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Published: Sat Oct 15 1983
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Convertiendse en Characoteles / Sorcerers Changing into Their Animal Forms (detail), 2013, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.

‘Wonders are many and none is more wonderful than man’
Who has tamed the terrier, trimmed the hedge
And grasped the principle of the watering can.
Clothes pegs litter the window ledge
And the long ships lie in clover. Washing lines
Shake out white linen over the chalk thanes.

Now we are safe from monsters, and the giants
Who tore up sods twelve miles by six
And hurled them out to sea to become islands
Can worry us no more. The sticks
And stones that once broke bones will not now harm
A generation of such sense and charm.

Only words hurt us now. No saint or hero,
Landing at night from the conspiring seas,
Brings dangerous tokens to the new era—
Their sad names linger in the histories.
The unreconciled, in their metaphysical pain,
Dangle from lampposts in the dawn rain;

And much dies with them. I should rather praise
A worldly time under this worldly sky—
The terrier-taming, garden-watering days
Those heroes pictured as they struggled through
The quick noose of their finite being. By
Necessity, if not choice, I live here too.

See what's inside AGNI 19

Derek Mahon has published over thirty books of poetry and translation, recently including An Autumn Wind (Gallery, 2010) and Life on Earth (Gallery, 2008), which was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize. His honors include the Irish American Foundation Award, a Lannan Foundation Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the American Ireland Fund Literary Award, the Arts Council Bursary, and the Eric Gregory Award. (updated 7/2010)

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