Rage for Order

© By Derek Mahon

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Somewhere beyond the scorched gable end and the burnt-out buses
there is a poet indulging
his wretched rage for order –
or not as the case may be for his
is a dying art,
an eddy of semantic scruples
in an unstructurable sea.

He is far from his people,
and the fitful glare of his high window is as
nothing to our scattered glass.

His posture is grandiloquent and deprecating, like this,
his diet ashes,
his talk of justice and his mother
the rhetorical device
of an etiolated emperor—
Nero if you prefer, no mother there.

“… And this in the face of love,
death, and the wages of the poor …”

If he is silent, it is the silence of enforced humility
if anxious to be heard, it is the anxiety
of a last word
when the drums start for his is a dying art.

Now watch me as I make history. Watch as I tear down
to build up with a desperate love,
knowing it cannot be
long now till I have need of his
desperate ironies.

© Derek Mahon, Rage for Order, 1979, complete text, Collected Poems, 1999, The Gallery Press.

Derek Mahon addresses his own alienation from his homeland throughout his works, as in “Afterlives” from The Snow Party, where the poem’s speaker returns to Belfast and finds it unfamiliar, or in “Rage for Order,” from Lives, where he describes the poet as “far from his people” and too distanced from the everyday violence of Irish politics to comprehend it. While Mahon’s depictions of the artist’s separation from society tends toward the self-condemning, he writes more sympathetically about other exiles, unwilling outcasts who have been ignored or excluded from the larger community.

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