Paul Muldoon

copyright ©Paul Muldoon, 2002

That Boxing Day morning, I would hear the familiar, far-off gowls and

over Keenaghan and Aughanlig
of a pack of beagles, old dogs disinclined to chase a car suddenly quite

themselves, pups coming helter-skelter
across the plowlands with all the chutzpah of veterans
of the trenches, their slate-grays, cinnamons, liver-browns, lemons, rusts,
                    and violets

turning and twisting, unseen, across the fields,
their gowls and gulders turning and twisting after the twists and turns
of the great hare who had just now sauntered into the yard where I stodd
                    on tiptoe

astride my new Raleigh cycle,
his demeanor somewhat louche, somewhat lackadaisical
under the circumstances, what with him standing on tiptoe
as if to mimic me, standing almost as tall as I, looking as if he might for a
                    moment put
himself in my place, thinking better of it, sloping off behind the lorry bed.

Notes on the Poem

You're left smiling at the end (every time, because you're sure to reread it) of Paul Muldoon's poem "Beagles", from his 2003 Griffin Poetry Prize winning collection Moy sand and gravel. What elements combine to make this poem so pleasing? For starters, how about the mouthfuls of chewy, delicious words, wonderful to speak aloud and relish, even if you don't know but can imagine their meanings? There's "helter-skelter", there's "chutzpah" ... there are our favourites, "gowls and gulders". They all lend a pell-mell sense to the opening of the poem, capturing the surprisingly uncharacteristic activity of the titular beasts "suddenly quite unlike themselves." Then, there's the contrast of that tumble of motion, cacophony and even colour ... "their slate-grays, cinnamons, liver-browns, lemons, rusts,                     and violets" brought up against the stillness of the sauntering great hare. It brings you up short in glorious, comic, skidding fashion, as if you've just put the brakes on your "new Raleigh cycle". And then there's a moment or two to just sink into that stillness, a stillness that, in a somewhat different but relevant context, actor Ben Kingsley explained in a 2018 interview:
"[Stillness is] a vital part of my currency as an actor. I liken it to grace notes in music. In the course of a performance, it may be in that moment of stillness that the viewer gets a view into whatever process is going on inside the character," he said. "I think those spaces in movies are precious. They invite the audience to come in and rest in the space created by it, to appreciate the story being told.""
From there, the touch of comic anthropomorphism that ping-pongs between the hare and the youthful narrator is a final grand touch ... and then you smile, go back, and read it all again.

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