Derek Mahon

Topics: Poetry, Stanza, RMS Titanic Pages: 4 (1380 words) Published: April 9, 2013
Throughout my study of Mahon’s poetry, I was struck by how important explorations of people and places were to him. His poetic style can be considered quite detached as he rarely divulges personal details or experiences. Instead, his poetry focuses on detailed portraits of memorable characters and insightful analyses of a wide variety of landscapes. “After the Titanic” is another of Mahon’s poems that paints a portrait of an unexpected figure. Here, Mahon adopts the persona of Bruce Ismay, President of the White Star Line, who survived the Titanic tragedy which claimed so many lives. Ismay was vilified at a subsequent hearing into the disaster and isolated himself from society. Mahon achieves a remarkable feat in this poem. He gives an authentic voice to Ismay without allowing the poem to become an apology or justification for his behaviour. In his opening statement, Ismay claims, “I sank as far that night as any hero.” Mahon’s skilful manipulation of language means that this rings hollow. Ismay didn’t sink at all– this is the reason he has been shunned. Later in the poem, the sinking of the ship is memorably evoked through onomatopoeic and alliterative phrases: “a pandemonium of prams, pianos, sideboards, winches, boilers bursting and shredded ragtime.” The literal sinking of the boat is compared to Ismay’s personal sinking in the penultimate line, “My poor soul screams out in the starlight, hear breaks loose and rolls down like a stone.” Again, Mahon undermines Ismay’s version of events. Any man still employing a gardener, as we learn in the middle section of the poem, does not deserve to be considered in the same light as those who perished in an icy sea. His suggestion that he is suffering as much does not carry any weight. By the time I read Ismay’s final word, “Include me in your lamentations,” I had lost all sympathy for him and could see him only as a delusional, self-obsessed coward. Mahon has managed to give voice to a character while retaining...
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