Derek Mahon, one of Ireland’s greatest contemporary poets, has died at the age at the age of 78.
A host of Irish writers, including the country’s president Michael D. Higgins, have today been paying tribute to Mahon, with perhaps the most personal coming from fellow Belfast poet, Michael Longley, who had this to say in the wake of his friend’s passing:
Derek Mahon was my oldest friend in poetry. We went to the same Belfast school, and we served our poetic apprenticeships together at Trinity College Dublin. Even then, I knew that he would be one of the great lyric poets of the past century. He was always entirely focused on writing poems, never distracted by the business of ‘the poetry world.’ He was a supreme craftsman. There is much darkness in his poetry, but it is set against the beauty of the world, and the formal beauty of his work. I believe that Derek’s poetry will last as long as the English language lasts.
Earlier this year, one of Mahon’s most famous works, “Everything is Going to Be All Right”—a short lyric of hope and resilience—became an unofficial poem of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here it is, if you don’t already know it:
How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.
Here it is being read by Fleabag‘s Andrew Scott:
It’s hard to summon, let alone maintain, any optimism about the world of late, but perhaps there will come a day (hopefully soon…) when Mahon is proven right.