Skip to content

from ‘Due North’.



Ife Heads. Gamelan. Vesaas. Night Letters.

CARRYING SILENCE IN a side pocket through morning thoroughfares
how it pulses, holding trust like an old watch on a chain,
woken into oppression resentment and anxiety
after hateful dreams, working populations of Europe.

Silence folded against the flank as the sky is folded
tight behind the morning fogs and closed shops
and there is no refuge to be had across the great
housing estates, sleeping citizens of eternity.

The long awaited silence, light through paper
dissolving the shadows filling the absences and
every step taken is an act of wish every
thought a prize, hovering names of loved ones.

Gentle pulsing of tremolo technique in a pavan
for viol, by Daniel Farrant (†1651) a blood-flow sense,
smoothing the furrows of habit and picking up
roadside attachments, emerging families of the far plains.

A failure, a silence, close to the heart,
a writing on the silence saying “too late”
as if we had a nation with us, as if we could speak!
Poets of the closed cupboard, this is my Rubaiyat.

In prehistory each unit (group/person) had one melody or tone-row
which it sang continually, maintaining contact
through forests and across rivers, coordinated to food source.
Harmony was then the meeting with the other.

An external articulation. Gamelan in Irama Dados,2 speed
ratio 4:1, there is always a slow referent, a sustenance
alongside, clearly, over there through the trees.
And the moon rises and freezes the world. Bronze chimes.

Bronze heads wrapped in red textiles, buried in dry earth.
Walk on. Speak to yourself. Walk through a war if you can,
everything you remember lost and broken behind you, humming
a simple tune you can’t stop repeating, immortal invincible.

Bronze head, lips slightly parted, staring straight ahead
a soundless singing. This is where we stop, in the ancestral chapel
the parental double grave. Be quiet, say nothing, follow the argument
of the music, monothematic, drawing together, “a marriage of true minds”.

A chorus of 15 bronze heads singing in the museum at night
the music working to its close, “The Philosopher” the brain song,
earth-toned lines, earth-bound demands, this
is all there is going to be, where the sun never shines.

Singing across all the anxieties that return during the night,
between dark and light, sleep and waking, truth and invention
bearing the infant in mind, the bronze heads breathing song:
pastoral song panic song choral preludes measures of fate.

Not enough breath to disturb a candle flame, circular breathing, songs
of storm birds and steam railways, syllabic patterns, shepherds’ comfort,
sentences of trust, chorale preludes Let us live to make them free
Unlock’d her silent throat.

_______________________________IT IS THE MIDDLE OF THE
_______________________________FUCKING NIGHT. I CAN’T
_______________________________SLEEP & I HAVE NO WHISKEY

_____[“Nohy, a woman of Andigoza village, singing ‘Mba ferigneso’ (have
_____mercy on me) over and over again as she weaves a liana mat…”]4

Unnoticed people.
Are we not extraordinary?
We are the only extraordinary thing.
I am the housewife of the universe
I shall defeat death and harm, fascism and tyranny with a sink plunger.

________________Anxiety melts down as leaves fall from a tree
________________Lines in the sky / We carried a silence across Europe
________________and now we listen to it.

_______“This terrible silence that emanates from me
_______standing there trying to remember what real people
_______would say under the circumstances.”
________________An inaudible singing through bronze lips.

________________________când m-o făcut mama-n lume
________________________when my mother brought me into this world
________________________she intended that I should speak
________________________and what did we do? we sat round and nodded.
________________________We did nothing to prevent misfortune and misery.
________________________The day was destroyed. There was no day.
_________________________________________(The Boat in the Evening)5
________________________Say something. Say precepts.

1. The virtuous mean is a kind of extreme.
2. Our ideas must be brought into harmony with human acts.
3. Above the tree line there are sky blue butterflies.

I waited for the ‘change’ but it
did not come. Perhaps he lost
his way here. Poor me, now I
shall be alone in hell for the rest
of my life.
“I shall leave this place

________________________Shepherd’s inscription on a
________________________rock surface previously used
________________________in prehistory, Mont Bego, high
________________________valleys of the Maritime Alps. Wind-
________________________swept rock arenas, immense solitude.
________________________and I shall hate it for ever.”

________________Then at the lakeside inn at the end of the earth
________________the accordionist, who sings and dances
________________in all the lost languages, late into the night
________________when no other lights remain in the valley,
________________the people in dim bars in the evening sitting
________________silently or with a quiet murmuring, the day fallen
________________and scattered like puddles in waste land, the day
________________lost and forgotten, strips of light pulsating on the water.

________________The mind astray, becalmed, without habitation—
________________I gaze with longing_/_with supplication
________________at the backs of towns.
________________Aristotelian precepts carved on lintels.

With at all times the choice open for better or worse. A sense of reality
includes the difficulty of the choice but takes it. Our halos are mouse-traps.
Our auras are open invitations. The stream runs beside the road.
The police helicopter worrying overhead. Our common weal.

The church bell’s after-tone, the mountain sides darkened.
My path be it ethical or aesthetic, one or the other,
my whole life clear. Clear as the evening sky.

Come, you great art, you facture. Do something useful.
Take the old fellow upstairs a brandy and help him get to sleep.
Speak out. Speak for. Reconsitute the missing day.

duenorth_covPeter Riley, the poetry editor of The Fortnightly Review‘s New Series, is a former editor of Collection, and the author of fifteen books of poetry (including The Glacial Stairway [Carcanet, 2011]) – and some of prose. He lives in Yorkshire and is the recipient of a 2012 Cholmondeley Award for poetry.

This excerpt is from Peter Riley’s latest book, Due North (UK/US) (Shearsman, 2015). Peter Riley will read from his work on Tuesday 31 March 2015, at 7:30pm, in the Shearsman series of readings: Swedenborg Hall, 20/21 Bloomsbury Way, London WC1.


  1. Due North is a poem in twelve chapters concerned with human movement northwards or out in the quest for work, subsistence, settlement and gratification, and in danger of getting trapped in various enclosures, including thought-traps.

    The cast includes migrant workers, returning soldiers, children growing up, and population movements such as the early 19th Century descent on the northern manufacturing districts from demographic disaster zones, with my awareness of my own ancestry among the displaced Irish of Manchester and West Yorkshire.

    Woven into this are various artistic, poetical, cultural and instinctive ventures to traverse cold and emptiness, limit and futility, in the hope of attaining the metaphor of lasting warmth. Its pattern is that of a long sequence of beginnings, some of which reach their conclusions, usually elsewhere in the text, some of which don’t. The textual mode is literal and lyrical, to posit the value of these two forces in sustaining hope. —P.R.

  2. Irama Dados: a pace or tempo in gamelan
  3. Night Letters. A book of the gouaches and messages done by the artist Roger Hilton in the last two years of his life when bedridden and insomniac.
  4. “Nohy, a woman…” A note to a track of a CD of Madagascan field recordings.
  5. Novel by the Norwegian novelist and poet Tarjei Vesaas, from which there are two quotations.


  1. wrote:

    This leaves me speechless (or comment-less) which is probably a good thing (in the circumstances).

    Wednesday, 25 March 2015 at 01:28 | Permalink
  2. wrote:

    riley’s compass points true.

    Thursday, 16 April 2015 at 09:11 | Permalink
  3. wrote:

    I am enjoying reading ‘Due North’, so much so, that I keep rereading the poems, they are masterful works and at the moment I simply don’t want to read anything else. To be honest, I was beginning to lose interest in reading any more poetry books. ‘Due North’ is fresh and inspiring, the more I read through this collection of poems, the greater are the rewards and surprises. Thank you, Mr Riley, for writing such a beautiful book.

    Friday, 25 September 2015 at 22:16 | Permalink

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *