BEDS OF DOWN
by Brian Lynch
Dublin, Raven Arts Press, 1983
Cover design by Leo Duffy from an illustration in the Poetical Works of William Cowper by Thomas Secombe
The title comes from a famous passage in William Cowper’s great long poem The Task, which begins:
‘And now with nerves new-braced and spirits cheered/ We tread the wilderness’, and goes on to describe ‘the thresher at his task./ Thump after thump resounds the constant flail,/ That seems to swing uncertain, and yet falls/ Full on the destined ear’ – a wonderful phrase – and then goes on: ‘Wide flies the chaff,/ The rustling straw sends up a frequent mist/ Of Atoms sparkling in the noonday beam./ Come hither, ye that press your beds of down/ And sleep not – see him sweating o’er his bread/ Before he eats it – Tis the primal curse,/ But softened into mercy, made the pledge/ Of cheerful days, and nights without a groan.’
I was clearly under Cowper’s influence by 1983, an influence of course that led to the writing of The Winner of Sorrow.
This is the first poem in the book – as can be seen, it has some connection with the Cowper passage, though I don’t think I was aware of the link at the time:
The New Typewriter Ribbon
A new blackness, less penetrable.
What seemed to be an afterthought, tonight
Turns out to be the main thought.
Because of this I don’t go out much
Any more: a blackness that turns –
I have to look now – from left to right
Or from right to left and back again.
A bell rings. The door opens next door
And John Doyle laughs Ha Ha and then
Come in he says I hardly knew ye.
I set to thinking about returned greetings,
About how writing is the purest invitation
And about the time my mother called
And I was found out in the way I said hello,
Being guilty of what I most attacked.
A new blackness, less penetrable, more smudged,
And yet I am ready now and willing,
Both aimed and pierced.