GAVDIVM: new work by Seán Lysaght


GAVDIVM: A Tuscan Sketchbook




He watched a long line of sea glittering with ease

And felt his own heart

Taking its time after a cold winter.


Such a way beyond the girl

Settling her hair, was a familiar distance.

She touched her phone like a swallow

Breaking the surface of a lake in flight

And let its weight slide away before she turned

And stretched out in the light, as if her body

Was no barrier to its dreaming.



Oarsmen in fours, in traditional boats

Are still crossing the sea off Rapallo


Making water and oars gleam

In a hazy aquarelle of declining light


While Helen travels through in a train,

Her arms wrapped around her suitcase


As if it were Paris

To stop it from rolling.



At three o’clock in the afternoon

The air is thick as honey, cicadas

Buzzing in the limbs of cypresses

Would annoy a giant with their noise.


Just one swallowtail butterfly

Glides and turns over the olive grove

Like a scrap of antiquity.


My rich reward, my sanctuary

Accepts that it is now too hot

To do anything except write.



A line of cypresses forms tall columns of time

On the slope leaving the village


With just enough shade in the evenings

To gather Lawrence’s Etruscans


And their ‘fanciful long shoes’.

If that’s all too much


You can still insist on

Your own style by the pool,


Those scruffy, freebie slippers

You kept from the hotel.



Early afternoon, and Wilhelm Meister

Is reading Homer by the swimming pool


Until I interrupt with a question:

‘Do you think Dedalus was right,

That no line of beauty was ever drawn

From Irish myth to match

The classic in your hands?

What is it about the Greeks

That endures?’

He shifted briefly on his lounger,

As if a monument had come to life.

‘Down here in the south, you have time

To shape a story free from fear.

Your peasantry were too ruled by basic needs

To take possession of the world,

Though they were good with words.’



An iron rail for safety on the terrace.

A house overlooking a wooded glen.

Green proximity, then ridges of hazy blue

And the straggling horizon of the Apennines.


Below this, as terracotta specks,

A distant hilltop village

In the manner of Friedrich

Tying society down to a dappled grove

And hills succeeding each other

In sublimity.

Bell-strike at noon.

A landscape taking shape

Against the blare of cicadas

And the strained complaints of local women,

Powerless in this chronic inertia.



Then a buzzard, caught in an updraught,

Finding lift in space,

Going higher than we thought,

To land, shaggy-baggy on an acacia tree

In an awkward gorge

It would take hours to reach –

And certainly not in this heat.



How do you come to

That moment in the cool of the studio

When so much has been given and attained?

You browse a large quarto

Of Winslow Homer’s watercolours

Spread out on a painter’s bench

And let your soul flake off

As a white butterfly over the tips

Of trees in the lower grove.

And once you are there,

Will these marks be enough

Before Jessica comes from the kitchen

With two cups of tea?



Midnight under Jupiter and stars,

The dark sifted gently by crickets.

A lamplit pool among trees,

Swaying with the movement of bathers.

Young Beatrice is floating there

In the turquoise light, finding approval,

Encouragement and love,

As her face appears

And fades again among shadows

Watching shadows.


Tallest of all, though,

and very old,

high cypress boles

disperse into the sky.



In those rooms on the second floor,

While butterflies come and go,

Everything is ready.

Stonework has been painted,

New furniture is fitted,

The beds are freshly made,

And the view from there,

Looking down the valley,

Is to die for,

Or to lie down for.

The architect has thought of everything.



Humming-bird hawk moths

Visit the terrace at dusk,

Probing and going as they feed on nectar,

Their silhouettes suspended briefly

Before they shoot away.


Early next day, I am busy

Sweeping up leaf husks

Dropped from the loquat tree,

Another figure in a landscape,

Caught briefly before I leave.



A brew of cloud,

Then high air in a hurry

Spinning leaves, bellying deckchairs.

I run with others up and down stairs

To secure doors and windows

Before the first big blobs of rain

Darken the dust.


Is it time Lord? Is this the flash

And thunder clap of harvest?


An after-chill of rain

Drips steadily off the figs.



No matter how good your imitation

Of the golden oriole note – that rich bubble


Going higher and subsiding

In the trees washed by rain overnight


Repeated again and again

Through mist being exhaled


By the drenched, glistening forest,

You may think you can whistle


That final flourish to confuse the bird

And maybe tempt its yellow, discreet


Brilliance into visible range,

But you will only silence it


And diminish the clouded valley

When this is the morning of its song.



Goethe’s tiny untranslatable poem

About time and the traveller

Could be happening here

On a quiet evening

Stretched across the hills

With barely a breath in the treetops

And the birds gone quiet in the woods.


Then he says to wait,

We shall also come to rest,

With nothing left to translate.



The pool is one flight of steps

Down from the house

And then another set

Takes me into an old olive grove.

The footholds here are narrow

And my shins are touched

By the tough ribs of weeds as I pass.

Now and then, the hose of a snake

Scuttles away to a thicket,

Or a small deer, startled in the clearing,

Bounds away into shadows.

Getting back to the house is laborious

Under the sun of a July afternoon.

I feel a tension in my heels

From these terraces known to generations

Who kept olives and vines

And grew so much of their own.

But these contadini are all gone.


To get back to my own level

I mow the top lawn and sweep stonework.

Any further comparison with them

Would be a bit ‘arch’.


Then it’s time for a swim.



I hear the first deer barking

At 6 a.m., and again, mid-morning,


Echoing to the noise of the rut

Two months from now


Rising out of the wooded slopes

In my absence.


Our hearts are pitched forward

Into the foreknown


Because we cannot stay forever

And soon must spiral away


Like a buzzard’s flight

Lifted by the valley it is leaving.



Milan in the small hours.

We join a procession of wheelies

Rattling the cobbles

For the airport bus.


A security detail

Of police and soldiers

Keeps the peace

Outside the central station.


Migrants and homeless sleep here

In the shelter of trees

Because they are going nowhere,

Their journey halted at this thoroughfare.


We have checked tickets, passports and codes,

Then we board under a chatter of starlings

With tanned, muscular youth

And logo-rich, elegant girls.


This is the company we keep for now

As the bus pulls out.





GAVDIVM (Latin): Joy or delight.



Seán Lysaght is from Limerick in Ireland and taught for many years at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology in Castlebar, Co Mayo. He is the author of six volumes of poems, including The Clare Island Survey (1991), Scarecrow (1998), The Mouth of a River (2007) and Carnival Masks (2014), all from Gallery Press. He has also published a translation of Goethe’s Venetian Epigrams (Gallery, 2008), and a verse narrative of the life of Edmund Spenser. His prose work, Eagle Country, exploring the wild landscapes of Mayo and the west of Ireland, was published recently by Little Toller Books. He won the Lawrence O’Shaughnessy Poetry Award in 2007 and his Selected Poems appeared from Gallery in 2010. He lives in Westport, County Mayo.

1 Comment

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Iarla Mongeyreply
August 29, 2019 at 6:41 pm

Thank you so much for sharing this new work with us Sean. Like your photographs it as so therapeutic in the best sense of the word, the heat, the smells, the sounds, the visuals, the images and the responses are so gentle and meditative.
Truly grateful.

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