Four Poems by Derek Mahon
Derek Mahon belongs to the same generation of Northern Ireland poets as Seamus Heaney. But, whereas many of Heaney's poems are rooted firmly in the rural landscape of Ulster where he grew up, Mahon's poems reflect his childhood spent in Belfast. His familiar places were the streets of the city, the Harland and Wolff shipyard where his g-andfather and father worked, and the flax-spinning factory where his mother worked. Later on, Mahon would come to study at Trinity College Dublin and from there he spread his wings to travel and work in many different places, from France, Canada and America, to London and Kinsale in Co. Cork. , •"DAY TRIP TO DONEGAL"
Tie shift, in both meaning and feeling, that :sxes place between the first and final lines of ~ s poem makes it memorable. The title :=e~s ordinary: Day Trip to Donegal suggests :- :~ :od days out at the seaside or even a school trip with classmates and teachers. ~--~ opening stanza is conversational in tone. I :-- ,al at his seaside destination, the poet s n familiar surroundings. There were to be seen" and "as ever" the hills "a deeper green/Than anywhere in the : : - seems at this point that we are r: - r :: share a pleasant day at the seaside in Donegal with the poet. However, just as we . - rev. ~"~ comfortable with this expectation, -:::••• appears. We are disturbed by the 2. Deration in the final line and the image : ^reduces: "...the grave/Grey of the sea Me grwnmer in that enclave." - - : — : _s -"rial line of the opening stanza , a similar scenario in stanza two. The
poet watches the fishing-boats arriving back at the pier with their catch. This familiar scene is often described in attractive terms by songwriters and painters. But here Mahon startles us in the second line by describing the catch as "A writhing glimmer offish". The word "writhing" is very vivid. The fish are seen as suffering and this notion becomes more intense in the concluding lines of the stanza where he sees them "flopping about the deck/In attitudes of agony and heartbreak". A story is told about Mahon as an only child who spent a lot of time alone. His imagination had free rein and in the bicycle shed in the garden at home the Mahons also kept coal. Apparently the boy Derek Mahon suffered guilt when he went to the shed to get his bicycle. He felt pity for the coal which was, to him, imprisoned in that dark, cold, shed. His compassion was evident even then; he felt sorry for the coal! In Day Trip to Donegal we see that the poet's day is changed by the sight of the caught fish. He feels compassion for them in their dying moments. In stanza three the return journey to Belfast is described. This poem is poised between two worlds — the seaside one in rural Donegal and the urban one in Belfast. Have you noticed how Mahon chooses to describe his arrival back in Belfast? "We changed down into suburbs/Sunk in a sleep no gale-force wind disturbs." There is a suggestion here of a "tamer" world than the wild gale-beaten one of Donegal. The phrase "changed down" refers to the gear-change of the car, but it also shows how the poet is struck by the difference between the rural and the urban worlds he has experienced on that particular day. The sleeping suburbs seem slow and quiet after the drama of the Donegal landscape.
Exam & Career Guide
Stanza four picks up again on the disturbing imagery of stanza two. There is an intense feeling of terror here as the poet recalls his dream after his day out at the seaside. In his nightmare, the sea is seen as a powerful force of destruction. We can be chilled by his description of the sea performing its "immeasurable erosions" — "Spilling into the skull." The combination of words here is powerful: "immeasurable erosions" and the alliteration of "spilling" and "skull". The choice of the word "erosion" is worth noting here. It suggests...
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