The Kettle Is Singing

David Whyte

It’s practically my subject, my theme: solitude and community; the weirdness and terrors of solitude: the stifling and consolations of community. Also, the consolations of solitude.

Derek Mahon

Everything Is Waiting For You

by David Whyte

After Derek Mahon

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the
conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.


There has always been a link between diplomacy and poetry.   The exultation of a greater community, done beautifully, artistically crosses the boundaries of understanding, the essence of effective politicians and poets.  The list of poet diplomats goes back to Chaucer, Thomas Wyatt and extends to Gabriela Mistral, Saint-John Perse, Pablo Neruda, Czeslaw Milosz, Saint-John Perse and Octavio Paz.  That no contemporary poets are on my list is more a function of my ignorance of modern conflicts and writers, as I am sure there are a host of poets waging diplomacy around the world, at least I hope there are.  War, love and poetry are constants of the human condition.  It’s a bit of rock, paper, scissors, how they are connected, cause and effect, effect and cause, I’ll let you decide which conquers which, but it the art of poetry and art of diplomacy share the same language.

Derek Mahon was born 2 years after W. B. Yeats death.  Mahon left Belfast and studied and worked in England, France, the United States and Canada throughout his life, only returning to Ireland late in life.  These two poems are bookends of the poetic mindset of the quote above.   War has a way of reminding us of the wish to become a hermit at the same time we humbly appreciate the blessing that can be community. 


Spring in Belfast

By Derek Mahon (1941 – 2020)
 
Walking among my own this windy morning
In a tide of sunlight between shower and shower,
I resume my old conspiracy with the wet
Stone and the unwieldy images of the squinting heart.
Once more, as before, I remember not to forget.
 
There is a perverse pride in being on the side
Of the fallen angels and refusing to get up.
We could all be saved by keeping an eye on the hill
At the top of every street, for there it is,
Eternally, if irrelevantly, visible —
 
But yield instead to the humorous formulae,
The spurious mystery in the knowing nod;
Or we keep sullen silence in light and shade,
Rehearsing our astute salvations under
The cold gaze of a sanctimonious God.
 
One part of my mind must learn to know its place.
The things that happen in the kitchen houses
And echoing back streets of this desperate city
Should engage more than my casual interest,
Exact more interest than my casual pity.

Let Thy Loveliness Fade As It Will

Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms

by Thomas Moore (1478 – 1535)

Believe me, if all those endearing young charms,
Which I gaze on so fondly to-day,
Were to change by to-morrow, and fleet in my arms,
Live fairy-gifts fading away,
Thou wouldst still be adored, as this moment thou art,
Let thy loveliness fade as it will,
And around the dear ruin each wish of my heart
Would entwine itself verdantly still.

It is not while beauty and youth are thine own,
And thy cheeks unprofaned by a tear,
That the fervor and faith of a soul may be known,
To which time will but make thee more dear!
No, the heart that has truly loved never forgets,
But as truly loves on to the close,
As the sunflower turns on her god when he sets
The same look which she turned when he rose!

Thomas Moore and his wife were preceded in death by all five of their children.  His poetry and faith were tested to his core and imbue his poetry with that emotion.  While away in Bermuda attending to business for four years, his wife contracted small pox and though she survived, her face was disfigured.  When Moore returned his wife was reluctant to let him see her, concerned how he would react to her appearance and wanting him to remember her as she was before.  Moore sat down and penned the poem above to let her know that his love for her was unchanged. 

This is a poem that has been set to music for so long it is hard to separate  one from the other, the tune from the verse.  To all lovers, young and old alike, may your love last through the vagaries of life and may you see the beauty in each other, now and forever.   


Love Thee?

by Thomas Moore

Love thee?–so well, so tenderly
Thou’rt loved, adored by me,
Fame, fortune, wealth, and liberty,
Were worthless without thee.
Tho’ brimmed with blessings, pure and rare,
Life’s cup before me lay,
Unless thy love were mingled there,
I’d spurn the draft away.
Love thee?–so well, so tenderly,
Thou’rt loved, adored by me,
Fame, fortune, wealth, and liberty,
Are worthless without thee.

Without thy smile, the monarch’s lot
To me were dark and lone,
While, with it, even the humblest cot
Were brighter than his throne.
Those worlds for which the conqueror sighs
For me would have no charms;
My only world thy gentle eyes–
My throne thy circling arms!
Oh, yes, so well, so tenderly
Thou’rt loved, adored by me,
Whole realms of light and liberty
Were worthless without thee

Whatever We Are, Or Were

Paul Muldoon (1951 – )

Horse Latitudes (Excerpt)

by Paul Muldoon
 
Burma
 
Her grandfather’s job was to cut
the vocal cords of each pack mule
with a single, swift excision,
a helper standing by to wrench
the mule’s head fiercely to one side and drench
it with hooch he’d kept since Prohibition.
“Why,” Carlotta wondered, “that fearsome tool?
Was it for fear the mules might bray
and give their position away?”
At which I see him thumb the shade
as if he were once more testing a blade
and hear the two-fold snapping shut
of his four-fold, brass-edged carpenter’s rule:
“And give away their position.”
 


Holy Thursday

by Paul Muldoon (1951 – )

They’re kindly here, to let us linger so late,
Long after the shutters are up.
A waiter glides from the kitchen with a plate
Of stew, or some thick soup,

And settles himself at the next table but one.
We know, you and I, that it’s over,
That something or other has come between
Us, whatever we are, or were.

The waiter swabs his plate with bread
And drains what’s left of his wine,
Then rearranges, one by one,
The knife, the fork, the spoon, the napkin,
The table itself, the chair he’s simply borrowed,
And smiles, and bows to his own absence.

We Were All Unconcerned

Thomas Kinsella (b. 1928 –

Free Fall

by Thomas Kinsella

I was falling helpless in a shower of waste,
reaching my arms out toward the others
falling in disorder everywhere around me.

At the last instant,
approaching the surface,
the fall slowed suddenly,

and we were all
unconcerned,
regarding one another in approval.


The Force of Eloquence

by Thomas Kinsella

The brink of living is inhabited.

Unbrooding as an ox, he thrusts a bald
Muscular head out smiling.  Though his tongue
Chains are fastened, radii of gold.
Gently hauled by these, his swayed captives
Yield their wrists in  lithe angles of peace
– A charmed plight, halted in faint relief
Against a line of hills full of quaint promise.

A token of bronze, long out currency, 
Vivifies an impossible worn world,
Of speech constricted into other terms:
An equilibrium of gift and threat
Moulded in external breathless appearance.

Enter, and inhale the living bronze.