For Alastair Reid
Finnegan wakes and walks in briny air.
Gulls wheel and gannets dive. The cliffs are bare.
The coast is clear. And nobody is there.
He’d dreamed a corner of his dream again
might touch his waking with a scent of rain.
An offshore wind flies by, with clouds in train.
In the beginning was the primal Word
shaped like a stone: unhewn, uncut, unstirred.
But now, winged on the wind, a huge sea bird,
a great sea eagle, dipping for its prey,
sweeps overhead. He wakes and it is day.
The wind blows through him, calling, Come away.
November morning. Snow is on the air.
The dead awaken on the Yeatsian stair.
‘Isn’t that Venus, quimmering up there?’
grins Finnegan, yawning slyly, like a snake.
‘I swear the last pun I shall ever make,
has been delivered. Jeeze! My last daybreak!
So get thee gone behind me, wizened speech,
for now I sniff what once was out of reach
as fruity as the seaweed on this beach.
Frail words, you are the crumpling skin I slough
and toss away, for I don’t need you now
a holy silence playeth on my brow!’
Pert Finnegan stands stranded among snows,
a sturdy man with frozen hands, who knows
words’ girths and depths, their tides and undertows.
The eagle’s talons clutch a hapless fish.
Finnegan makes one last irreverent wish.
The bet is on, in semi-gibberish.
‘Heavenly Father, pray treat me as a grafter
who’ll stake eternal life in your Hereafter
against one crock of crack, one peal of laughter.’
The snows dissolve into the sea, and streams
of pale light deck the world in chilly beams.
The living ripple back into their dreams.
James Joyce’s great work, Finnegans Wake (published in 1939), has been interpreted as a single dream or, perhaps, as a single night of dreams.
If either is the case, then what if the dream, or the night, is life itself? This poem, Finnegan Woken (written in 2017 and published here for the first time, in 2021) explores what might happen when Everyman-Finnegan wakes up out of the dream, his dream, our dream.
And another question: where might he wake up? Answer: where else, but by the sea?