Time period: 1963-1966

Poet: Michael Longley

Permanent URL: http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/17m7b


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For here we have no continuing city...
Saint Paul to the Hebrews

My hands here, gentle where her breasts begin

My picture in her eyes -

It is time for me to recognise

This new dimension, my last girl.

So, to set my house in order, I imagine

Photographs, advertisements - the old lies,

The lumber of my soul -

All that is due for spring cleaning,

Everything that soul-destroys.

Into the open I bring

Girls who linger still in photostat

(For whom I was so many different boys)

I explode their myths before it is too late,

Their promises I detonate. -

There is quite a lot that I can do ...

I leave them - are they six or seven, two or three? -

Locked in their small geographies.

The hillocks of their bodies' lovely shires

(Whose all weathers I have walked through)

Acre by acre recede entire

To summer country.

Holiday snaps, littered through my mind,

Expand to frantic close-ups

In this last alcove of my youth -

Since this is the last time they'll be screened

The zoom lens I remember with

Throws their legend

Out of focus. From collision to eclipse

Chapter and verse From collision to eclipse

Who took me by surprise

Like comets first - now, failing to ignite,

They constellate such uneventful skies,

Their stars arranged each night

In the old stories

Which I successfully have diagnosed.

Though they momentarily survive

In my delays,

They neither cancel nor improve

My continuing city with old ways,

Familiar avenues to love -

Down my one way streets (it is time to finish)

Their eager syllables diminish.

Though they call out from the suburbs

Of experience - they know how that disturbs! -

Or, already tending towards home,

Prepare to hitch-hike on the kerbs,

Their bags full of dear untruths,

I am their medium

And take the words out of their mouths.

From today new hoardings crowd my eyes,

Pasted over my ancient histories

Which (I must be cruel to be kind)

Only gale or cloudburst now discover,

Ripping the billboard of my mind -

Oh, there my lovers,

There my dead no longer advertise.

I transmit from the heart a closing broadcast

To my girl, my bride, my wife-to be -

I tell her she is welcome,

Advising her to make this last,

To be sure of finding room in me

(I embody bed and breakfast) -

To eat and drink me out of house and home.

[Encoder's note: On the poem worksheet, the phrase "From collision to eclipse" has been marked by parenthesis, and moved from the end of the fourth stanza to the beginning of the fifth stanza.]

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Because we sleep apart these nights

So little passion can transpire

That both of us from poor delight

And wasted candour would retire.

We love but only head to head

And most impatiently defer

The private kingdoms of our beds

And the imagined lovers there.

But if, my love, at evening we,

Reminded of our brief divorce,

Commit a slight adultery

In sleep, inquiring who was worse

We'll disappoint the prouder sin

With dreams it did not figure in.

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It is as though a journey were being made

By me at large to you so carefully

In my delays involved and holidayed

That I could offer as security

Your distances and you my lack of speed.

When all impediments are understood

And your permission's granted, I proceed,

Made passenger by you, my going good.

Then I leave behind no happy stations

And, no distracting regions hurtling through,

I travel to your body's unarranged

And infinite arrest - as though you,

Darling, were all my destinations

And were for ever meeting me off trains.

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Ah, the image or the image's performance -

The love poem or the love? Though your proximity

Makes the question possible, the dilemma sweet,

Though one room so involves the fact that I can see,

touch, taste and hear you, with the sequent fictions

That we have two environments in which to meet,

I remember we owned neither once, - the year when

My verses lost their rhythm, a room its tenant, -

And summon up to love myself as I was then:

Love-letter-writing and, in loving you, content

That within the calms of prose all words should fade

Soundlessly, selflessly, toward the point they made.

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Some things come too soon for words,

Fracture syntax, from all tenses overflow,

Prove semantically impossible: and so,

Taken by surprise, your body is the bird's.

You who would sing to perfect flight again

The gull, before one syllable takes breath

Convey as part and parcel of largest death

The cut let: and with your body you explain

Its difficult lopsided freight. And since

A bird that into famine soon must steer

Is tabernacled and abiding here,

Its broken journey gathered in your silence,

I accept your body's brief vocabulary:

The gull is lame, is all you almost say,

Your little breasts, your hands like birds at play,

Rightly the last resort of such agony.

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I shall have left these rocks within the week -


large awhile, I came on spec

And shiver on the quays,

Taking in how summer on the island

Is ill at ease.

The winds' enclosure, Atlantic's premises,

Last balconies

Above the waves, The Hebrides -

Too long did I postpone

Presbyterian granite and the lack of trees,

This orphaned stone,

Day in, day out colliding with the sea.

Weather forecast,

Compass nor ordinance survey

Arranges my welcome

For, on my own, I have lost my way at last,

So far from home.

In whom the city is continuing,

I stop to look,

To find my feet among the ling

And bracken - over me

The bright continuum of gulls, a rook



My eyes, slowly accepting panorama,

Try to include

In my original idea

The total effect

Of air and ocean - waterlogged all wood -

All harbours wrecked -

My dead-lights latched by whelk and barnacle

Till I abide

By the sea wall of the time I kill -

My each nostalgic scheme

Jettisoned, as crises are, the further side

Of sleep and dream.

Between wind and wave this holiday

The cormorant,

The oyster-catcher and osprey

Proceed and keep in line,

While I, hands in my pockets, hesitant,

Am in two minds.


Old neighbours, though shipwreck's my decision,

People my brain -

Like breakwaters against the sun,

Command in silhouette

My island circumstance - my cells retain,


Their crumpled deportment through bad weather,

And I feel them

Put on their raincoats for ever

And walk out in the sea.

I am, though each one waves a phantom limb,

The amputee,

For these are my sailors, these my drowned -

In their heart of hearts,

In their city, I ran aground.

Along my arteries

Sluice those homewaters petroleum hurts.

Dry dock, gantries,

Dykes of apparatus, educate my bones

To track the buoys

Up sea lanes love emblazons

To streets where shall conclude

My journey back from flux to poise, from poise

To attitude.

Here, at the edge of my experience,

Another tide

Along the broken shore extends

A lifetime's wrack and ruin -

No flotsam I may beachcomb now can hide

That water-line.


Beyond the lobster pots, where plankton spreads,

Porpoises turn.

Seals slip over the cockle beds.

Undertow dishevels

Seaweed in the shallows - and I discern

My sea levels.

To right and left of me there intervene

The tumbled burns -

And these, on turf and boulder weaned,

Confuse my calendar -

Their tilt is suicidal, their great return


No matter what repose holds shore and sky

In harmony,

From this place in the long run I,

Though here I might have been

Content with rivers where they meet the sea,

Remove upstream,

Where the salmon, risking fastest waters -

Waterfall and rock

And the effervescent otters -

On bridal pools insist

As with fin and generation they unlock

The mountain's fist.


Now, buttoned up, with water in my shoes,

Clouds around me,

I can, through mist that misconstrues,

Read like a palimpsest

My past - those landmarks and that scenery

I dare resist.

Into my mind's unsympathetic through

They fade away -

And, to alter my perspective,

I feel in the sharp cold

Of my vantage point too high above the bay,

The sea grow old.

Granting the trawlers far below their stance,

Their anchorage,

I fight all the way for balance -

In the mountain's shadow

Losing foothold, covet the privilege

Of vertigo.

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