This is ravens' territory, skulls, bones,
The marrow of these boulders supervised
From the upper air: I stand alone here
And seem to gather children about me,
A collection of picnic things, my voice
Filling the district as I call their names.
With my first step I dislodge the mallards
Whose necks strain over the bog to where
Kittiwakes scrape the waves: then, the circle
Widening, lapwings, curlews, snipe until
I am left with only one swan to nudge
To the far side of its gradual disdain.
I discover, remaindered from yesterday,
Cattle tracks, a sanderling's tiny trail,
The footprints of the children and my own
Linking the dunes to the water's edge,
Reducing to sand the dry shells, the toe-
And fingernail parings of the sea.
I join all the men who have squatted here
This lichened side of the drystone wall
And notice how smoke from our turf fire
Recalls in the cool air above the lake
Steam from a kettle, a tablecloth and
A table she might have already set.
Though it will duplicate at any time
The sheep and cattle that wander there,
For a few minutes every evening
Its surface seems tilted to receive
The sun perfectly, the mare and her foal,
The heron, all such special visitors.
Michael Longley was born in Belfast in 1939, and educated at The Royal Belfast Academical Institution and Trinity College Dublin, where he read Classics. For twenty years he worked for the Arts Council of Northern Ireland where he initiated the programmes for Literature, the Traditional Arts (mainly Irish music) and Arts in Education. He has been a freelance writer since 1991, apart from semesters as Writer Fellow at Trinity College Dublin in 1993 and, in 1997, as Visiting Professor at Emory University Atlanta.
Michael Longley has received honorary degrees from Queen’s University Belfast, Trinity College Dublin, the Open University and University College Dublin. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of Aosdana. He was the winner of the American Ireland Fund Literary Award in 1996. In 2001 he received the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, and in 2003 the Wilfred Owen Award. He was awarded a CBE in 2010, and was the Ireland Professor of Poetry from 2007 to 2010.
He and his wife the literary critic, Edna Longley, live and work in Belfast.
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