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Wake Forest
University Press

Wake Forest University Press

Dedicated to Irish Poetry

Wake: Up to Poetry

"The act of poetry is a rebel act."

Poetry for Samhain: “The Andean Flute” by Derek Mahon

As Ireland prepares to celebrate Samhain (pronounced “SAH-win”), a Gaelic festival marking the beginning of winter or the “darker half” of the year, Derek Mahon’s mystical poem perfectly encapsulates the mood of the celebration. The month-long holiday, which will commence at sunset on October 31, is celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, and is known as the source for our own “dark festival” (otherwise known as Halloween).

The Andean Flute 

He dances to that music in the wood
As if history were no more than a dream.
Who said the banished gods were gone for good?

The furious rhythm creates a manic mood,
Piercing the twilight like a mountain stream.
He dances to that music in the wood.

We might have put on Bach or Buxtehude,
But a chance impulse chose the primal scream.
Who said the banished gods were gone for good?

An Inca frenzy fires his northern blood.
His child-heart picking up the tribal beam,
He dances to that music in the wood.

A puff of snow bursts where the birches brood;
Along the lane the earliest snowdrops gleam.
Who said the banished gods were gone for good?

It is the ancient cry for warmth and food
That moves him. Acting out an ancient theme,
He dances to that music in the wood.
Who said the banished gods were gone for good?

Derek Mahon, from The Hunt by Night (1982)

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Categories: Irish Poetry, Poem of the Week, PoetryTags:

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