© By Seamus Deane
Ice in the schoolroom, listen,
The high authority of the cold
On some November morning
Turning to fragile crystals
In the Government milk
I was drinking and my world
All frost and snow, chalk and ice
Quadratic equations on the board
Shining and shifting in white
Isosceles steps. In that trance
What could I know of his labour?
I, in my infinitesimally perceptive dance,
Thought nothing of the harbour
Where, in his fifth hour,
Waist-deep in water, he laid cables, rode the dour
Iron swell between his legs
And maybe thought what kind of son,
An aesthetician of his cold,
He had, in other warmth, begot?
But there’s ice in the school-room,
Father. Listen. The harbour’s empty.
The Government’s milk has been drunk.
It lies on the stomach yet, freezing,
Its kindness, inhuman, has sunk
In where up starts the feeling
That pitches a cold in the thought
Of authority’s broken milk crystals
On the lips of the son you begot.
© Seamus Deane, A Schooling, 1977, complete text, Selected Poems, 1988, The Gallery Press.
Seamus Deane is not relating directly to the Troubles but to the inability of fathers and sons, to understand each other. Perhaps there is a suggestion that free education and the welfare state has estranged sons from their fathers’ worlds of work.