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Poems 1968-1998

Poems 1968-1998

by Paul Muldoon

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The Volkswagen parked in the gap,
But gently ticking over.
You wonder if it's lovers
And not men hurrying back
Across two fields and a river.

Sven Birkerts has said, "It is not usual for a poet of Muldoon's years to have . . . an oeuvre disclosing significant shifts and evolutions. But Muldoon, more than


The Volkswagen parked in the gap,
But gently ticking over.
You wonder if it's lovers
And not men hurrying back
Across two fields and a river.

Sven Birkerts has said, "It is not usual for a poet of Muldoon's years to have . . . an oeuvre disclosing significant shifts and evolutions. But Muldoon, more than most, is an artist in high flight from self-repetition and the deadening business of living up to created expectations." The body of work in Poems 1968-1998 -- a comprehensive gathering of Paul Muldoon's eight volumes -- finds a great poet reinventing himself at every turn. Muldoon's career thus far shows us a fascinatingly mutable climate in which each freshening period brings -- as his first collection was predictively titled -- new weather."

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Thirty years of work from "the most significant English-language poet born since the second world war” —The Times Literary Supplement
This comprehensive volume, spanning three decades, makes abundantly clear the unique genius of the poet who was described many years ago by Seamus Heaney as "the real thing." Muldoon's influences range from Keats, Yeats, and Joyce to Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, and Bob Dylan. The result is a poetry that is breathtaking and wholly original.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The best, most-honored Irish poet of the generation after Heaney, "the man who could rhyme knife with fork" (as another poet quipped), Muldoon finds his collected work seeing print a few months before his 50th birthday not bad for a farmer's son from Armagh. Though it includes no new poems, this big brick of a volume does make available several long-out-of-print early books, and it serves better than Muldoon's older selecteds to reveal the full range of his prodigious talents. There is the Frostian, anecdotal Muldoon of early work like "The Big House": "I was only the girl under the stairs/ But I was the first to notice something was wrong." There is the evasive, tough-guy Muldoon who wrote narrative poems, like "The More a Man Has the More a Man Wants," about terror and gangsters in his native Ulster. There is the brilliantly canny and understatedly moving family elegist. There is the Muldoon whose oeuvre includes all shades of romantic and erotic emotion, from sexual disgust ("Aisling") to long-married tenderness ("Long Finish"). There is the writer of serious, terse, effective political verse, the author of 100 haiku about suburban New Jersey, and the Muldoon who recreated the sonnet in his own image. And, most famously, there is the postmodern comic, who claims to be "my own stunt double," and who explains in another recent poem: "A bird in the hand is better than no bread./ To have your cake is to pay Paul." Muldoon (who now teaches at Princeton and Oxford) may yet expand his range even further; for now, the Muldoons are all here, in force and in bulk. Most readers of poetry will need to deal with them. (Apr.) Forecast: The eight or so separate Muldoon volumes on the shelves had the effect of putting off first-time readers, and making a diverse body of work seem diffuse. This collection corrects both problems, and makes Muldoon's first half-century a one-shot buy for libraries and consumers alike. If reviewers take this chance to sum up the career, this book could put Muldoon in Heaney's neighborhood. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
After 30 years, Muldoon is still eager to be unpredictable, to be a bandit on the run from each previous incarnation or disguise. The first poem of his second collection ("Lunch with Pancho Villa") has the Mexican revolutionary look askance at Muldoon's first book of shattered pastorals and disaffected lyrics: "There's more to living in this country / Than stars and horses, pigs and trees, / Not that you'd guess it from your poems." The admonition is probably too harsh, but Villa here speaks as the author's poetic conscience, always urging him to write "Something a little nearer home." The need to get nearer to home has often involved grand efforts at re-writing, whether it be public history or the poet's own life. Muldoon's two most breathtaking poems to date, both included here, are the book-length "Madoc-A Mystery" and the long poem "Yarrow" (from The Annals of Chile). "Madoc" imagines that Samuel Coleridge and Robert Southey have arrived in America during the French-and-Indian War, where they attempt to set up a "Pantisocractic" society. "Yarrow" is in part a hallucinatory memoir of the poet's bookish childhood, in which characters from Treasure Island, The Arabian Nights, and the Arthurian legends all meet and merge in a dreamy soup of story and poem. Muldoon's fanatic, Joycean dedication to language is what most impresses throughout; it seems as if he wants to alight at least once on every word in the lexicon. If this desire sometimes riddles his poems with occult references, it also produces a lot of astonishing music. The work of a great and restless poet unsatisfied with his own heights.

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
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Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.40(d)

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The early electric people had domesticated the wild ass.

They knew all about falling off.

Occasionally they would have fallen out of the trees.

Climbing again, they had something to prove

To their neighbours. And they did have neighbours.

The electric people lived in villages

Out of their need of security and their constant hunger.

Together they would divert their energies

To neutral places. Anger to the banging door,

Passion to the kiss.

And electricity to earth. Having stolen his thunder

From an angry god, through the trees

They had learned to string his lightning.

The women gathered random sparks into their aprons,

A child discovered the swing

Among the electric poles. Taking everything as given,

The electric people were confident, hardly proud.

They kept fire in a bucket,

Boiled water and dry leaves in a kettle, watched the lid

By the blue steam lifted and lifted.

So that, where one of the electric people happened to fall,

It was accepted as an occupational hazard.

There was something necessary about the thing. The North Wall

Of the Eiger was notorious for blizzards,

If one fell there his neighbour might remark, Bloody fool.

All that would have been inappropriate,

Applied to the experienced climber of electric poles.

I have achieved this great height?

No electric person could have been that proud,

Thirty or forty feet. Perhaps not that,

If the fall happened to be broken by the roof of a shed.

The belt would burst, the call be made,

The ambulance arrive and carry the faller away

To hospital with a scream.

There and then the electric people might invent the railway

Just watching the lid lifted by the steam.

Or decide that all laws should be based on that of gravity,

Just thinking of the faller fallen.

Even then they were running out of things to do and see.

Gradually they introduced legislation

Whereby they nailed a plaque to every last electric pole.

They would prosecute any trespassers.

The high up, singing and live fruit liable to shock or kill

Were forbidden. Deciding that their neighbours

And their neighbours’ innocent children ought to be stopped

For their own good, they threw a fence

Of barbed wire round the electric poles. None could describe

Electrocution, falling, the age of innocence.


In the way that the most of the wind

Happens where there are trees,

Most of the world is centred

About ourselves.

Often where the wind has gathered

The trees together and together,

One tree will take

Another in her arms and hold.

Their branches that are grinding

Madly together and together,

It is no real fire.

They are breaking each other.

Often I think I should be like

The single tree, going nowhere,

Since my own arm could not and would not

Break the other. Yet by my broken bones

I tell new weather.


This is not the nest

That has been pulling itself together

In the hedge’s intestine.

It is the cup of a boy’s hands,

Whereby something is lost

More than the necessary heat gone forever

And death only after beginning.

There is more to this pale blue flint

In this careful fist

Than a bird’s nest having been discovered

And a bird not sitting again.

This is the start of the underhand,

The way that he has crossed

These four or five delicate fields of clover

To hunker by this crooked railing.

This is the breathless and the intent

Puncturing of the waste

And isolate egg and this the clean delivery

Of little yolk and albumen.

These his wrists, surprised and stained.


I guessed the letter

Must be yours. I recognized

The cuttle ink,

The serif on

The P. I read the postmark and the date,

Impatience held

By a paperweight.

I took your letter at eleven

To the garden

With my tea.

And suddenly the yellow gum secreted


The damson bush

Had grown a shell.

I let those scentless pages fall

And took it

In my feckless hand. I turned it over

On its back

To watch your mouth

Withdraw. Making a lean white fist

Out of my freckled hand.


Bored by Ascham and Zeno

In private conversation on the longbow,

I went out onto the lawn.

Taking the crooked bow of yellow cane,

I shot an arrow over

The house and wounded my brother.

He cried those huge dark tears

Till they had blackened half his hair.

Zeno could have had no real

Notion of the flying arrow being still,

Not blessed with the hindsight

Of photography and the suddenly frozen shot,

Yet that obstinate one

Eye inveigled me to a standing stone.

Evil eyes have always burned

Corn black and people have never churned

Again after their blink.

That eye was deeper than the Lake of the Young,

Outstared the sun in the sky.

Could look without commitment into another eye.


Every year they have driven stake after stake after stake

Deeper into the cold heart of the hill.

Their arrowheads are more deadly than snowflakes,

Their spearheads sharper than icicles,

Yet stilled by snowflake, icicle.

They are already broken by their need of wintering,

These archers taller than any snowfall

Having to admit their broken shafts and broken strings,

Whittling the dead branches to the girls they like.

That they have hearts is visible,

The nests of birds, these obvious concentrations of black

Yet where the soldiers will later put on mail,

The archers their soft green, nothing will tell

Of the heart of the mailed soldier seeing the spear he flung,

Of the green archer seeing his shaft kill.

Only his deliberate hand, a bird pretending a broken wing.


Macha, the Ice Age

Held you down,

Heavy as a man.

As he dragged

Himself away,

You sprang up

Big as half a county,


Excerpted from Poems 1968 1998 by Paul Muldoon.
Copyright 2001 by Paul Muldoon.
Published in 2002 by Farrar, Straus And Giroux.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

Meet the Author

Paul Muldoon was born in Northern Ireland in 1951. He lives with his family in New Jersey, where he chairs the Creative Writing Program at Princeton University. In 1999 he was elected Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford.

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