Snow Falling on Chestnut Hill: New and Selected Poems

Snow Falling on Chestnut Hill: New and Selected Poems

by John F. Deane


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Featuring the best poems of one of Ireland’s most popular modern poets, this new work explores John F. Deane’s perennial themes of love—both religious and human. The title sequence traces the development of a Christian life, beginning with expectation and birth and proceeding through youth, experience, death, and rebirth. Each of the collection's 12 poems presents a movement of the spirit, from the author’s childhood in the west of Ireland, through the death of a wife, to the birth of a grandchild in Holland. Arranged in the manner of an orchestral symphony, each section focuses on a different piece of music, from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony to Mozart's Laudate Dominum. The new poems are accompanied by pieces from Deane’s earlier work, selected and edited by Irish poetry scholar, Thomas Dillon Redshaw.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781847771179
Publisher: Carcanet Press, Limited
Publication date: 11/01/2012
Pages: 156
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

John F. Deane is the founder of Poetry Ireland and The Poetry Ireland Review. He is the author of Eye of the Hare, Fugue: New and Selected Poems, and Toccata and the recipient of the O’Shaughnessy Award for Irish Poetry. In 1996, he was elected Secretary General of the European Academy of Poetry.

Read an Excerpt

Snow Falling on Chestnut Hill

New and Selected Poems

By John F. Deane

Carcanet Press Ltd

Copyright © 2013 John F. Deane
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84777-714-0


from Toccata and Fugue (2000)

    In Dedication

    Under the trees the fireflies
    zip and go out, like galaxies;
    our best poems, reaching in from the periphery,
    are love poems, achieving calm.

    On the road, the cries of a broken rabbit
    were pitched high in their unknowing;
    our vehicles grind the creatures down
    till the child's tears are for all of us,

    dearly beloved, ageing into pain,
    and for herself, for what she has discovered
    early, beyond this world's loveliness. Always
    after the agitated moments, the search for calm.

    Curlews scatter now on a winter field, their calls
    small alleluias of survival; I offer you
    poems, here where there is suffering and joy,
    evening, and morning, the first day.


    They leave their shoes, like signatures, below;
    above, their God is waiting. Slowly they rise
    along the mountainside where rains and winds go
    hissing, slithering across. They are hauling up

    the bits and pieces of their lives, infractions
    of the petty laws, the little trespasses and
    sad transgressions. But this bulked mountain
    is not disturbed by their passing, by this mere

    trafficking of shale, shifting of its smaller stones.
    When they come down, feet blistered, and sins
    fretted away, their guilt remains and that black
    mountain stands against darkness above them.

    Winter in Meath

    To Tomas Tranströmer

    Again we have been surprised,
    deprived, as if suddenly,
    of the earth's familiarity;

    it is like the snatching away of love
    making you aware at last you loved;

    sorrows force their way in, and pain,
    like memories half contained;

    the small birds, testing boldness,
    leave delicate tracks closer
    to the back door

    while the cherry flaunts blossoms of frost
    and stands in desperate isolation.

    * * *

    The base of the hedgerow is a cliff of snow,
    the field is a still of a choppy sea,
    white waves capped in a green spray;

    a grave was dug into that hard soil
    and overnight the mound of earth
    grew stiff and white as stones flung onto a beach.

    Our midday ceremony was hurried,
    forced hyacinths and holly wreathes dream birds
    appearing on our horizonless ocean;

    the body sank slowly,
    the sea closed over,
    things on the seabed
    stirred again in expectation.

    * * *

    This is a terrible desolation –
    the word 'forever' stilling all the air

    to glass.

    * * *

    Night tosses and seethes;
    mind and body chafed all day
    as a mussel-boat restlessly
    irritates the mooring;

    on estuary water a fisherman
    drags a long rake against the tide;
    one snap of a rope and boat and this
    solitary man
    sweep off together into night;

    perhaps the light from my window
    will register a moment with some god
    riding by on infrangible glory.

    * * *

    At dawn
    names of the dead
    appear on the pane

    in undecipherable frost;

    hurts them
    and they fade.

    * * *

    The sea has gone grey as the sky
    and as violent;

    pier and jetty go under
    again and again
    as a people suffering losses;

    a flock of teal from the world's edge
    moves low over the water
    finding grip for their wings along the wind;

    already, among stones, a man, like a priest,
    stooping in black clothes, has begun beachcombing;

    the dead, gone silent in their graves,
    have learned the truth about resurrection.

    * * *

    You can almost look into the sun
    silver in its silver-blue monstrance
    cold over the barren white cloth of the world;

    for nothing happens;

    each day is an endless waiting
    for the freezing endlessness of the dark;

    once – as if you had come across
    a photograph, or a scarf maybe –
    a silver monoplane like a knife-blade cut
    across the still and haughty sky

    but the sky healed up again after the passing
    that left only a faint, pink thread,
    like a scar.


    I sat where she had sat
    in the fireside chair
    expecting her to come down the stairs
    into the kitchen;

    the door was open, welcoming;
    coals shifted in the Rayburn,
    a kettle hummed,
    she heard the susurrations of the fridge;

    she had surrounded herself with photographs,
    old calendars, hand-coloured picture-postcards;
    sometimes a robin looked in at her from the world
    or a dog barked vacantly from the hill;

    widowed she sat, in the fireside chair,
    leaning into a populated past;
    she sat so quietly, expecting ghosts,
    that a grey mouse moved by, uncurious

    till she stomped her foot against the floor;
    and did she sense, I wondered, the ghost
    who would come after her death to sit
    where she had sat, in the fireside chair?


    This was the given image –
    a moulded man-body
    elongated into pain, the head
    sunk in abandonment: the cross;

    I see it now
    as the ultimate in ecstasy,
    attention focused, the final words
    rehearsed, there are black

    nail-heads and contrasting
    plashes of blood
    like painter's oils: self-portrait
    with grief and darkening sky;

    something like Hopkins,
    our intent, depressive scholar
    who gnawed on the knuckle-bones of words
    for sustenance – because God

    scorched his bones with nearness
    so that he cried with a loud voice
    out of the entangling, thorny
    underbrush of language.

    Christ, with Urban Fox


    He was always there for our obeisance,
    simple, ridiculous,
    not sly, not fox, up-front – whatever
    man-God, God-man, Christ – but there.
    Dreadlocks almost, and girlish, a beard
    trim in fashion, his feminine
    fingers pointing to a perfect
    heart chained round with thorns;
    his closed and slim-fine lips
    inveigling us towards pain.


    Did he know his future? while his blood
    slicked hotly down the timbers did he know
    the great hasped rock of the tomb
    would open easily as a book of poems
    breathing the words out? If he knew
    then his affliction is charade, as is our hope;
    if he was ignorant – his mind, like ours,
    vibrating with upset – then his embrace of pain
    is foolishness beyond thought, and there –
    where we follow, clutching to the texts –
    rests our trust, silent, wide-eyed, appalled.


    I heard my child scream out
    in pain on her hospital bed,
    her eyes towards me where I stood
    clenched in my distress;
    starched sheets, night-lights, night-fevers,
    soft wistful cries of pain,
    long tunnel corridors down which flesh
    lies livid against the bone.


    Look at him now, this king of beasts, grown
    secretive before our bully-boy modernity,
    master-shadow among night-shadows,
    skulking through our wastes. I watched a fox
    being tossed under car wheels, thrown like dust
    and rising out of dust, howling in its agony;
    this is not praise, it is obedience,
    the way the moon suffers its existence,
    the sky its seasons. Man-God, God-man, Christ,
    suburban scavenger – he has danced
    the awful dance, the blood-jig, has been strung
    up as warning to us all, his snout
    nudging still at the roots of intellect.

    The Fox-God

    Across the fields and ditches, across the unbridgeable
    mean width of darkness, a fox barked out its agony;
    all night it fretted, whimpering like a famished child,

    and the rain fell without pity; it chewed at its flesh,
    gnawed on its bared bone, until, near dawn, it died.
    The fox, they will say, is vermin, and its god

    a vermin god; it will not know, poor creature,
    how it is suffering – it is yourself you grieve for.
    While I, being still a lover of angels, demanding

    a Jacob's ladder beyond our fields, breathed
    may El Shaddai console you into that darkness.
    I know there was no consolation. No fox-god came.

    But at dawn, man the enemy came stalking fields,
    snares in his bag, a shotgun cocked. Poor
    creatures. The gap out of life, we have learned,

    is fenced over with affliction. We, too, some dusk,
    will take a stone for pillow, we will lie down, snared,
    on the uncaring earth. Poor creatures. Poor creatures.

    The Taking of the Lambs

    The ewes were shifting in the darkness,
    exhaling sorrow in wooden
    dunts of incomprehension; lightning
    skittered on the horizon,
    the milky way
    was a vast meandering sheep-track;

    the gate was barred again
    and the hard hooves of the ewes
    slithered in the glaur,
    their legs too thin tonight to sustain
    the awful weight of their bodies;

    the sheep-dogs stretched, contented,
    soon to be swore at again,
    curmudgeoned and cringing
    and the dung-stained truck
    loomed in the yard; night

    seemed the shadow of a maker God
    laid down over the world,
    and even the stars in their obedience
    stepped out their side-shuffle dance
    of destruction, the thunder
    eventually rolling down.


Excerpted from Snow Falling on Chestnut Hill by John F. Deane. Copyright © 2013 John F. Deane. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Selected Poems,
from Toccata and Fugue (2000),
In Dedication,
Winter in Meath,
Christ with Urban Fox,
The Fox-God,
The Taking of the Lambs,
from Manhandling the Deity (2003),
The Book of Love,
House Martins,
Fantasy in White,
The Apotheosis of Desire,
from The Instruments of Art (2005),
Late October Evening,
The Gift,
The Meadows of Asphodel,
Adagio Molto,
The Instruments of Art,
The Study,
Carnival of the Animals,
Report from a Far Place,
The Red Gate,
The Chaplet,
from A Little Book of Hours (2008),
To Market, to Market,
Call Me Beautiful,
Towards a Conversion,
Harbour, Achill Island,
Mapping the Sky,
The Poem of the Goldfinch,
Kane's Lane,
Madonna and Child,
from Eye of the Hare (2011),
Travelling Man,
Shelf Life,
The Marble Rail,
On the Edge,
Eye of the Hare,
The Colours,
The Colliery,
Words of the Unknown Soldier,
Ever This Night,
Midsummer Poem,
Mimizan Plage,
Snow Falling on Chestnut Hill (2012),
Who have Business with the Sea,
Bead after Bead,
Writing out the Myth,
Pastoral Symphony,
As Breath against the Windowpane,
Night on Skellig Michael,
Mother and Child,
An Eldering Congregation,
Snow Falling on Chestnut Hill,
About the Author,
Also by John F. Deane from Carcanet Press,

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