Poem of the week: Link-Boy

A new poem by Sean O’Brien


I have spent my life here, sir
In the long nineteenth century,
Making my way as I must.

Tall as masts, the curlicued railings
Surround the great tomb, the night-magnet
For thin-shanked grave-robbers.

Rain gives consumption and syphilis
Back to the soil, where the saddle-nosed
Gravediggers bend to their labour

Then climb into the flooded pits
To re-inter themselves alive.
Here even the toadstools that burst

Like buboes from the earth are ironclad.
Defended with gallows and gunpowder
England’s necropolis conquers the ocean

And drains it: the world is this island
Concealed in the fog of a triumph.
All bow at the name of Great Death.

At noon, sir, in this pitch-black street
I am your faithful link-boy
With my dark flame raised before me

A farthing, sir, yes, to extinguish.

  • Sean O’Brien has published several collections, including The Beautiful Librarians. Today’s poem is from his new collection Europa (Picador)