The Road to the Northern Light
It weeps tar from tender parts like frogskin. Thin, mobile
muscles squirm under your soles as it bears you across the
Hill Dyke on a current of cool air, the bed of an invisible
river. It has heath and tormentil, not dandelion but catsear.
It has a creep over a precipice; it has sorrel, parched and tiny.
It carries you above the white and lilac sea; it switchbacks,
and turn you before the sun like a sacrifice.
Each flower is a little night
pretending to draw near
But where its scent rises
I cannot hope to enter
which is why it bothers me
so much and why I sit so long
before this closed door
Each colour, each incarnation
begins where the eyes stop
This world is merely the tip
of an unseen conflagration
Trans. Derek Mahon
I had no idea that the gate I would step through
to finally enter this world
would be the space my brother’s body made. He was
a little taller than me: a young man
but grown, himself by then,
done at twenty-eight, having folded every sheet,
rinsed every glass he would ever rinse under the cold
and running water.
This is what you have been waiting for, he used to say to me.
And I’d say, What?
And he’d say, This—holding up my cheese and mustard sandwich.
And I’d say, What?
And he’d say, This, sort of looking around.
They were burning dead leaves. Must oozed with scent,
tar bubbled and blew.
The moonlight glow behind the thistle bent
like a torn rainbow.
The street was a forest, night slid into the heart
of deepest autumn.
A guilty music blew the house aprt
with its fife and drum.
To have this again, just this, just the once more:
I would sink below
autumnal earth and place my right hand in your
hand like a shadow.
The high hills have a bitterness
Now they are not known
and memory is poor enough consolation
For the soul hopeless gone.
Up in the air there beech tangles wildly into the wind –
That I can imagine
But the speed, the swiftness, walking into clarity,
Like last year’s bryony are gone.
Ivor Gurney (1954)
Sand has the ants, clay ferny weeds for play
But what shall please the wind now the trees are away
War took on Witcombe steep?
It breathes there, and wonders at old night roarings;
October time at all lights, and the new clearings
For memory are like to weep.
It was right for the beeches to stand over Witcombe reaches,
Until the wind roared and softened and died to sleep.
Ivor Gurney (1934)
He’s gone, and all our plans
are useless indeed.
We’ll no more walk on Cotswold
Where the sheep feed
Quietly and take no heed.
His body that was so quick
Is not as you
Knew it, on Severn river
Under the blue
Driving our small boat through.
You would not know him now…
But still he died
Nobly, so cover him over
with violets of pride
Purple from Severn side.
Cover, cover him soon!
And with thick-set
Masses of memoried flowers –
Hide that red wet
Thing I must somehow forget.
You have betrayed me, Eros.
You have sent me
my true love.
On a high hill you made
his clear gaze;
my heart was not
so hard as your arrow.
What is a poet
I lie awake; I feel
actual flesh upon me
meaning to silence me –
Outside, in the blackness
over the olive trees,
a few stars.
I think this is a bitter insult:
that I prefer to walk
the coiled paths of the garden
to walk beside the river
glittering with drops
of mercury. I like to lie
in the wet grass beside the river,
running away, Eros,
not openly, with other men,
but discreetly, coldly –
All my life
I have worshiped the wrong gods.
When I watch the trees
on the other side,
the arrow in my heart
is like one of them,
swaying and quivering.
I stand in the advancing light,
my hands hungry, the world beautiful.
My eyes can’t get enough of the trees –
they’re so hopeful, so green.
A sunny road runs through the mulberries,
I’m at the window of the prison infirmary.
I can’t smell the medicines –
carnations must be blooming nearby.
It’s this way:
being captured is beside the point,
the point is not to surrender.
translated from the Turkish by Randy Blasing & Mutlu Konuk