Tuesday, July 24, 2012

the hidden source is the watchful heart

Everything Is Going to Be All Right

How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.

I first came across this poem in David Whyte's book, Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity.  (Long overdue on reading will be looking him up at the library).  

Really?  I asked after reading the poem. As simple as that?  Does he really believe it?  As Whyte says, "Good poets don't normally go in for any form of fluffy positive thinking, so that last line is incredibly intriguing - especially from an Irish poet who comes from a tradition where everything has emphatically not been all right."  

As poets, we can't arrive at that sort of final line, unless we've earned it, says Whyte.  Mahon's watchful heart, his poem flow, allows him to use the word 'riot' to refer to sunlight.  

Others have remarked on the degree to which Mahon is being ironic in the poem - "there will be dying, / but there is no need to go into that." And of course there is a need, but it's also true that the sun rises in spite of everything.  "Everything."  For me he gets at how, yes, everything is going to be all right, but at the same time, everything is bloody well not all right.  That beauty exists right alongside riots, and death.  The repetition of 'there will be dying' is brilliantly effective.  So soothing, poetic, rhythmic.  We've become so used to the dying, that in the first reading we buy right into the next line - 'no need to go into that.'   

It's completely possible to read this poem straight up.  And I think that's part of its brilliance.  How should I NOT be glad to contemplate whatever beauty the world offers?  And yes, we ought to, we ought to be glad.  But there are, in fact, many reasons why our contemplation could and will be interrupted.  Are all the far cities beautiful and bright?  

But we come to the end of the poem, and for a minute, anyway, every thing is all right, because, well, the poem is so damned good.  

Which is my quick on-the-fly reading of this, to me, seemingly simple, but gorgeously complicated poem.  

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