A hushed and controlled beauty
Just as Secular Eden charted Clifton’s life and the life of his mind in Paris, this new book takes place, for the most part, in Ireland. The book is divided into three parts: Twenty-Six Counties; Six Counties; and Elsewhere. Clifton treats Ireland with the same meticulous and wondrous care as he did Africa or Asia or Italy or France. Because he is prepared now to allow more feeling in the poems than before, to use his natural talent less gingerly, to spread his middle age more plentifully across the page, so to speak, there are a number of poems in this book that will be read as long as any poems are read anywhere.
The Double Chairs, Mount Melleray, for example, is a great love poem; October is a wonderful sonnet about a Dublin autumn; Misprison and The Rebel Titans are beautifully mysterious and exotic poems set in the area around Nenagh, Co Tipperary; Toome is a poem, full of longing and odd wisdom, about love and landscape and history. The last poem, Oweniny, Upper Reaches, filled with soft, haunting cadences and strange, ambiguous musings on solitude, memory and the meaning of things, is a masterpiece. It displays Clifton’s reticence and technical skill against the need to let the poem soar into a truth that emerges from the gap between the words, and then it allows the words themselves to glide up and out in all their hushed and controlled beauty.
Colm Tóibín’s novel The Testament of Mary will be published in October
by Harry Clifton
The big news around here is the fall of leaves
In Harrington Street and Synge Street,
Lying about in pockets, adrift at your feet
As you kick them away. The other news is
the trees –
Their yellow, as I speak, is unbelievable,
Not that you need me to tell you. Everywhere
The house is falling down around our ears And it’s wonderful, in the dry, spicy air,
How quietly it happens. Close your eyes,
Don’t think, just listen. Hear them fall,
We came towards each other, out of a sun Already westering. Look at us, even yet, Exchanging tree-lore, twenty years on
In a leafless cathedral – bride and groom, well-met.