Sean O'Brien: a poem



The Language


Falling through the aspen-grove

and ushering itself along the gutters, night rain

speaks a language you have never understood.


Where is the glossary that could admit

the drowning air and lustrous blackness

or the roaring? All this time


you have confused the subject with the method,

when the thing done is the thing itself

and not for keeping. The storm intensifies.


The dark is light enough to see the slick rain

shining on the slates like an effect

designed by God and yet no more designed


than all the nothingness your training

leads you to infer. Unsayable,

sipping at the rims of manhole covers


and revolving anti-clockwise

down a drainpipe for a laugh,

it runs off at the mouth, it drinks itself


and with its throat wide open

swallows, tasting nothing, neither noun

nor tense, insensibly particular,


oracular yet empty, pouring from the dark

into the dark, and still, for all his animated talk,

indifferently bearing Orpheus' head away.



It Says Here, Sean O’Brien’s tenth collection of poems, was published by Picador in 2020. His Collected Poems appeared in 2012. His work has received awards including the T.S. Eliot and Forward Prizes, the Somerset Maugham, Cholmondeley and E.M. Forster Awards. His novel Once Again Assembled Here was published in 2016 and his collection of short stories Quartier Perdu in 2018. He is also a translator of works including The Birds (2001), Inferno (2006), Spanish Golden Age plays by Tirso de Molina and Lope de Vega, and the complete poems of Abai Qunanbaiuly (2020). In 2017 he was Weidenfeld Professor in Comparative European Literature at St. Anne’s College Oxford. He is Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.