More Bathtime Reading


He reads the great verses, in the bath;
his favourite time, now a hallowed rite.
The fate of mushrooms, in a disused shed,*
left on their own, for over fifty years,
strikes him as tragic; moves him to tears.
He wants the immortal words to sink into him,
as the fragrant bubbles soak into his skin . . .
“But no!  That’s not it!”  He exhales a sad sigh.
The bubbles, ephemeral, soon fade and die . . .
So hard, to be a poet!  But he’ll try.  He’ll try.
His petulant foot makes a turbulent “splash!”
He wants the effect of these words to last.
These wonderful words, when they settle, and sink,
should live forever in him; in the way he thinks.

* Derek Mahon:”A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford”.

My poem “The Great Verses (4)” is the fourth in a series of poems inspired by my habit of reading anthologies of poems in the bath.  I have written about the three earlier poems in the posts “Bathtime Reading” (2012/04/30) and “Reading Poetry in the Bath” (2012/09/27).

The anthology I am reading at the moment is “Essential Poems from the Staying Alive Trilogy” edited by Neil Astley, and the particular poem that inspired me was “A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford” by the Irish poet Derek Mahon.  It is, as Neil Astley comments, “. . . one of the great poems of the 20th century.  It doesn’t just make you pause for thought as you read and re-read it, it almost makes you feel more human.”  The mushrooms in the poem are symbolic, representing the marginalised people and mute victims of history.  It is quite a long poem, so I can only quote a few of the lines that particularly moved me: “A thousand mushrooms crowd to a keyhole./This is the one star in their firmament/ . . . A half century, without visitors, in the dark/ . . . They lift frail heads in gravity and good faith./They are begging us, you see, in their wordless way,/To do something, to speak on their behalf/Or at least not to close the door again./

I cannot recommend this anthology – and Derek Mahon’s poem – too highly.


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