From There to Here: Selected Poems and Translations

From There to Here: Selected Poems and Translations

by Ciaran Carson


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Ciaran Carson’s shape-changing genius shines across the volumes included in From There to Here: Selected Poems and Translations. The explosive long lines of his earliest work move to the formal skill and inventive imagination of the middle period, while the concentrated stanzas and intellectual intensities of the volumes after the year 2000 continue his development. In recent years Carson’s renditions of Rimbaud’s Illuminations as well as his translations and responses to the French poet Jean Follain have added yet another dimension to his art and to the act of translation. It seems that with each volume Carson re-casts himself, much as Yeats did throughout his storied career. This selection takes us on an exceptional journey as the poet “initiates a constellation / from which blossom countless others.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781930630888
Publisher: Wake Forest University Press
Publication date: 10/01/2019
Edition description: None
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 837,707
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Born in 1948 in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Ciaran Carson studied at Queen’s University, Belfast, where, from 2003–2015, he served as the director of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry. Though recently retired from that post, he continues to teach a postgraduate poetry workshop there, in addition to overseeing the Belfast Writers’ Group.

Earlier in his career (from 1975–1998), Ciaran Carson acted as an arts officer for the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. He is also a member of Aosdána and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. A writer of both poetry and prose—fiction and non-fiction alike—Ciaran Carson has also translated many texts, including The Midnight Court, a work of the eighteenth-century poet Brian Merriman, and a version of Dante’s The Inferno, which won the Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize. His other awards include the first-ever T. S. Eliot Prize (1994, for First Language), and the Forward Prize for Best Collection (2003, for Breaking News).

As well as being a significant poet and careful translator, Carson is also a scholar of traditional Irish music; he frequently plays the flute alongside his wife, the accomplished Irish fiddler Deirdre Shannon. He has said: “I’m not interested in ideologies . . . I’m interested in the words, and how they sound to me, how words connect with experience, of fear, of anxiety . . . Your only responsibility is to the language.”

Read an Excerpt



My hand is tired with writing out,
my admirable nib not thick —
slender-beaked, my pen jets forth a stream of beetle-coloured ink.

Deep the draught of wisdom coursing from my calligraphic hand upon the page a screed of ink made from the green-skinned holly leaf.

Unceasingly my little pen transcribes a host of handsome books —
enriching those who like to read,
and tiring out this hand that writes.

from the Middle Irish, Colm Cille cecenit


Having left solid ground behind In the hardness of their placenames They have sailed out for an island:

As along the top of a wood Their boats have crossed the green ridges,
So has the pale sky overhead

Appeared as a milky surface,
A white plain where the speckled fish Drift in lamb-white clouds of fleece.

They will come back to the warm earth And call it by possessive names —
Thorned rose, love, woman and mother;

To hard hills of stone they will give The words for breast; to meadowland,
The soft gutturals of rivers,

Tongues of water; to firm plains, flesh,
As one day we will discover Their way of living in their death.

They entered their cold beds of soil Not as graves, for this was the land That they had fought for, loved, and killed

Each other for. They'd arrive again:
Death could be no horizon But the shoreline of their island,

A coming and going, as flood Comes after ebb. In the spirals Of their brooches is seen the flight

Of one thing into the other:
As the wheel-ruts on a battlePlain have filled with silver water,

The confused circles of their wars,
Their cattle-raids, have worked themselves To a laced pattern of old scars.

But their death, since it is no real Death, will happen over again And again, their bones will seem still

To fall in the hail beneath hooves Of horses, their limbs will drift down As the branches that trees have loosed.

We cannot yet say why or how They could not take things as they were.
Someday we will learn of how

Their bronze swords took the shape of leaves,
How their gold spears are found in cornfields,
Their arrows are found in trees.


Is it just like picking a lock With the slow deliberation of a funeral,
Hesitating through a darkened nave Until you find the answer?

Listening to the malevolent tick Of its heart, can you read The message of the threaded veins Like print, its body's chart?

The city is a map of the city,
Its forbidden areas changing daily.
I find myself in a crowded taxi Making deviations from the known route,

Ending in a cul-de-sac Where everyone breaks out suddenly In whispers, noting the boarded windows,
The drawn blinds.


My father's postman sack Hung on a nail behind the kitchen door,
Its yellow straps undone. I stuck my head inside The canvas flap and breathed the gloom.

The smell of raffia and faded ink Was like the smell of nothing. The twine lay in My mother's bottom drawer, the undelivered Letters were returned to sender.

I thought of being shut up under stairs.
Outside it was snowing, and my father's hands Were blue with cold. Soon he would return,
His hands would warm me.

Christmas came. He worked all day.
His dinner would be kept hot in the oven.
There was the twine to tie the turkey's legs.
There was the tawse behind the kitchen door.


From the sick-room window, past The leaning-sideways Railway sleepers of the fence,
The swaying nettles,
You can just make out The rusty fire of a crushed Coke tin, the dotted glint of staples in A wet cardboard box.

I could be sifting through The tip at the bottom of Ganges Street.
Eggshells. Bricks. A broken hypodermic,
And one bit of plaster Painted on one side I seem to recognize from somewhere —

It is the off-white wall I stared at as a child As my mother picked my hair for nits.
The iron comb scraped out A series of indefinite ticks As they dropped on a double leaf Of last week's Irish News.

I had a crick in my neck.
I thought that someone On the last train might look up And see me staring out beyond The almost-useless strip Between the railway And the new industrial estate.


If there was a house with three girls in it It only took three boys to make a dance.
You'd see a glimmer where McKeown's once was And follow it till it became a house.
But maybe they'd have gone on, up the hill To Loughran's, or made across the grazing,
Somewhere else. All those twistings and turnings,
Crossroads and dirt roads and skittery lanes:
You'd be glad to get in from the dark.

And when you did get in there'd be a power Of poitín. A big tin creamery churn,
A ladle, those mugs with blue and white bars.
Oh, good and clear like the best of water.
The music would start up. This one ould boy Would sit by the fire and rosin away,
Sawing and sawing till it fell like snow.
That poitín was quare stuff. At the end of The night you might be fiddling with no bow.

When everyone was ready out would come The tin of Tate and Lyle's Golden Syrup,
A spoon or a knife, a big farl of bread.
Some of those same boys wouldn't bother with The way you were supposed to screw it up.
There might be courting going on outside,
Whisperings and cacklings in the barnyard;
A spider thread of gold-thin syrup Trailed out across the glowing kitchen tiles Into the night of promises, or broken promises.


It was autumn. First, she shrouded The furniture, then rolled back the carpet As if for dancing; then moved The ornaments from the mantelpiece,
Afraid his roughness might disturb Their staid fragility.

He came; shyly, she let him in,
Feeling ill-at-ease in the newly-spacious Room, her footsteps sounding hollow On the boards. She watched him kneel Before the hearth, and said something About the weather. He did not answer,

Too busy with his work for speech.
The stem of yellow cane creaked upwards Tentatively. After a while he asked Her to go outside and look, and there,
Above the roof, she saw the frayed sunflower Bloom triumphantly. She came back

And asked how much she owed him, grimacing As she put the money in his soiled hand.
When he had gone a weightless hush Lingered in the house for days. Slowly,
It settled; the fire burned cleanly;
Everything was spotless.

Hearing that soot was good for the soil She threw it on the flowerbeds. She would watch It crumble, dissolving in the rain,
Finding its way to lightless crevices,
Sleeping, till in spring it would emerge softly As the ink-bruise in the pansy's heart.


It was then I heard of the missing man.
The wireless spoke through a hiss of static —
Someone was being interviewed:
The missing man, the caller said, can be found At Cullyhanna Parochial House.
That was all. Those were his very words.
I reached an avenue of darkened yews.

Somewhere footsteps on the gravel.

I then identified myself, and he Embraced me, someone I had never seen Before, but it was him all right, bearded And dishevelled. There were tears in his eyes.
He knew nothing of the ransoms.
He did not know who they were. He knew nothing Of his whereabouts. He did not even know

If he was in the South or North.

It seemed he was relieved from hiding in Some outhouse filled with ploughs and harrows,
Rusted winnowings that jabbed and rasped At him. He had felt like a beaten child.
When they hooded him with a balaklava He thought the woolly blackness was like being Shut up under stairs, without a hint of hope,
Stitches dropped that no one could knit back.

From Camlough, Silverbridge and Crossmaglen The military were closing in. He was,
It seemed, the paste on the wallpaper, or The wall, spunked out between the leaves, etched At last into the memories of what might have been.
He was released. The three bullets they had given him As souvenirs chinked in his pocket. He slipped Through a hole in the security net.

All day long for seven days he had lain On the broad of his back on the floor.
He could see nothing, but turned, again And again, to an image of himself as a child Hunched in bed, staring at the ceiling,
At the enigmatic pits and tics That scored the blankness, and then, farther,
To the stars that brushed against the windowpane.


I have forgotten something, I am Going back. The wrought-iron flowers Of the gate breathe open to Sooty alcoves, the withered shelves Of books. There is a light That glints off tin and earthenware Reminding me of touch, the beaded moulding Of a picture frame —

Here is a hand that beckons from An empty doorway. Open the gilt clasp,
The book of strangers:
The families arranged with roses,
The brothers, the sister In her First Communion frock, their hands Like ornaments in mine beneath The muffled ribs of gloves.

We are all walking to school Past the face of a clock, linked Together in the glass dark of the Undertaker's window: one, two, three, four Figures in the gilt lettering.
Soon it will be dusk, and all of us are sent To find each other, though each Of us is lost in a separate field:

Over the waving meadow, through The trees, a gap of light sways Like a face, a hand discovering itself Among the branches and the inlets.
One of us has fallen in the river,
The stream of my mother's veil at the porch,
Sunlight on a brick wall smiling With the child who is not there.


It was only just this minute that I noticed the perfectly triangular Barbed wire rip in the sleeve of my shirt, and wondered where I'd got it.
I'd crossed no fences that I knew about. Then it struck me: an almost identical Tear in my new white Sunday shirt, when I was six. My mother, after her initial Nagging, stitched it up. But you can never make a perfect job on tears like that.
Eventually she cut it up for handkerchiefs: six neatly-hemmed squares.
Snags of greyish wool remind me of the mountain that we climbed that day —
Nearly at the summit, we could see the map of Belfast. My father stopped For a cigarette and pointed out the landmarks: Gallaher's tobacco factory,
Clonard Monastery, the invisible speck of our house, lost in all the rows And terraces and furrows, like this one sheep that's strayed into the rags And bandages that flock the holy well. A little stack of ball-point pens,
Some broken spectacles, a walking stick, two hearing-aids: prayers Repeated and repeated until granted.
  So when I saw, last week, the crucifix Earring dangling from the right ear of this young Charismatic Christian fiddle-player, I could not help but think of beads, beads Told over and over — like my father's rosary of olive stones from Mount Olive, I think, that he had thumbed and fingered so much the decades Missed a pip or two. The cross itself was ebony and silver, just like This young girl's, that swung and tinkled like a thurible. She was playing
'The Teetotaller'. Someone had to buy a drink just then, of course: a pint of Harp,
Four pints of stout, two Paddy whiskies, and a bottle of Lucozade — the baby Version, not the ones you get in hospital, wrapped in crackling see-through Cellophane. You remember how you held it to the light, and light shone through?
The opposite of Polaroids, really, the world filmed in dazzling sunshine:
A quite unremarkable day of mist and drizzle. The rainy hush of traffic,
Muted car horns, a dog making a dog-leg walk across a zebra crossing ...
As the lights changed from red to green and back to red again I fingered the eighteen stitches in the puckered mouth of my appendicectomy.
The doctor's waiting room, now that I remember it, had a print of The Angelus
Above the fireplace; sometimes, waiting for the buzzer, I'd hear the Angelus Itself boom out from St Peter's. With only two or three deliberate steps I could escape into the frame, unnoticed by the peasant and his wife. I'd vanish Into sepia. The last shivering bell would die on the wind.
I was in the surgery. Stainless steel and hypodermics glinted on the shelves.
Now I saw my mother: the needle shone between her thumb and finger, stitching,
Darning, mending: the woolly callous on a sock, the unravelled jumper That became a scarf. I held my arms at arms' length as she wound and wound:
The tick-tack of the knitting needles made a cable-knit pullover.
Come Christmas morning I would wear it, with a new white shirt unpinned From its cardboard stiffener.
  I shivered at the touch of cold white linen —
A mild shock, as if, when almost sleeping, you'd dreamt you'd fallen Suddenly, and realized now you were awake: the curtains fluttered In the breeze across the open window, exactly as they had before. Everything Was back to normal. Outside, the noise of children playing: a tin can kicked Across a tarred road, the whip-whop of a skipping rope, singing —
Poor Toby is dead and he lies in his grave, lies in his grave, lies in his grave ...
So, the nicotine-stained bone buttons on my father's melodeon clicked And ticked as he wheezed his way through Oft in the Stilly Night — or,
For that matter, Nearer My God to Thee, which he'd play on Sundays, just before He went to see my granny, after Mass. Sometimes she'd be sick — Another Clean shirt'll do me — and we'd climb the narrow stair to where she lay, buried Beneath the patchwork quilt.
  It took me twenty years to make that quilt
I'm speaking for her now — and, Your father's stitched into that quilt,
Your uncles and your aunts.
She'd take a sip from the baby Power's On the bedside table. Anything that came to hand, a bit of cotton print,
A poplin tie: I snipped them all up.
I could see her working in the gloom,
The shadow of the quilt draped round her knees. A needle shone between Her thumb and finger. Minutes, hours of stitches threaded patiently; my father Tugged at her, a stitch went wrong; she started up again. You drink your tea Just like your father: two sups and a gulp: and so I'd see a mirror image Raise the cup and take two sips, and swallow, or place my cup exactly on The brown ring stain on the white damask tablecloth.
  Davy's gone to England,
Rosie to America; who'll be next, I don't know.
Yet they all came back.
I'd hardly know them now. The last time I saw them all together was The funeral. As the Rosary was said I noticed how my father handled the invisible Bead on the last decade: a gesture he'd repeat again at the graveside.
A shower of hail: far away, up on the mountain, a cloud of sheep had scattered In the Hatchet Field. The stitches show in everything I've made, she'd say —
The quilt was meant for someone's wedding, but it never got that far.
And some one of us has it now, though who exactly I don't know.


They had questioned him for hours. Who exactly was he? And when He told them, they questioned him again. When they accepted who he was, as Someone not involved, they pulled out his fingernails. Then They took him to a waste-ground somewhere near The Horseshoe Bend, and told him What he was. They shot him nine times.

A dark umbilicus of smoke was rising from a heap of burning tyres.
The bad smell he smelt was the smell of himself. Broken glass and knotted Durex.
The knuckles of a face in a nylon stocking. I used to see him in The Gladstone Bar,
Drawing pints for strangers, his almost-perfect fingers flecked with scum.


Bombing at about ninety miles an hour with the exhaust skittering The skid-marked pitted tarmac of Kennedy Way, they hit the ramp and sailed Clean over the red-and-white guillotine of the checkpoint and landed On the M1 flyover, then disappeared before the Brits knew what hit them. So The story went: we were in the Whip & Saddle bar of the Europa.

There was talk of someone who was shot nine times and lived, and someone else Had the inside info on the Romper Room. We were trying to remember the facts Behind the Black & Decker case, when someone ordered another drink and we entered The realm of Jabberwocks and Angels' Wings, Widows' Kisses, Corpse Revivers.


Excerpted from "From There To Here"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Ciaran Carson.
Excerpted by permission of Wake Forest University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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