Monday, September 24, 2007

Two Poems by John Hewitt


For a countryman the living landscape is
a map of kinship at one level,
at another, just below this, a chart of use,
never at any level a fine view:
sky is a handbook of labour or idleness;
wind in one airt is the lapping of hay,
in another a long day at turf on the moss;
landscape is families, and a lone man
boiling a small pot, and letters once a year;
it is also, underpinning this, good corn
and summer grazing for sheep free of scab
and fallow acres waiting for the lint.
So talk of weather is also talk of life,
and life is man and place and these have names.

The Search

for Shirley and Darryl

We left the western island to live among strangers
in a city older by centuries
than the market town which we had come from
where the slow river spills out between green hills
and gulls perch on the bannered poles.

It is a hard responsibility to be a stranger;
to hear your speech sounding at odds with your neighbours';
holding your tongue from quick comparisons;
remembering that you are a guest in the house.

Often you will regret the voyage,
wakening in the dark night to recall that other place
or glimpsing the moon rising and recollecting
that it is also rising over named hills,
shining on known waters.

But sometimes the thought
that you have not come away from, but returned,
to this older place whose landmarks are yours also,
occurs when you look down a long street remarking
the architectural styles or move through a landscape
with wheat ripening in large fields.

Yet you may not rest here, having come back,
for this is not your abiding place, either.
The authorities declare that in former days
the western island was uninhabited,
just as where you reside now was once tundra,
and what you seek may be no more than
a broken circle of stones on a rough hillside, somewhere.

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