Monday, 31 December 2018
Derek Mahon: 'Mythistorema'
At the end of 2018, I leave you with 'Mythistorema' by Derek Mahon (this is actually a 2017 poem, but who cares?) Mahon has also, this year, released Against the Clock (Gallery Press), which I look forward to reading: he's one of my most admired poets.
The title of 'Mythistorema' merges "myth" and "history", and for readers of poetry it may suggest the title of a sequence by George Seferis. To me, this poem was immediately and most powerfully a callback to what may be Mahon's greatest poem, 'A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford'. I then realised that a line from the Seferis sequence actually appears at the start of 'A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford' ("Let them not forget us, the weak souls among the asphodels") - linking all of these poems together.
It's quite moving how the aging Mahon, resurrecting the opening image of the mine from 'A Disused Shed' into 'Mythistorema', climbs down into his own oeuvre and personal myths, his memory, and his life - then admitting as wryly as ever: "We try to grasp it but the past dies back/to a grainy line-up of old photographs." There was more pain and anger at the heart of 'A Disused Shed', which finally cries out against genocide, mass death and the failure of human endeavour. Here, Mahon seems to conclude more resignedly: "Now everyone/whispers together in the dim fields below".
Photo of asphodel by Ligurian Photoflora. Used under Creative Commons license