Lifesaving Poems: Derek Mahon’s ‘Everything is Going to be All Right’

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’

13 comments

  1. Clarissa Aykroyd

    I love this poem too but I have a hard time getting around “There will be dying”. To me it casts all the brightness of the poem under a shadow of darkness and ambiguity. I like your comments on influence. I think it’s so true about making decisions when you are younger, the import of which you don’t realise until very much later.

    A poem I particularly love by Mahon and which does seem to me to have an unbridled optimism is ‘Kinsale’. “We contemplate at last/shining windows, a future forbidden to no-one.”

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    • Anthony Wilson

      Dear Clarissa Many thanks for your comment -again!- on my site. I think that line is problematic -especially when you know people who have died or have been close to death… as we have said to each other before. And yet when I typed the poem out the other day I felt nothing but agreement with its low-voltage assertion or faith in needing to put out of mind the finality of that inevitability. Stephen Dunn talks about poems as a ‘correction’; and there is Frost’s ‘momentary stay of execution. It is as though, while we are in the dream of the poem, that the awfulness is kept at bay -even in poems about atrocities, paradoxically. This is a mystery to me, but I celebrate it nevertheless.

      I will check out ‘Kinsale’ as it is not known to me, thank you for that, and with good wishes as ever Anthony Anthony Wilson

      http://www.anthonywilsonpoetry.com

      Riddance, my new book of poems, is now available. You can buy it on my website.

      >________________________________

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  2. Radhika

    I loved the poem, thanks for pointing me to it. That line – that is the heart of the poem, isn’t it? It is what anchors it down with a touch of meloncholy, of gravity and perhaps that’s what makes the rest of the poem lighter, freer. I didn’t see it as a dark line – it seemed more of a wry acknowledgement of what lies ahead, while asserting a fierce willingness to enjoy life.

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    • Anthony Wilson

      So pleased you like this one. You are probably right. I love that sense of facing up to the darkness and looking even harder at the light. Fierce willingness to enjoy life: there is a great phrase to take into the day. Thank you so much
      as ever
      Anthony

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  3. Pingback: The year that was, plus a T S Eliot Prize-themed workshop | Poetgal
  4. Eden Kee

    Just stumbled on this this morning thanks to afriend in Dublin who ent me – here in Germany- a link to a gigy by the Irish band Scullion with a reading of this poem. Great site many thanks for taking the time and effort to do this.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Eden Kee

    Sincere apologies for the typos. “s” missing in “sent”. Forgot to ‘space’ betwen “a” and “friend” and added a “y” to “gig”. Sorry, very sloppy.

    Liked by 1 person

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  7. fionalochhead

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful poem. Having been ill too the line about the watchful heart resonates. I have had so much time to watch life while not really living it. In doing that I feel my eyes are open like never before to the beauty that has always been there. As for the ugly things…they must be tolerated since there is no choice. I needed to read this today.

    Like

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