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Derek Mahon

Revision Booklet As completed by

5th Year English

Newbridge College


Part 1  Day Trip to Donegal  A Disused Shed in County Wexford  Grandfather Part 2  The Chinese Restaurant in Portrush  Rathlin  Ecclesiastes

DAY TRIP TO DONEGAL This poem has a solid structure with six lines in every stanza and 5 stanzas of pure Mahon genius has contributed to a beautifully told story of the deep subconscious. There is a strong contrast in the first and last stanza. ‘clothes to be picked up friends to be seen’ where as in the last stanza he becomes very isolated and alone ‘Without skill or reassurance – nobody to show me how’ In the second stanza the poet focuses more closely on his surrounding, an almost foreboding sense of fear is formed through his mind. Personification is used towards the end of the last stanza ‘in attitudes of agony and heartbreak’. These fish are used as a metaphor for himself. These suggestions of pain and death add to the atmosphere of underlying unease set up in the first stanza

The poet begins to fall deeper into his subconscious as he seems more interested in the return home on not the actual day out at sea. Donegal seems to recede from his consciousness. The 4th stanza becomes almost eerie as it plunges into the terrifying subconscious. Mahon enables us to visualise the physical power and sometimes frightening , atmosphere of dreams.

What is being described here goes well beyond physical fear. It is as if being ‘far out at sea’ is a metaphor for alienation, both physically and spiritually. In this poem we see how Mahon’s imagination works on the ordinary reality of a day trip to a place well known personally by him, and transform it so that we are given an insight into the poets deepest anxieties and fears. Mahon has organised this poem into five stanzas of six lines made up of rhyming couplets with the pattern aabbcc in each. The very regular form of the poem contrasts with the chaotic feelings he expresses in the final stanza.

A Disused Shed in County Wexford  Mahon personifies the mushrooms to evoke empathy in the reader. Their plight is a microcosm for suffering on a larger scale, the ongoing mass torment in the world. Trapped and isolated, they represent millions of people who are oppressed throughout the world, enduring until for the world remembers them.

 Sensuous and evocative imagery in the poem involves the reader, allowing them to participate in the vivid array of sounds, sights and particularly smells.

 Although the poem illustrates those of us who are forgotten among the mass suffering that goes on in the world, it contains a positive aspect in the mushrooms will to stay alive.

 The poem is narrative in structure, combining modern and distant history to indicate suffering through the ages. Mahon’s use of allusion allows the poem to be perceived as referring to domestic or international history.

 This poem admonishes us to honor the past and the people that made the present possible instead of taking it for granted and ignoring any suffering that isn’t ours.

Grandfather Connotations from the title suggest that there is a nostalgic element recurring throughout the poem. The use of vibrant imagery and Mahon’s projection of sounds through words enable us to empathise with him and feel drawn into the poem. “You hear the boots thumping in the hall” Poem is essentially written as a testament to Mahon’s grandfather. He shows a great deal of admiration for this man who has lived a hardworking, industrial life. “Row upon row of gantries rolled”

This Grandfather is no longer concerned with his working life. He has reverted back to his childhood state with actions mimicking that of a child. “Like a four year old”. He struggles to adapt to behaving like a typical elderly person. Depictions of his grandfather in an allusive manner make us feel that this is even more personal to Mahon as he displays obvious in-depth knowledge on the subject of his grandfather. Petrarchan sonnet – gentle rhythm and rhyming pattern suggest light-heartedness and fondness for his grandfather.

The Chinese Restaurant in Portrush 

Very specific title introduces the contrast of cultures in the poem, and gives the sense of not belonging. The use of the definite article also shows the distinct significance Mahon has with Portrush and puts a lot of emphasis on the setting. There’s a regretful poignancy in the first stanza ‘the place is as it might have been’. Portrush is ‘almost hospitable’, but still not completely inviting. There’s a defensiveness as the town prepares for the ‘the first ‘invasion’’. The inverted commas around the word ‘invasion’ have a slightly ironic sense, as if the poet is alluding to a time of actual violence in Portrush.

Very visual images (the girl, the gulls, the dog) adds a vibrancy to the town. Everything is coming alive after being ‘shut’ all winter. Creates a ‘gentle’ image as the girl and the animals fit in and belong in Portrush. The evocative imagery in the second stanza has the vividness and clarity of a painting. We see the mix of cultures as the poet eats Chinese food ‘under a framed photograph of Hong Kong’. The poet describes what can be seen from the proprietor’s perspective. The idyllic imagery, ‘as if the world were young’, adds an aesthetic edge to the poem. Through the proprietor’s eyes, Mahon imagines ‘the mountains of Donegal’. This rounds off the poignancy felt in the first stanza and reminds the reader that like the Chinese proprietor, Mahon is one of the ‘visitors’ in Portrush.

Imagery in ‘Rathlin’

 The imagery in this poem is based on the contrast between the ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ silences mentioned at the beginning of the poem.  When Mahon talks about the unnatural silence, he is talking about the silence that followed ‘the last scream’. It seems as though it was so unusual for Rathlin to be this quiet, until after the ‘unspeakable violence’.  After a long period of silence on the Island, what once was unnatural has now become natural and normal. Nature has taken over the island and Mahon portrays this with the use of cadence in the ‘conversation of crickets’.  Everything on the Island appears as if in ‘dreamtime’. Beautiful images convey how peaceful it is. ‘Oneiric species whistle and chatter’, ‘an oceanic haze’.  This peace is disturbed with different imagery as we are reminded that the ‘bombs doze in the housing estates’. This image unearths the violence of the past.  ‘Unspeakable violence’- this is an important quote as it represents the truth behind the silence of the Island but Mahon doesn’t reveal much else about this violence only that ‘the screams of the Rathlin women’ were heard.  Important Ending Imagery: ‘Only the cry of the shearwater and the roar of the outboard motor disturb the singular peace’. The silence that had become natural because it had been silent for so long is suddenly disturbed by the smallest of human actions. This portrays an uneasy sense of the unnatural silence returning.

Ecclesiastes  The poems title expresses a number of ideas that are explored in the poem, such as the obvious religious theme and perhaps the preacher’s apparent isolation from society.  Mahon captures an ironic, at times sarcastic tone throughout. His use of strong alliteration in the line `purist little puritan’ for example, conveys his cynical and quite controversial attitude with regard to certain aspects of religion.  The flowing structure of the poem gives evidence that Mahon is in fact overcome with passion and is utterly intent on making his point.  He displays his view on preacher’s lives and explores their inadequacies as he begins to see life from their perspective. `Yes you could wear black, drink water, nourish a fierce zeal with locusts and honey’. Mahon is once again cynical in his revelations and the clear undertone of sarcasm is effective in backing up the fact that he is on a rant.  Pathetic fallacy can be seen with the ` The January rains’, this seems to capture the poems mood as we extract a bleak damning image that can be applied to Mahon’s strong views on religion.  There is a contrasting image of freedom with the `red bandana, stick and guitar’. It is an evocative image that seems to insult the rigid rituals of religion and its seemingly inadequate preachers.

Derek Mahon Booklet  
Derek Mahon Booklet  

5th Year Revision booklet on the poet Derek Mahon. Completed by pupils of Newbridge College.