Your weekly poem, Mar. 24: “The Leveret” by Michael Longley


Your weekly poem, Mar. 24: “The Leveret” by Michael Longley

A poem selected by our director Nicholas Allen, Baldwin Professor in Humanities

Dear friends,

I first read Michael Longley’s poetry at school, where one of my English teachers was another poet, Frank Ormsby. Michael was an old pupil of the same school, the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, as was another of that generation’s great poets, Derek Mahon. Later Michael used to call in to talk with me about music when I worked in a record store as a student. He still loves old-time jazz and has written lovingly about Fats Waller, Bessie Smith and Bix Beiderbecke.

His later collections have turned to nature writing and elegy. “The Leveret,” which you can hear Michael read here, is a poem for a grandchild. Carrigskeewaun is the Mayo townland where Michael has holidayed for years with his wife, Edna Longley, who taught me later at Queen’s and is one of Ireland’s most distinguished, and formidable, poetry critics. I remember those classes with a mixture of terror and affection, and am very grateful that I know them both.

Given the poem below, I should say that Michael studied Classics both at Inst (as RBAI is known) and Trinity College Dublin, where I again followed him much later. There is much of Belfast in this poem, and of the west of Ireland, and of love.

Take care,

“The Leveret”
by Michael Longley

This is your first night in Carrigskeewaun.
The Owennadornaun is so full of rain
You arrived in Paddy Morrison’s tractor,
A bumpy approach in your father’s arms
To the cottage where, all of one year ago,
You were conceived, a fire-seed in the hearth.
Did you hear the wind in the fluffy chimney?
Do you hear the wind tonight, and the rain
And a shore bird calling from the mussel reefs?
Tomorrow I’ll introduce you to the sea,
Little hoplite. Have you been missing it?
I’ll park your chariot by the otters’ rock
And carry you over seaweed to the sea.
There’s a tufted duck on David’s lake
With her sootfall of hatchlings, pompoms
A day old and already learning to dive.
We may meet the stoat near the erratic
Boulder, a shrew in his mouth, or the merlin
Meadow-pipit-hunting. But don’t be afraid.
The leveret breakfasts under the fuchsia
Every morning, and we shall be watching.
I have picked wild flowers for you, scabious
And centaury in a jam-jar of water
That will bend and magnify the daylight.
This is your first night in Carrigskeewaun.

Michael Longley