Friday poem: Don Paterson on Michael Donaghy
This week's poem is 'The Present' by Michael Donaghy.
This sonnet makes a fine wedding poem, and I wish it were more widely employed. The two meanings of 'present' are beautifully conflated in the final couplet: the gift of the lover's hand is also a tense in which one can live. The first line is a great place to slip one past the reader, who generally isn't paying full attention yet. 'For the present there is just one moon' means, I suspect, 'there is one moon for the time being, in the lives that we currently enjoy on our monosatellite earth', with a hint of 'but who knows near what star we may be reborn?'
- Don Paterson
For the present there is just one moon,
though every level pond gives back another.
But the bright disc shining in the black lagoon,
perceived by astrophysicist and lover,
is milliseconds old. And even that light's
seven minutes older than its source.
And the stars we think we see on moonless nights
are long extinguished. And, of course,
this very moment, as you read this line,
is literally gone before you know it.
Forget the here-and-now. We have no time
but this device of wantonness and wit.
Make me this present then: your hand in mine,
and we'll live out our lives in it.
'The Present' appears in Michael Donaghy's Collected Poems.
The death of Michael Donaghy in 2004 at the age of fifty robbed poetry of one of its best-loved and most naturally gifted practitioners. A modern metaphysical, Donaghy wrote poetry of great wisdom, grace, charm, erudition and consummate technical accomplishment. This book gathers together all of Donaghy's mature poetry, and includes the full texts of his four published volumes, as well as a number of fine uncollected pieces. As the poet-critic Sean O'Brien has remarked, Donaghy will come to be seen as one of the representative poets of the age.
The commentary is taken from Don Paterson's book Smith: A Reader's Guide to the Poetry of Michael Donaghy (Picador, 2014).
In fifty short essays accompanying fifty of Donaghy's best poems, his friend and editor Don Paterson makes the argument for Donaghy to be recognised as one of the greatest poets of recent years, and author of some of the most powerful, complex, moving and memorable poems to have been written in our lifetime.
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