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John F Deane

John F. Deane was born on Achill Island in 1943. He founded Poetry Ireland – the National Poetry Society – and The Poetry Ireland Review in 1979. He has published several collections of poetry and some fiction. Deane also won the O’Shaughnessy Award for Irish Poetry, the Marten Toonder Award for Literature and poetry prizes from Italy and Romania. In 2008 he became the President of the European Academy of Poetry. A member of Aosdána, his latest collection of poems is A Little Book of Hours, Carcanet (2008).






An Eldering Congregation


‘That masterful negation and collapse

Of all that makes me man. . .’     Dream of Gerontius



I am confronted now with the weight of body

and the spirit’s blank, half-willed ascendancy;

in the dark night I wake, uncertain if the sounds I’ve heard


are insinuations from the dead, or smallest creatures scurrying

somewhere between slates and ceiling. Sleep

is not won easily; dreams recur, old arguments, futilities;


vision blurs, perhaps from too much seeing

and memory has become a marshy bog; to you I pray,

Jesus, old fox and clever-paws, old wily-snout, deal


gently with me now. High tide by afternoon, Atlantic

purring like a tom-cat under sun, swollen moment of plenitude

before the turn. The years, taking on themselves


the fortitude of dreams, have been passing swift as dreams; my hair

holds like tufts of fine bog-cotton, skin crinkles

like the gold of gutter-leaves; the ribs of splayed half-deckers


are the days of my well-loved dead cluttering my own low tides;

whether my fall is to be hard or I’m to drift away under white

soft-billowing sails, I would that they could say of me, yes


he lived, and while he lived

he gathered a few, though precious, poems

lacquered with brittle loveliness, like shells.






Nicolai Gedda is singing from the front room:


Sanctus fortis, Sanctus Deus,

   De profundis oro te,

Miserere, Judex meus,

   Parce mihi, Domine.


It is high summer in Ireland, and darkness grows

mid-morning, rain

falling, the meadows

sorry-looking, passing trucks raise muddy spray;


Go forth upon thy journey, Christian soul!

Go from the world! Go, in the name of God. . .


evening, tractors in the fields are in a rush

for harvest,

the green hay

baled and wrapped in black plastics, crossed in white chalk


against the crows; Gerontius, old man, having died,

begins a new journey

and Elgar’s music –

chorus of souls – catches the old dread, the terror:


Go forth upon thy journey, Christian soul!

Go from the world! Go, in the name of God. . .






Grandfather, in his last months,

took to sitting in a fireside chair, contemplating


the shifting turves, the ash

filtering itself soundlessly down; he’d stand, at times


to knock the bowl of his pipe

against the grate, take slow minutes with the plug, rubbing it


in his dried palms, inhaling

with satisfaction. Sometimes he'd rise, sighing, make


unsteady way to the workshop,

memory of old excitement stirring him, and stand


watching in amongst old workspaces,

gazing at his fingers as if there was something he had lost.


He disappeared upstairs, then,

and the house hushed.


Now his grave, in the island cemetery,

is a riot of neglect, long bramble-vines and grasses taking hold;


rushes and meadow-sweet

flourish in the wet-daub acres of the field;


rain falls along the stones, lichen

eats away the histories, the names, the century.






Firmly I believe, and truly

     God is three and God is one,

And I next acknowledge duly

     Manhood taken by the Son. . .






You may step off the old stone pier

onto rocks at the ocean’s edge, over boulders,

salt-braced rocks, erratics; the sea idling, long


arms of kelp sashaying in the swell;

you may be part of something, between-wheres, between-times,

the distant islands shrouded,


the inland meadows dulled. In soft

off-the-Atlantic and persistent mists, you will stand

absorbed, flesh-heavy, anticipating spirit-shapes


and their whisperings as they pass, incautiously, by;

up on the mountain road the toiling

engine of a truck is an intrusion


yet a strong lien holds you to the invisible

and almost-visible, while you are relishing

the all-embracing ovoid bone-structuring


of the earth. Too soon this solitary existence

will have become so exquisite you will call

out urgently for companionship.






Elgar’s cellos draw out the final moments:

and Gedda sings:


I can no more, for now it comes again,

That sense of ruin, which is worse than pain. . .






And father, the strict one, faith-inclined,

stood, in his final months to lean against a boulder

on Keem strand, his body red and blotched

after a swim; he was shivering in a wind that swept


in off the Atlantic though he held himself erect,

eyes watching out over the bay to the wild horses

of the ocean. He moved, at last, in under the shelter

of a cliff, out of the world-wind, to light


his pipe; small pools waited at the roots of rocks

for the tide that would swell them into seas;

dunlins raced along the lace edgings of the waves;

high over Croghaun grey clouds moved by; and I believe


his mind hung heavily on sorrows. He, too, disappeared

into pure air, into Word, and into these, my words.






I sit in church, one of an eldering congregation;

15th Sunday in ordinary time; the lector reads

St Paul, letter to the Romans: creation still retains

the hope of being freed, as we do, from this slavery


to decadence. . . And there they are, kneeling

and motionless, two pews ahead of me, on the men's side,

grandfather, father, upright and straight, their beads

rattling gently against the bench-wood, like the insistent


regular tap-tap-tap of a metronome; I pray

Agnus Dei, then Domine non sum dignus; I rise into the line

behind them up to the altar-rails, to share the bread, the wine,

to speak consent to the world and to its Christ:  Amen :


©2009 John F. Deane


Author Links

John F Deane Home Page

Deane at Poetry Europe

Deane at Carcanet





©2009 Southword Editions
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