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Topic: Anon

Donal Og

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'When I see the world and do not see…'

I first heard the poem “Donal Og” in a cottage by the sea. I was visiting an Irish poet at a time when I would probably have boasted that I knew something of Irish poetry. He asked me if I knew “Donal Og.” I said no. He asked if I had Heaney’s _Rattle Bag_ anthology and, again, the answer was no. Out came the book. It was late, quiet out and dark; the kind of blackness that settles along the northwest edge of the country, away from other houses, busy roads. There was a fire, coal I think, we’d been drinking and there was an ease in the room. The talk was mostly poetry, a bit of history. I was young in writing terms, and eager to learn. My host read the poem. He read it the way it is meant to be read–as a kind of spell. The first line–“It is late last night the dog was speaking of you”–is immediately unsettling, the “you” making the listener complicit. The alliterative sounds, loping rhythm and the repetition of “you” as the poem progresses pull you, the listener, in, as if you were at the end of a rope and being reeled steadily closer. On first reading the poem seems like a plain-spoken questioning of what went wrong between two lovers. But there is magic in it: dogs “speak,” cries are numbered, ships are made of gold and silver, impossible gifts are conjured. There is enchantment (in multiple senses of the word). But this poem is also an inventory of loss. Hearing it for the first time was like looking into a wound. But not a wound that could be ascribed to any one person, not like Raymond Carver’s work where we can say, “Oh well, Carver, he knew loss, there was the drink, the first marriage…” Rather, this wound sounded out of the past, and went on and on, unresolved and unclaimed. …