Friday, January 10, 2014

Cuthbert and the Otters - Paul Muldoon in memory of Seamus Heaney

The monastery and lobster boats at Lindisfarne
The Sea obeyed the word of the monk Cuthbert, allowing sailors to return home safe, the Bede reports in his hagiography The Life and Miracles of St. Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne, who died on Farne Island in 687.  That is the Cuthbert of the title of Paul Muldoon's long poem which appeared in the Times Literary Supplement in December.  Muldoon like Heaney is from North Ireland.  He teaches at Princeton and is ensconced in Manhattan where he is poetry editor of The New Yorker.  His "three car garage" rock band Racket performs occasionally.

The poem, which is not the easiest read (e.g. a hauberk is a chain mail tunic; to "thole" is to tolerate), is a read-aloud to grasp the sometimes gruff onomatopoeia which evokes Heaney's language.  The first three stanzas are below.  Click on the title to go to the full poem on the TLS website.

Cuthbert and the Otters

Paul Muldoon: In memory of Seamus Heaney

Published: 20 December 2013
Notwithstanding the fact that one of them has gnawed a strip of flesh 
from the shoulder of the salmon, 
relieving it of a little darne, 
the fish these six otters would fain 
carry over the sandstone limen 
and into Cuthbert’s cell, a fish garlanded with bay leaves 
and laid out on a linden-flitch 

like a hauberked warrior laid out on his shield, 
may yet be thought of as whole. 
An entire fish for an abbot’s supper. 
It’s true they’ve yet to develop the turnip-clamp 
and the sword with a weighted pommel 
but the Danes are already dyeing everything beige. 
In anticipation, perhaps, of the carpet and mustard factories 

built on ground first broken by the Brigantes. 
The Benedictines still love a bit of banter 
along with the Beatitudes. Blessed is the trundle bed, 
it readies us for the tunnel 
from Spital Tongues to the staithes. I’m at once full of dread 
and in complete denial. 
I cannot thole the thought of Seamus Heaney dead.