Happy Birthday Michael (Christ you’re not really 70 are you? )

He may be a “a 70-year-old smiling public man” but Michael Longley exudes the lyrical joy in nature, the birds and flowers of Mayo and anything else in creation. His classical learning inspired him to give the troubles an elegaic quality few can match.

Ceasefire by Michael Longley

Put in mind of his own father and moved to tears
Achilles took him by the hand and pushed the old king
Gently away, but Priam curled up at his feet and
Wept with him until their sadness filled the building.

Taking Hector’s corpse into his own hands Achilles
Made sure it was washed and, for the old king’s sake,
Laid out in uniform, ready for Priam to carry
Wrapped like a present home to Troy at daybreak.

When they had eaten together, it pleased them both
To stare at each other’s beauty as lovers might,
Achilles built like a god, Priam good-looking still
And full of conversation, who earlier had sighed:

‘I get down on my knees and do what must be done
And kiss Achilles’ hand, the killer of my son.’

Longley is also known for his very graphic war-imagry.
In ‘Wounds’, he again uses his father’s memories to portray the horror and the futility of war and bigotry.
He describes a young soldier, still only a child, who goes into battle for the last time (at the Somme), and his last words are a screamed declaration of his bigotry and his hatred;

“Going over the top with ‘Fuck the Pope!’
‘No Surrender!’: a boy about to die,
Screaming ‘Give ’em one for the Shankill!’ ”

There is a sense of both disgust and shame at such a waste of life, and a sense of pity for someone so ignorant that they die for what they hate, as opposed to giving their life defending what they love.
The horror of war is brought home with the descriptions of the dead;

“A landscape of dead buttocks”

“Three teenage soldiers, bellies full of
Bullets and Irish beer, their flies undone”

He describes a burial;

“A packet of Woodbines I throw in,
A lucifer, the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Paralysed as heavy guns put out
The night-light in a nursery forever”

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London