POEMS BY MICHAEL LONGLEY

Time period: 1966-1972

Poet: Michael Longley

Permanent URL: http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/17m0c

Sources: Michael Longley papers, 1960-2000 ; Frank Ormsby papers, circa 1967-2004 ; Ciaran Carson papers, circa 1970-2010


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ALTERA CITHERA

A change of tune, then,

On another zither,

A new aesthetic, or

The same old songs

That are out of key,

Unwashed by epic oceans

And dipped by love

In lyric waters only?

Given under our hand

(With a ballpoint pen)

After the Latin of Gaius

Sextus Propertius,

An old friend, the shadow

Of his former self

Who - and this I append

Without his permission -

Loaded the dice before

He put them in his sling

And aimed at history,

Bringing to the ground

Like lovers Caesar,

Soldiers, politicians

And all the dreary

Epics of the muscle-bound.


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THREE POSTHUMOUS PIECES

1

In lieu of my famous last words or

The doctor's hushed diagnosis

Lifting like a draught from the door

My oracular pages, this

Will have fluttered on to the floor -

The first of my posthumous pieces.

2

As a sort of accompaniment

Drafted in different-coloured inks

Through several notebooks, this is meant

To read like a riddle from the Sphinx

And not my will and testament -

No matter what anybody thinks.

3

Two minuses become a plus

When, at the very close of play

And with the minimum of fuss,

I shall permit myself to say:

This is my Opus Posthumous -

An inspiration in its way.


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THE ISLAND

The one saddle and bit on the island

We set aside for every second Sunday

When the priest rides slowly up from the pier.

Afterwards his boat creaks into the midst.

Or he arrives here nine times out of ten

With the doctor, They will soon be friends.

Visitors are few. A Belgian for instance

Who has told us all about the oven,

Linguists occasionally, and sociologists.

A lapsed Capuchin monk who came to stay

Was first and last to fish the lake for eels.

His carved crucifixes are still on sale.

One ship continues to rust on the rocks.

We stripped it completely of wash-hand basins,

Toilet fitments, its cargo of linoleum

And have set up house in our own fashion.

We can estimate time by the shadow

Of a doorpost inching across the floor.

In the thatch blackbirds rummaging for worms

And our dead submerged beneath the dunes.

We count ourselves historians of sorts

And chronicle all suck comings and goings.

We can walk in a day around the island.

We shall reach the horizon and diappear.


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CASUALTY

Its decline was gradual.

A sequence of explorations

By other animals, each

Looking for the easiest way in -

A surgical removal of the eyes,

A probing of the orifices,

Bitings down through the skin,

Through tracts where the grasses melt,

And the bad air released

In a ceremonious wounding

So slow that more and more

I wanted to get closer to it.

A candid grin, the bones

Accumulating to a diagram

Except for the polished horns,

The immaculate hooves.

And this no final reduction

For the ribs began to scatter,

The wool to move outward

As though hunger still worked there,

As though something that had followed

Fox and crow was desperate for

A last morsel and was

Other than the wind or rain.


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BADGER

1

Pushing the wedge of his body

Between cromlech and stone circle,

He excavates down mine shafts

And back into the depths of the hill.

His path straight and narrow

And not like the fox's zig-zags,

The arc of the hare who leaves

A silhouette on the sky line.

Night's silence around his shoulders,

His face lit by the moon, he

Manages the earth with his paws,

Returns underground to die.

2

An intestine taking in

Patches of dog's-mercury,

Brambles, the bluebell wood;

A heel revolving acorns;

A head with a price on it

Brushing cuckoo-spit, goose-grass;

A name that parishes borrow.

3

For the digger, the earth dog

It is a difficult delivery

Once the tongs take hold,

Vulnerable his pig's snout

That lifted cow pats for beetles,

Hedgehogs for the soft meat,

His limbs dragging after them

So many stones turned over,

The trees they tilted.


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HEDGEHOG

To begin with, the hedgehog does not

- Forgive me, John Clare -

Impale on his spines

Windfalls, rolling over

On to a bed of nails

To collect apples, soft pears

As in Pliny or

The medieval illuminations.

Pushed in his prickly cape

To the back of the mind,

He punctures with needles

Hunger and cold,

Mates with as little fuss

As he absorbs from wasp and hornet

Their poisons, the corrosives

Of the viper's mouth.

A hedgehog on the motorway

- Flattened to parchment -

Reminded me that it might be better

If these things were said.


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KINGFISHER

A knife-thrower

Hurling himself, a rainbow

Fractured against

The plate glass of winter:

His eye a water bead,

Lens and meniscus where

The dragonfly drowns,

The water boatman crawls.


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ROBIN

Its breast a warning,

A small fire

Lit beside the snow

That does not go out -

The robin shadows

The heavy-footed, the earth-

Breakers - bull's hoof

And pheasant's too -

Is an eye that would -

If we let it in - scan

The walls for cockroaches,

For bed-bugs the beds.


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THE ADULTERER

I have laid my adulteries

Beneath the floorboards, then resettled

The linoleum so that

The pattern aligns exactly,

Or, when I bundled into the cupboard

Their loose limbs, their heads,

I papered over the door

And cut a hole for the handle.

There they sleep with their names,

My other women, their underwear

Disarranged a little,

Their wounds closing slowly.

I have watched in the same cracked cup

Each separate face dissolve,

Their dispositions

Cluster like tea leaves,

Folding a silence about my hands

Which infects the mangle,

The hearth rug, the kitchen chair

I've been meaning to get mended.

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