All Things Flow to the Sea

Achill Island, County Mayo, Ireland — 2019

“Achill” by Derek Mahon

im chaonaí uaigneach nach mór go bhfeicim an lá

I lie and imagine a first light gleam in the bay
After one more night of erosion and nearer the grave,
Then stand and gaze from the window at break of day
As a shearwater skims the ridge of an incoming wave;
And I think of my son a dolphin in the Aegean,
A sprite among sails knife-bright in a seasonal wind,
And wish he were here where currachs walk on the ocean
To ease with his talk the solitude locked in my mind.

I sit on a stone after lunch and consider the glow
Of the sun through mist, a pearl bulb containèdly fierce;
A rain-shower darkens the schist for a minute or so
Then it drifts away and the sloe-black patches disperse.
Croagh Patrick towers like Naxos over the water
And I think of my daughter at work on her difficult art
And wish she were with me now between thrush and plover,
Wild thyme and sea-thrift, to lift the weight from my heart.

The young sit smoking and laughing on the bridge at evening
Like birds on a telephone pole or notes on a score.
A tin whistle squeals in the parlour, once more it is raining,
Turf-smoke inclines and a wind whines under the door;
And I lie and imagine the lights going on in the harbor
Of white-housed Náousa, your clear definition at night,
And wish you were here to upstage my disconsolate labour
As I glance through a few thin pages and switch off the light.”

from Derek Mahon, Selected Poems, published by Viking Adult, 1991


Born in Belfast in 1941, Derek Mahon was one of the most highly respected poets of his generation. His 2008 book Life on Earth was awarded the “Poetry Now Award” by the Irish Times. Mahon was a master of capturing the Irish landscape and the gift of the moment. He died in 2020.

im chaonaí uaigneach nach mór go bhfeicim an lá translates from the Gaelic to English, “I am a lonely cry that must see the day.”

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