reading, pilgrim father, your letters to your son
and wondering if, unlike you, I should­ head for home.

No wise man ever wished to be younger.
— Swift

Down the long library each marble bust

(for Philip Haas)
The television set hung
in its wire-net cage,
protected from the flung

The only reality is the perpetual flow of vital energy.
Spindrift, crustacean patience
and a gust of ozone,

I dive and rise in an explosion of spindrift
and drift to a turtle-faced inflatable raft -
evening, Cyclades, one cloud in the azure,
a brain-scan light-show swarming on blue tiles,

If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Hail, floppy-slippered bear of St. Mark's Place!
I seem to glimpse your cheesy, limestone face

(for Harry Clifton)

A whole night-sky that serves as a paperweight,
this azure block blown in from the universe

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 flutte

Derek Mahon Biography

Derek Mahon (born 23 November 1941) is a Northern Irish poet. He was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Mahon was born the only child of Ulster Protestant working class parents. His father and grandfather worked at Harland and Wolff while his mother worked at a local flax mill. During his childhood, he claims he was something of a solitary dreamer, comfortable with his own company yet aware of the world around him. Interested in literature from an early age, he attended Skegoneill Primary school and then the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. At Inst he encountered fellow students who shared his interest in literature and poetry. The school produced a magazine to which Mahon produced some of his early poems. According to the critic Hugh Haughton his early poems were highly fluent and extraordinary for a person so young.)

The Best Poem Of Derek Mahon


I lie and imagine a first light gleam in the bay
After one more night of erosion and nearer the grave,
Then stand and gaze from the window at break of day
As a shearwater skims the ridge of an incoming wave;
And I think of my son a dolphin in the Aegean,
A sprite among sails knife-bright in a seasonal wind,
And wish he were here where currachs walk on the ocean
To ease with his talk the solitude locked in my mind.

I sit on a stone after lunch and consider the glow
Of the sun through mist, a pearl bulb containèdly fierce;
A rain-shower darkens the schist for a minute or so
Then it drifts away and the sloe-black patches disperse.
Croagh Patrick towers like Naxos over the water
And I think of my daughter at work on her difficult art
And wish she were with me now between thrush and plover,
Wild thyme and sea-thrift, to lift the weight from my heart.

The young sit smoking and laughing on the bridge at evening
Like birds on a telephone pole or notes on a score.
A tin whistle squeals in the parlour, once more it is raining,
Turf-smoke inclines and a wind whines under the door;
And I lie and imagine the lights going on in the harbor
Of white-housed Náousa, your clear definition at night,
And wish you were here to upstage my disconsolate labour
As I glance through a few thin pages and switch off the light.

Derek Mahon Comments

Robert James Edwards 03 October 2020

I didn't know who Derek was during his life, before his loss I find that very sad, because there's always rhyme inside my head that's never written, never read, or in the night, sometimes I might jot down some lines in subdued light then dawn will judge somnolent fudge not worthy of the poet's art, indeed fit only to be tinder at the fire's start

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Jamela king 02 October 2020

I know Kavanagh, Heaney, Yeats and now so happy to discover In 82nd year Derek Mahon. Refugees and exiles do delight in discovering Poets of their adopted lands!

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