Severed Head Floating Downriver Poem by Alice Oswald

Severed Head Floating Downriver

It is said that after losing his wife, Orpheus was torn to
pieces by Maenads, who threw his head into the River
Hebron. The head went on singing and forgetting,
filling up with water and floating way.

Eurydice already forgetting who she is
with her shoes missing
and the grass coming up through her feet

searching the earth
for the bracelet of tiny weave on her charcoal wrist

the name of a fly or flower already forgetting who they are
they grow they grow
till their bodies break their necks

down there in the stone world
where the grey spirits of stones he around uncertain of their limits
matter is eating my mind I am in a river

I in my fox-cap
floating between the speechless reeds
I always wake like this being watched

already forgetting who I am
the water wears my mask I call I call
lying under its lashes like a glance

if only a child on a bridge would hoik me out

there comes a tremor and there comes a pause

down there in the underworld
where the tired stones have fallen
and the sand in a trance lifts a little
it is always midnight in those pools

iron insects engraved in sleep

I always wake like this being watched

I always speak to myself
no more myself but a colander
draining the sound from this never-to-be mentioned wound

can you hear it
you with your long shadows and your short shadows

can you hear the severed head of Orpheus

no I feel nothing from the neck down

already forgetting who I am
the crime goes on without volition singing in its bone
not I not I
the water drinks my mind

as if in a black suit
as if bent to my books
only my face exists sliding over a waterfall

and there where the ferns hang over the dark
and the midges move between mirrors
some woman has left her shoes
two crumpled mouths
which my voice searches in and out

my voice being water
which holds me together and also carries me away
until the facts forget themselves gradually like a contrail

and all this week
a lime-green hght troubles the riverbed
as if the mud was haunted by the wood

this is how the wind works hard at thinking
this is what speaks when no one speaks

Mike Rogers 11 February 2020

Two disturbing typos suggest this poem was snatched by optical character recognition which is stupider than the stupidest mediaeval scribe: stones LIE around; green LIGHT. I actually care about the words I read. [The formatting would seem to be important, if you read Poetry Foundation's version - but that still has the same typos...]

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