Poems 1968-1998

Paul Muldoon

Farrar, Straus and Giroux Paperbacks


The early electric people had domesticated the wild ass.

They knew all about falling off.

Occasionally they would have fallen out of the trees.

Climbing again, they had something to prove

To their neighbours. And they did have neighbours.

The electric people lived in villages

Out of their need of security and their constant hunger.

Together they would divert their energies

To neutral places. Anger to the banging door,

Passion to the kiss.

And electricity to earth. Having stolen his thunder

From an angry god, through the trees

They had learned to string his lightning.

The women gathered random sparks into their aprons,

A child discovered the swing

Among the electric poles. Taking everything as given,

The electric people were confident, hardly proud.

They kept fire in a bucket,

Boiled water and dry leaves in a kettle, watched the lid

By the blue steam lifted and lifted.

So that, where one of the electric people happened to fall,

It was accepted as an occupational hazard.

There was something necessary about the thing. The North Wall

Of the Eiger was notorious for blizzards,

If one fell there his neighbour might remark, Bloody fool.

All that would have been inappropriate,

Applied to the experienced climber of electric poles.

I have achieved this great height?

No electric person could have been that proud,

Thirty or forty feet. Perhaps not that,

If the fall happened to be broken by the roof of a shed.

The belt would burst, the call be made,

The ambulance arrive and carry the faller away

To hospital with a scream.

There and then the electric people might invent the railway

Just watching the lid lifted by the steam.

Or decide that all laws should be based on that of gravity,

Just thinking of the faller fallen.

Even then they were running out of things to do and see.

Gradually they introduced legislation

Whereby they nailed a plaque to every last electric pole.

They would prosecute any trespassers.

The high up, singing and live fruit liable to shock or kill

Were forbidden. Deciding that their neighbours

And their neighbours’ innocent children ought to be stopped

For their own good, they threw a fence

Of barbed wire round the electric poles. None could describe

Electrocution, falling, the age of innocence.


In the way that the most of the wind

Happens where there are trees,

Most of the world is centred

About ourselves.

Often where the wind has gathered

The trees together and together,

One tree will take

Another in her arms and hold.

Their branches that are grinding

Madly together and together,

It is no real fire.

They are breaking each other.

Often I think I should be like

The single tree, going nowhere,

Since my own arm could not and would not

Break the other. Yet by my broken bones

I tell new weather.


This is not the nest

That has been pulling itself together

In the hedge’s intestine.

It is the cup of a boy’s hands,

Whereby something is lost

More than the necessary heat gone forever

And death only after beginning.

There is more to this pale blue flint

In this careful fist

Than a bird’s nest having been discovered

And a bird not sitting again.

This is the start of the underhand,

The way that he has crossed

These four or five delicate fields of clover

To hunker by this crooked railing.

This is the breathless and the intent

Puncturing of the waste

And isolate egg and this the clean delivery

Of little yolk and albumen.

These his wrists, surprised and stained.


I guessed the letter

Must be yours. I recognized

The cuttle ink,

The serif on

The P. I read the postmark and the date,

Impatience held

By a paperweight.

I took your letter at eleven

To the garden

With my tea.

And suddenly the yellow gum secreted


The damson bush

Had grown a shell.

I let those scentless pages fall

And took it

In my feckless hand. I turned it over

On its back

To watch your mouth

Withdraw. Making a lean white fist

Out of my freckled hand.


Bored by Ascham and Zeno

In private conversation on the longbow,

I went out onto the lawn.

Taking the crooked bow of yellow cane,

I shot an arrow over

The house and wounded my brother.

He cried those huge dark tears

Till they had blackened half his hair.

Zeno could have had no real

Notion of the flying arrow being still,

Not blessed with the hindsight

Of photography and the suddenly frozen shot,

Yet that obstinate one

Eye inveigled me to a standing stone.

Evil eyes have always burned

Corn black and people have never churned

Again after their blink.

That eye was deeper than the Lake of the Young,

Outstared the sun in the sky.

Could look without commitment into another eye.


Every year they have driven stake after stake after stake

Deeper into the cold heart of the hill.

Their arrowheads are more deadly than snowflakes,

Their spearheads sharper than icicles,

Yet stilled by snowflake, icicle.

They are already broken by their need of wintering,

These archers taller than any snowfall

Having to admit their broken shafts and broken strings,

Whittling the dead branches to the girls they like.

That they have hearts is visible,

The nests of birds, these obvious concentrations of black

Yet where the soldiers will later put on mail,

The archers their soft green, nothing will tell

Of the heart of the mailed soldier seeing the spear he flung,

Of the green archer seeing his shaft kill.

Only his deliberate hand, a bird pretending a broken wing.


Macha, the Ice Age

Held you down,

Heavy as a man.

As he dragged

Himself away,

You sprang up

Big as half a county,


Excerpted from Poems 1968 1998 by Paul Muldoon.
Copyright 2001 by Paul Muldoon.
Published in 2002 by Farrar, Straus And Giroux.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.