This meditative poem in eight parts modulates the movement towards the stillness and the silence associated with the rock-bound peninsula of Galicia’s Finisterre, the end of the known world, (until the discovery of the Americas) is packed with allusions and implied renewal. Finis-terre effectively evokes both ends and finality through a series of moments ‘at the edge of the wide waters’ flaying’, and instills a sense of seriousness about mortality and poetic endeavour.
This silence ‘always ever here’ among the breaking seas echoes the dark veil of night and the words that stem from such a place and position. That remarkable poet of silence Edmond Jabès, ‘Your story is that of the waves, which break at our ankles and sometimes, whip our faces. One and the same story, one and the same wave’ and Stéphane Mallarmé preface the work: ‘Certainement subsiste pr´sence de Minuit’ / ‘Certainly a presence of Midnight subsists’.
The poem, which begins with the ‘dead of nothing’ at midday moves towards midnight and beyond, dramatically placing the narrator-poet at the edge of this time and place watchfully contemplating the movement at thought’s edge’ as the fishermen row out to sea:
here, in the still mind’s longing,
in the far west and the earth’s end;
The poem’s attentiveness and articulation of these moments as echoes, from the rocks outwards, of endings has a strong pull through its rhythmic structure and clarity. The poem could be read as a movement towards clarity rather than death. Drawing upon the wild peninsula’s reputation as the ‘coast of death’ as many fishing and other vessels left the port never to return the narrator moves from the singular to the collective:
We oar the long seas skyward, westward
in our pale glance, always unable to face round
against its threatening jaws as long as
all the inharmonious tackle
preys into the soughing winds
cannot ever, aspire
yet dreams itself from all its fears
there at its back
a part of all its futures
coasting nearer as the day darkens
into a nothingness beyond the last
twitch of a toe or tender eggshell of a finger,
palm and hand’s caress and modulation
of a touch and smile and teardrop.
The narrator finds dread, root of beauty, fuse and flower, the echo of return, shadows under things and a sense of being just before silence in ‘the pungent hearing of the eye’ and certainties of no return. Prior to midnight, then, a complex borderland of endings and echoes draws the narrator to closer engagement with mortality:
Thus does the poet write
not with the pen
but with mortality between his fingertips
prey to the doubts that skin commands
at each long draft of break;
and thus against the dead of nothing doing
can he place with terrible care each word
This unemotionally asserts writing over memory, attention over slippage, and presence over absence, in the knowledge that we have one life against the darkness to come.
The final parts, full of cadence and soaring imagery, draw to a close with the poet catching the ‘tang of harshness’ before clarity:
He cannot, nor the great swan of angels
cannot, like the cocks of Hades
crow him then to a new morn.
only the muse to tread the rocks
– the dead and sea-welt rocks –
with him in peril to a new counterpoint
and sudden nakedness of flesh and eye
The poem has a wonderful precision, poise and distinctness, and comes with an introduction by Jason M. Wirth and helpful notes at the end. It will surely add to Pollard’s growing reputation.
David Caddy 24th November 2015