Friday poem: an underwater country
by Sean O’Brien
Its poplars and willows and sludge. Its gnat-clouds.
Smell of cooling animal at dusk. Grey-greenness.
Soup-suspension. Its having been
Here all along. It is nowhere, serves nothing, lives
On your behalf when you are absent.
Now they want to drain it. Now anticipate
The day when you will have to set this place
Apart, with sticks and stones.
Not for the mere the glum fate of
A run-of-the-mill Sussex valley.
Nor any great claims. No leverage sought
Beneath the aesthetics of crims from the deadlands
Whose task is to make good a landscape,
To drain it and extract the name
It never had. It’s just
That you have to save something –
A fence-post, the shape of a firebreast
Nailed high on a wall by your ignorant gaze:
They will add up to love in a hand of decades.
Grounds for affray, are they not? So too the mere.
– Life is a word you can sometimes remember
And might never use, but that’s
Nobody's business. Cracked heads and burnt hands,
On behalf of the mere. Soup by the brazier.
Standing pool, body of water, formerly
Arm of the sea, now chiefly poet. and dial.,
Anonymous, here with us now
In the order of things – this is what
You will find you have chosen,
If choice is the word, to defend.
‘The Mere’ is published in Sean O’Brien’s The Drowned Book. In her introduction to the Picador Classic edition of the collection, Helen Dunmore writes:
“the spirit of The Drowned Book is profoundly Shakespearean. The poems take us to an underwater country, fitfully illuminated, mysterious, oozing out its secrets, with its own river roads and ‘infernal gloom’.”
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