This week’s poem is “Everything Is Going to Be All Right” by Derek Mahon and is chosen for those I know who are going through tough times at the moment.
The sun rises in spite of everythingDerek Mahon (1941—2020)
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
Poem 220. 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 alright.
Derek Mahon died in October 2020 but his poem—which he read after a RTE News broadcast at the beginning of the Covid pandemic—has brought comfort to many in the last couple of years.
The poem begins with the narrator lying in bed, seemingly only able to look upward, seeing the clouds outside the window and the reflection of the sea on the ceiling. He seems resigned to the onset of death but is dismissive of it; he focuses on the act of writing, the sensation that these lines aren’t his—not consciously—they are the production of the “hidden source”, his “watchful heart”.
In this sunlit room, lying in his bed, he enjoys what he still can: the sunrise, which happens regardless of our travails and suffering, and the far cities—does he mean cities literally visible from the sickroom window, or are these imaginary cities, the product of delirium? Perhaps he means the cities of Heaven—we can read whatever meaning we like into it.
The last lines seem to convey a feeling that he has transcended pain and the fear of death and found contentment and acceptance.
I like the poem because it shows that even in dire straits, it may be possible to extract some comfort and reassurance to raise our spirits. I like Mahon’s choice of language: “The poems flow from the hand unbidden” expresses so well the sensation of flow we feel when the act of creation is easy and “I lie here in a riot of sunlight” just makes me think of those glorious bright moments, even in England, when the sun shines brightly and is reflected from every surface.
While searching on YouTube for performances of this poem, I found the one-hour National Theatre Talks production of “A Poet for Every Day of the Year” with a cast of actors led by Damien Lewis reading poems from Allie Esiri’s book which is dedicated to Lewis’s late wife Helen McCrory. The performance includes poems by Robert Burns, Lemn Sissay, Brian Bilston, Seamus Heaney, Shakespeare, and this one amongst many others. There is also an ensemble performance of “The Lion and Albert” by Marriott Edgar, another of my favorites.