Poems 1968-1998


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 ...

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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 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."

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
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.
From the Publisher

Thirty years of work from "the most significant English-language poet born since the second world war --The Times Literary Supplement

From The Critics
Once tutored by fellow Irishman Seamus Heaney, Muldoon writes poetry known for its dry humor, narrative scenes, deferred meanings and Joycean word games. Since 1983's Quoof, his muse has included the United States, and the tone of his verse has changed to accommodate this multiculturalism. Among his many talents, Muldoon has a penchant for long poems and poetry cycles, best displayed in "Middagh Street," "Madoc: A Mystery," the autobiographical "Yarrow" and "Sleeve Notes." "Madoc: A Mystery," which is the best of the lot, offers an amusing romp through American history and myth. It explores the mystery of Welsh Indians and features comic cameos by Thomas Jefferson and Lewis and Clark. These frantically paced scenes and dense images can be tough going, though they are always rewarding. Muldoon's signature Gaelic whimsy is thoroughly refreshing.
—Stephen Whited

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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374528447
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 4/28/2002
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 526,588
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.40 (d)

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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Read an Excerpt


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.

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Table of Contents

Authors' Note
The Electric Orchard 3
Wind and Tree 4
Blowing Eggs 5
Thrush 6
The Glad Eye 6
Hedges in Winter 7
Macha 8
The Waking Father 9
Dancers at the Moy 10
Identities 11
Clonfeacle 12
February 13
Kate Whiskey 14
Thinking of the Goldfish 14
Vespers 15
The Cure for Warts 16
Leaving an Island 17
The Radio Horse 18
Good Friday, 1971. Driving Westward 19
Seanchas 20
Behold the Lamb 21
Hedgehog 22
Lives of the Saints 22
Easter Island 23
The Indians on Alcatraz 24
Vampire 25
Elizabeth 25
The Kissing Seat 27
Grass Widow 28
Skeffington's Daughter 29
Cuckoo Corn 30
The Upriver Incident 31
The Lost Tribe 31
The Field Hospital 33
Party Piece 33
The Year of the Sloes, for Ishi 35
Lunch with Pancho Villa 41
The Centaurs 43
The Big House 43
Epona 44
Cass and Me 45
How to Play Championship Tennis 46
Cheesecake 47
Ned Skinner 47
Ma 48
Keen 49
Vaquero 50
Our Lady of Ardboe 50
Big Liz 52
The Ducking Stool 52
The Girls in the Poolroom 53
Boon 54
The Wood 55
At Master McGrath's Grave 56
Blemish 57
The Bearded Woman, by Ribera 57
The Merman 58
Paris 59
The Narrow Road to the Deep North 59
The Mixed Marriage 60
De Secretis Mulierum 61
Largesse 61
Cider 62
The Rucksack 63
At Martha's Deli 63
The Country Club 64
Bang 65
Duffy's Circus 66
Mules 67
Armageddon, Armageddon 67
Whim 75
October 1950 76
The Geography Lesson 76
The Weepies 77
Bran 78
Cuba 78
The Bishop 79
The Boundary Commission 80
Early Warning 80
Lull 81
I Remember Sir Alfred 82
Ireland 82
Anseo 83
Why Brownlee Left 84
Immrama 85
Promises, Promises 85
Truce 86
History 87
Palm Sunday 88
The Avenue 88
Something of a Departure 89
Holy Thursday 89
Making the Move 90
The Princess and the Pea 91
Grief 91
Come into My Parlour 92
The One Desire 93
Immram 94
Gathering Mushrooms 105
Trance 107
The Right Arm 107
The Mirror 108
The Hands 110
The Sightseers 110
My Father and I and Billy Two Rivers 111
Quoof 112
Big Foot 112
Beaver 113
Mary Farl Powers: Pink Spotted Torso 113
Edward Kienholz: The State Hospital 114
Glanders 115
The Salmon of Knowledge 116
From Strength to Strength 116
Cherish the Ladies 117
Yggdrasill 118
Mink 119
The Frog 120
A Trifle 120
from Last Poems 121
Sky-Woman 122
Kissing and Telling 123
The Unicorn Defends Himself 123
Blewits 125
The Destroying Angel 125
Aisling 126
The More a Man Has the More a Man Wants 127
Ontario 151
The Coney 152
My Grandfather's Wake 153
Gold 154
Profumo 155
Chinook 155
The Mist-Net 156
The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife 157
Brock 157
The Wishbone 159
The Lass of Aughrim 159
Meeting the British 160
Crossing the Line 161
Bechbretha 162
Christo's 164
The Earthquake 164
The Fox 166
The Soap-Pig 167
The Toe-Tag 171
Gone 171
Paul Klee: They're Biting 172
Something Else 173
Sushi 174
7, Middagh Street 175
Wystan 175
Gypsy 180
Ben 183
Chester 184
Salvador 184
Carson 187
Louis 189
The Key 197
Tea 198
Capercaillies 198
Asra 199
The Panther 200
Cauliflowers 200
The Briefcase 202
Madoc: A Mystery 202
Ovid: Metamorphoses 325
Brazil 327
Oscar 328
Milkweed and Monarch 329
Twice 330
Incantata 331
The Sonogram 342
Footling 342
The Birth 343
Cesar Vallejo: Testimony 343
Cows 344
Yarrow 346
The Mudroom 395
The Point 400
Nightingales 400
Plovers 401
The Bangle 401
The Plot 402
Tract 403
Rainer Maria Rilke: The Unicorn 403
White Shoulders 403
Green Gown 404
Now, Now 406
Longbones 407
Lag 408
Symposium 409
Between Takes 410
Sleeve Notes 410
Hay 418
Apple Slump 419
The Train 419
Three Deer, Mount Rose, August 1995 420
Hopewell Haiku 420
Anonymous: Myself and Pangur 436
Rainer Maria Rilke: Black Cat 437
Paunch 438
Long Finish 438
The Throwback 441
They That Wash on Thursday 442
Blissom 443
The Little Black Book 444
Errata 445
Horses 446
A Journey to Cracow 447
Aftermath 448
Wire 448
Rune 450
Third Epistle to Timothy 451
A Half Door Near Cluny 455
Burma 456
The Hug 456
White 457
The Fridge 458
The Bangle (Slight Return) 458
Index of Titles 477
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