Sunday Poem

‘so rare a thing is absolute congeniality in every attitude
and habit even among dear friends’ —Petrarch

Ascent of Ben Bulben

—i.m. George Watson

There are two ways of climbing to the summit
of Ben Bulben: one behind Drumcliff churchyard,
east at the creamery and up the hill.
There you pass elegant retirement houses
on ever-narrowing woodbine-scented roads,
until you have to leave the car and walk,
straight up the formidable, striated front.

This is a hard way. If you make it,
look back down at all that you have left:
the sea stretching from the Rosses to the foot
of Knocknarea – seeing maybe the last thing
that Diarmuid saw before his death:
the unexcavated cairn of the fierce queen
who scorns the dangerous currents at Strandhill.

The other way is easier: you ask Jimmy Waters
whose business visits to the local farms
have taught him every yard and forest-track
where the mountain-stream disappears under
the ground. He’ll tell you which warnings to ignore:
the gates you can open, and what bogs
above Glencar you can still take in your stride.

And the Yeatses: which way for them? Did they stand
and clap their hands to send the swans wheeling
in broken rings, over the sea and across
to the other mountain, to wonder at the gist
of what they mean? Or did they watch the races
being set up on the yellow strand,
where men still break stones on the road below?

by Bernard O'Donoghue
publisher: Poetry International Web, 2011