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A False Awakening /John Burnside

I stumbled across this delicious poem in the London Review of Books (which is my only source of news these days). Burnside is a Scottish writer who immerses himself in the same waters of deep ecology that I swim in. He (along with Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney) is one of three poets to win both the T.S. Eliot and the Forward Prize for poetry for one of his collections. This poem is a delicate puzzle. Someone waking? But is their waking into reality a false one? Perhaps the grace and blessing of these hypnopompic fragments are more real than reality?


Only the minor gods have ventured out

this morning: delicate

and silken, with a gift for mimicry,

they do not stoop to punish, or forgive,

though, sometimes, they are capable

of blessing.


I wake at dawn, but not to what I know

of Nineveh: a quinquereme

in abstract, certain hues

of cardamon, or tradescantia;


a siege of herons; razorfish in shoals;

cat snake and viper

tracked across the floor

or hidden in the feed

at lambing time;


till what I cannot recognise

as Silk Road

or an ounce of vie en rose,

is weaselled out of logic by a grace

as final as that fault line in the mind

where wilderness

comes slanting through the glint

of self-deceit and guile to claim its own.


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