Boat

by Michael Longley

copyright ©Michael Longley, 2014

for Seamus

What’s the Greek for boat,
You ask, old friend,
Fellow voyager
Approaching Ithaca –
Oh, flatulent sails,
Wave-winnowing oars,
Shingle-scrunching keel –
But, so close to home,
There’s a danger always
Of amnesiac storms,
Waterlogged words.

19 July 2011

Notes on the Poem

As we continue our Poem of the Week stroll through the 2015 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist, we pause next over a poem that, in its apparent brevity and at first glance, seems to offer simpler pleasures. By dedicating it "for Seamus", we might expect Michael Longley's poem "Boat" to be a snapshot of or a reflection on his long friendship and professional association with fellow Irish poet Seamus Heaney. Even in its brief span, the poem is that and much more. With the lines "What’s the Greek for boat, You ask, old friend" the poem opens on a warm, conversational note, decidedly the exchange of comfortable, long-time companions and colleagues. From there ... "Fellow voyager Approaching Ithaca –" things start to seem elevated, heading towards the mythic, but then are self-effacingly and humorously deflated with "Oh, flatulent sails" Each brief line runs the gamut, as any lively friendship would. The following lines tumble forward with an undercurrent, just a hint of something ominous. Knowing what we know - that Seamus Heaney passed away in August, 2013 - what are we to think when we arrive at the date in the last line? And how are we to feel, savouring this unwittingly prescient poem that is all of charming, celebratory and bittersweet?

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