Who tells on you, when you play alone?

Under the silvered clouds that night,
The willow swept its memory
In trails across the devilled water.

The outgrown-dead of tangled thorns
Grew closer to its solitude,
Crept closer to the devilled water;

Shadows sifted through the mists
Like drifted menaces in white,
Drifting over devilled water,

And yet that lonely lake, so still
It kept its sleepless slumbers: how
It dreamt of much, the devilled water.

A girl once lost her footing near
That shameful willow: and she kissed
The surface of the devilled water.

You would not think, to see its utter
Stillness. It would not whisper to her
Mother: She played alone, by devilled water.

The coldest lips to touch are those
That keep their secrets closely, sleeping
Silent as the devilled water.

This isn’t inspired by any particular gothic poetry. Strangely, it is fundamentally based on a bloody terrifying public safety advert from the 70’s, courtesy of the (correspondingly scarily-named) Central Office of Information. This has regularly been cited in various polls as one of the most haunting adverts ever to have been brought to the public conscience: and you can see why. 


Blackberry Picking by Seamus Heaney

I have just come back from an adventure. Blackberry picking is a sweet and aching delight, a real labour of love. Battling thorns and nettles, reaching through bramble and briar, plucking the sweet pockets of blood-black berries and plonking them into your pot. It is a tactile pleasure, as delicious to the touch as to the taste: the feel of the soft pouches of juicy fruits, the tingling, ticklish pricking from the thorns. And this evening, the sun was low and lazy, casting long, dreamy shadows over the long grass and the dusky trees of a late September. Then, walking back with my exhausted friends through the almost-tracks in the overgrown grass, laden with blackberries and heavy with the satisfaction of it all. I am effusing a great deal, I know. Sorry.

Naturally this poem is the cause and result of all my delight in this pursuit. All credit goes to Seamus: the rhythm, the imagery, the phonetic playfulness of this is an exquisite joy.

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.

Please, Look Not Into His Dark Eyes


Please, look not into his dark eyes.

Dark-bright, to draw you as the tide;

Moonlight on dark water, wide

As ancient oceans, soft as sighs;


I too was drawn, and in the rise

Of waters faltered in its flow;

He’ll drink your last breath’s drop, also:

Please, look not into his dark eyes.


My Own Rituals

But I have my own rituals.
I combine these doctrines like a philosopher
In syllogism,
Papers spread over the surfaces
Strange symbols, obscure diagrams
Scattered over the mind’s surfaces.
So I count my rosaries, whisper
To the Mother and in the same breath
Dream of futility
And the vast expanse of the insignificant
As its own prayer.
I consider the beauty of the sacrifice
As a flower in bloom,
Petals red, softest; the sorest, and most tender
Kisses at the feet of an icon.
Yet I arise form the stone floor, knees raw
From its cold, stand alone
And peacefully retreat from epiphany.
I make spells with words, like every man,
And when nobody is looking
I cast them.
In truth I have these various rituals,
The curious books crept open about the place
And the papers scattered all around me.
And beauty might be the root of it;
But I never did decide the sacred truth,
And I relish all the more the secret question.

Photograph of a Lady, 1924

In a previous empire, those satins
Trailed like clouds along with the every step
Of quiet women.

The slightest movement was placed
Like one’s cup perfectly on its saucer
Almost without incident,

And the sound of it was porcelain,
So that one fine note in the act
Kept its safe secret.

Legs folded over when taking one’s seat
Like an aphorism, so that what was left
Unsaid remained entirely unsaid.

The intent without action finely dovetailed
With one pose, so that turning to the artist,
A face was enigma;

So that now, observing the retrospect
One cannot but consider the left-unconsidered
In chiaroscuro.

Portrait of a Young Man


I’ve seen it – I shamefully catch glimpses

Before you turn. The head, hung; and the fringe

Concealing lost eyes. Oh, that I have seen it.


You haunt the room like a portrait. The colours

In unsteady strokes, give the candle to your face

An uncanny effect. At times I fear to broach it,


That matter of the mind. It is the brooding

Unpainted black of the unobserved background,

While you pose unwilling in the midst of it.


It makes a still life of you – of us all.

Even the flowers in their vase hold still.

Even your hand, and your graceful demeanour


And the perfection of everything: these are lines

Painted in. The face does not change for me.

See how a gilt frame is a remarkable cage.


How to draw life, then – how instead, to trace

Your true vertices; bring tones to that lost face,

Or through soft strokes, that palour to assuage;


And if for a second, I can draw a smile

Onto your picture, however strange or slight,

For me that is the finest work of art.


Softer Wonders, Still

When first I tried, I could not abide

Subtle miracles.

I craved all spectacles of light, and fire, and will:

Without lightning, cursing overheard, or

The rage of oceans; without my crying

Defiance of the earthly might

And grimly wakened graves,

There could be no magic.

Every light must tend to shape its prism,

I felt: every action to acuteness, every

Effort to a dread asceticism.

My books, and my books, and my books

Did teach me such a false philosophy.

I know not when: but gently did a mist

Descend upon the ocean, whiten it

To a rich obscurity

Until no more was there a sought horizon;

And the mountains where once I had held

Fierce battles against the sky,

All rage and fire, once;

They too fell, those heightened heartaches fell

To the touch of mere atmosphere,

The kiss of clouds,

Clinging to the cool of that soft mist.

I raised my hood, gazed further to it,

And seeing what I did,

I lowered my hand.

Sometimes the dusk of the world

Is everything, and nothing.

And here, I become everyone and no-one.

And from all this I did unlearn

To rage. I learnt to see

The patterns of the cloud, the motionless roll

Of the mildest mist;

My practice and my craft have taught me well.

I abide and dwell in softer wonders, still.