Time period: 1966-1972

Poet: Michael Longley

Permanent URL: http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/17m8g


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The dying fall, the death spasm,

Last words and catechism -

These are the ways we spend our breath,

The epitaphs we lie beneath -

Silent departures going with

The nose flute and the penis sheath.

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Hill top and valley floor we sway between,

Our bodies sustained as by a hammock,

Our nakedness water stretched on a stone,

One with the shepherd's distant whistle,

The hawk lifted on its thremal, the hare

Asleep in its excrement like a child.

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He will be welcome to

His place in the manger -

Anaesthetist and surgeon

Muffling the child's cries

And biting through the cord

That joins God to Mary.


A protective midwife -

She roots out with her horns

A sour cake from the straw

And, jaws grinding sideways,

Devours the afterbirth

Of the child of heaven


They will make a present

Of their empty purses -

Their perfected music

An interval between

The man with the scissors

And the man with the knife.

Bul Chaffinch

Slipped in by an old master

At the edge of the picture -

An idea in Mary's head,

A splash of colour -

Thistle-tweaker, theologian,


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A stunned cabin boy

Steering your ship to the bottom,

A flayed finger

Attached almost to the palm of her hand,

A tea leaf

Washed form the rim of her cup,

Unembraceable, indisposable,

My son or my daughter.

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There are no landmarks round here,

Only immeasurable shifts

Of the snow, frozen eddies

To guide us home. Snow and ice

Turn us into Eskimos.

(Spoors vanishing between wing

Tips symmetrically printed)

We die walking in circles.

Art is in miniature,

Carved on what can't be eaten.

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Cut with a cross, they are propped

Before the fire. It will take

Mug after mug of stewed tea,

Inches of butter to ease

Christ's sojourn in a broken

Oatmeal farl down your throat.


Her rush cross over the door

Brings Bridget the cowherd home,

Milk to the dandelion,

Bread to the doorstep, the sun's

Reflection under her foot

Like a stone skimmed on water.


My arm supporting your spine

I lay you out beneath me

Until it is your knuckles,

The small bones of foot and hand

Strewing a field where the plough

Swerves and my horses stumble.


The livestock in the yard first,

Then cattle in the field

But especially the bees

Shall watch our eyelids lower,

Petal and sod folding back

To make our beds lazy-beds.


Your hand in mine as you sleep

Makes my hand a bad neighbour

Who is moving through stable

And byre, or beside the well

Stooping to skim from your milk

The cream, the dew from your fields.


As though it were Christ's ankle

He stoops to soothe in his hand

The stone's underside, whose spine's

That ridge of first potatoes,

Whose face the duckweed spreading

On a perfect reflection.

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A rickety chimney suggests

The diminutive stove,

Children perhaps, the pots

And pans adding up to love -

So much concentrated under

The low roof, the windows

Shuttered against snow and wind,

That you would be magnified

(If you were there) by the dark,

Wearing it like an apron

And revolving in your hands

As weather in a glass dome,

The blizzard, the day beyond

And - tiny, barely in focus -

Me disappearing out of view

On probably the only horse,

Cantering off to the right

To collect the week's groceries,

Or to be gone for good

Having drawn across my eyes

Like a curtain all that light

And the snow, my history

Stiffening with the tea towels

Hung outside the door to dry.

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