Friday, 4 February 2011

At the heart of the ridiculous, the sublime

I recently wrote a poem about an Iglu and have been thinking about snow and surviving in that hostile environment. I then read The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge and I thought it was a wonderful book. It evoked Scott and his party at the Antarctic to me in such a vivid way. I was flicking through a poetry anthology and found this excellent villanelle by Derek Mahon, the refrain and Oates last words keep running through my mind. I keep thinking of Oates and Birdie, the brave but foolish mission. How beautiful the Aurora must have been, overlooking the tragic frozen death.


Captain Lawrence Oates

Antarctica - Derek Mahon

‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’
The others nod, pretending not to know.
At the heart of the ridiculous, the sublime.

He leaves them reading and begins to climb,
goading his ghost into the howling snow;
He is just going outside and may be some time.

The tent recedes beneath its crust of rime
And frostbite is replaced by vertigo:
At the heart of the ridiculous, the sublime.

Need we consider it some sort of crime,
This numb self-sacrifice of the weakest? No,
He is just going outside and may be some time –

In fact, for ever. Solitary enzyme,
Though the night yield no glimmer there will glow,
At the heart of the ridiculous, the sublime.

He takes leave of the earthly pantomime
Quietly, knowing it is time to go:
‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’
At the heart of the ridiculous, the sublime.

Oates with the ponies he was in charge of caring for.

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