Monday, 18 April 2011

Machines by Michael Donaghy

I came across this poem while seeking poems that might be appropriate for the Olympics. I couldn't get out of my head that line "The machinery of grace is always simple": does it mean less than it suggests or more? And why is it so beautiful?

A pavan is a grave and stately court dance in slow duple time. In movies these are the dances where ladies and gentlemen nod their heads at one another and smile, very slightly. There may occasionally be a meeting of eyes. It used to be thought that the dance was named after the stately movements of the peacock. Grace is all.

Dearest, note how these two are alike:
This harpsichord pavane by Purcell
And the racer’s twelve-speed bike.

The machinery of grace is always simple.
This chrome trapezoid, one wheel connected
To another of concentric gears,
Which Ptolemy dreamt of and Schwinn perfected,
Is gone. The cyclist, not the cycle, steers.
And in the playing, Purcell’s chords are played away.

So this talk, or touch if I were there,
Should work its effortless gadgetry of love,
Like Dante’s heaven, and melt into the air.

If it doesn’t, of course, I’ve fallen. So much is chance,
So much agility, desire, and feverish care,
As bicyclists and harpsichordists prove

Who only by moving can balance,
Only by balancing move

1 comment:

  1. The phrase works a bit like 'The quality of mercy is not strained', doesn't it?
    As a whole, when we read both these sets of words, we're grateful for such calmness and seeming factualness and simplicity.
    And then we realise the oddness of it all, the juxtaposition of two things which aren't ordinarily put together: quality and mercy, machinery and grace. Oh dear we think for a moment, it's not so calm after all perhaps.
    And then we are reassured that 'yes, it is', it is indeed 'simple' or 'unstrained'.