© By Derek Mahon
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God, you could grow to love, it, God-fearing, God-
chosen purist little puritan that,
for all your wiles and smiles, you are (the
dank churches, the empty streets,
the shipyard silence, the tied-up swings) and
shelter your cold heart from the heat
of the world, from woman-inquisition, from the
bright eyes of children. Yes, you could
wear black, drink water, nourish a fierce zeal
with locusts and wild honey, and not
feel called upon to understand and forgive
but only to speak with a bleak
afflatus, and love the January rains when they
darken the dark doors and sink hard
into the Antrim hills, the bog meadows, the heaped
graves of your fathers. Bury that red
bandana and stick, that banjo this is your
country, close one eye and be king.
Your people await you, their heavy washing
flaps for you in the housing estates -
a credulous people. God, you could do it, God
help you, stand on a corner stiff
with rhetoric, promising nothing under the sun.
© Derek Mahon, Ecclesiastes, 1979, complete text, Collected Poems, 1999, The Gallery Press.
Derek Mahon’s poem is a blast of contempt for the rigid thinking of the evangelical puritan who achieves political leadership over ‘a credulous people’.