A new poem from Margaret Atwood inspired by Yeats

The new issue of Poetry Ireland Review asks writers and artists to respond to WB Yeats. Here is Margaret Atwood's contribution

On Saturday Night, Beautiful Lofty Things at the National Concert Hall will celebrate the life and work of WB Yeats, by asking some of Ireland’s best known artists and performers to respond to the poet’s work.

Among those taking part are John Banville, Sebastian Barry, Tara Bergin, Eavan Boland, Aoife Duffin, Lisa Dwan, John Montague and Marty Rea. Music will be provided by vocalists Iarla Ó Lionáird and Michelle O'Rourke, fiddler Martin Hayes, and pianist Michael McHale. Composer/pianist Bill Whelan, harper Cormac De Barra and singer Flo McSweeney will also perform a selection of Whelan's songs. Tickets are €25 and €35.

Poetry Ireland is also publishing a special Yeats 2015 anniversary edition of Poetry Ireland Review, edited by Vona Groarke, that features new poems from Irish and international poets such as Margaret Atwood, Sharon Olds, Philip Schultz, Sinéad Morrissey and Harry Clifton. It will be available on the night, and also  from poetryireland.ie. Ticket bundles, including a copy of the review and a ticket for the concert are €36 and €41.

Today, tomorrow and on Friday, The Irish Times will publish one poem from the collection. Margaret Atwood’s contribution kicks us off below, with further poems to come from Harry Clifton and Rita Ann Higgins.


Because We Love Bare Hills and Stunted Trees

By Margaret Atwood

Because we love bare hills and stunted trees

we head north when we can,

past taiga, tundra, rocky shoreline, ice.

Where does it come from, this sparse taste

of ours? How long

did we roam this hardscape, learning by heart

all that we used to know:

turn skin fur side in,

partner with wolves, eat fat, hate waste,

carve spirit, respect the snow,

build and guard flame?

Everything once had a soul,

even this clam, this pebble.

Each had a secret name.

Everything listened.

Everything was real,

but didn’t always love you.

You needed to take care.

We long to go back there,

or so we like to feel

when it’s not too cold.

We long to pay that much attention.

But we’ve lost the knack;

also there’s other music.

All we hear in the wind’s plainsong

is the wind.