Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The Snow Party

That marvellous Derek Mahon poem about the place and distance and responsibility of art that ends with the snow as...

Eastward, beyond Irago,
It is faling
Like leaves on the cold sea.

Elsewhere they are burning
Witches and heretics
In the boiling squares,

Thousands have died since dawn
In the service
Of barbarous kings;

But there is silence
In the houses of Nagoya
And the hills of Ise.

And the bodies remaining in the boiling squares of Tripoli with its barbarous king, and the boiling or simmering squares of the Middle East and North Africa, with or without barbarous kings, and the burnings beyond, and the fallen buildings and the dead in Christchurch, New Zealand, and, as ever, those damned barbarous kings.

Last night I was writing about thinking form and forms of thinking, tonight I am introducing seven poets from Carrie Etter's Infinite Difference: Other Poetries by UK Women Poets, and tomorrow I am getting on a train to talk poetic form at Falmer... and that is a kind of silence in the houses of Nagoya and the hills of Ise, where Basho is listening to the tinkling of china at the snow party, where everyone crowds to the window to watch the falling snow.

Not forgetting the boiling squares and the burnings, nor to forget the barbarous kings. Which Basho doesn't - and nor does Mahon because, see, there they are in the poem, boiling away on the other side of silence, yet included in it.

1 comment:

Mark Granier said...

Gorgeous, and one that that I've often quoted (it's been in my head for I don't know how long, perhaps since I first bought the book in the early 1970s). I remember a reading I attended where Mahon told us that, after the poem had been published, a Japanese acquaintance explained to him that a 'snow party' was traditionally held outside, in the snow, a kind of snow picnic. This didn't move him to alter the poem, and of course he was right; the worldlet he created is as perfect as it can be; it lives in the mind.