Feb. 25, 2002: WORMWOOD (Thomas Kinsella)

Thomas Kinsella (his koan stall me), born in Dublin in 1928, hs lived at
least part of the year in the US since 1965. He was writer in residence at
the University of Southern Illinois–yes, the home of the Salukis–and
since 1970 has taught at Temple in Philadelphia. Kinsella seems to be a
writer with a tangential relationship to the Irish literary tradition. On
the one hand, he has translated the epic poem Tain Bo Cualigne and
co-translated an important book of 18th Century Irish verse, but his own
poems are often so personal or psychologically challenging as to defy easy
identification with land, literature, or nation. Where a Heaney might turn
toward hometown or a Boland to politics, Kinsella has turned his poetic
eye inward, dredging up material that is sometimes recognizably Irish,
often obscure, usually difficult. I guess what I’m trying to say is,
someone please help me figure out the following poem. Oh, and enjoy it.

-mjl

WORMWOOD

I have dreamt it again: standing suddenly still
In a thicket, among wet trees, stunned, minutely
Shuddering, hearing a wooden echo escape.

A mossy floor, almost colourless, disappears
In depths of rain among the tree shapes.
I am straining, tasting that echo a second longer.

If I can hold it . . . familiar if I can hold it . . .
A black tree with a double trunk–two trees
Grown into one–throws up its blurred branches.

The two trunks in their infinitesimal dance of growth
Have turned completely about one another, their join
A slowly twisted scar, that I recognise . . .

A quick arc flashes sidewise in the air,
A heavy blade in flight. A wooden stroke:
Iron sinks in the gasping core.

I will dream it again.

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