The Welling

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Michael Longley, The Stairwell.

Naming the birds calling from the pages of “the huge sadness of the Iliad” is an essential act of poetry. Longley’s poems, however short, often funnel this wild energy from between his lifelong fidelity to Ancient Greek forms of the imagination and the contemporary occasion. The between flows in several directions here. The welling is between the emptiness of death and the deathless origins of his love. Characteristic of metaxical orientation toward what exceeds finite mind, this poem is overflowing with communication of purpose: “Honking, settling in front of one another,/ Proud of their feather-power”—-the last phrase expressing the paradoxical power of feathers, evocative of the double as in winged words.

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