It is difficult to isolate the special brilliance of Derek Mahon, because he is so various, and inclusive. Perhaps it lies in his overall tone, which is that of a man disgusted by the world, who nevertheless celebrates the world, by including just about everything that is in the world, tempering his disgust with a kind of lightness of spirit. He has Sappho say, of love, ‘a site of praise and not of grievances / whatever the torment – which we meet, if wise / in our best festive and ingenious guise’.
In an early poem, ‘Beyond Howth Head’, he allows himself a snap of anger (‘and Washington, its grisly aim / to render the whole earth the same’), which easily swings, next verse, into celebration of his beloved things:
Spring lights the country; from a thousand
dusty corners, house by house,
from under beds