Everything is Going to be All Right

How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.

Derek Mahon, from Selected Poems

I first read Derek Mahon’s ‘Everything is Going to be All Right’ as an undergraduate, somewhere towards the end of my degree, at a stage of life when everything did indeed seem hopeful and untainted by disaster and breakdown. My reaction on reading it is was a kind of falling in love, infatuation followed by obsession, taking the book in which I found it (a library copy of his Selected Poems) everywhere and checking every ten minutes to see if it was still there.

I loved it so much I stole the title and final line in my poem ‘Here’, the final poem in my first book of poems How Far From Here is HomeAs I have written before, I owe my discovery of many of the poets who influenced my early publishing and subsequent first book to my friend the furniture maker and designer Duncan Kramer. I can’t help wondering how different my life would have been not to have known him and not to have seen The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry sticking out of his pocket one night at a Durutti Column concert.

As  Raymond Carver says in his essay ‘Fires’, I am talking about real influence here, decisions you make as a young person when you do not really know what you are doing but feel kind of right, like forming a band or deciding to move away from home, the consequences of which you cannot know at the time but which later seem to contain the essence of the matter of life and death.

Now of course I am returning to the poem as a middle aged man and I read it completely differently. I have had cancer. The day I was told I was well again a young poet friend of mine took her own life. Other friends and relatives have died, two especially close friends in as many weeks earlier this year.

The poem insists ‘There will be dying, there will be dying’ but immediately skirts round the issue. I like this kind of bravado in a poem, albeit in a tone of low-key assertion. I know it is not true but nevertheless while I am in what John Gardner calls the dream of its narrative I am once again prepared to believe it and live it a little stronger perhaps in the moments after reading it as I pad downstairs to make coffee.

Lifesaving Poems

If you liked this, why not try Mark Halliday’s ‘The Missing Poem’ or Stephen Berg’s ‘Eating Outside’