Only a few weeks ago, the sonogram of Jean’s womb
resembled nothing so much
as a satellite map of Ireland:
now the image
is so well-defined we can make out not only a hand
but a thumb;
on the road to Spiddal, a woman hitching a ride;
a gladiator in his net, passing judgement on the crowd.
“Sonogram” by Paul Muldoon, which you’ll find in his T.S. Eliot Prize-winning collection The Annals of Chile. Muldoon would go to earn even greater honors, picking up a Pulitzer for poetry eight years later for Moy Sand and Gravel.
Speaking to The Paris Review in 2004, Muldoon reflected on how wild metaphors can form the basis of some of the best poetry (as showcased in “Sonogram” and its effortless, playful smirk, its images for the female then male drives to be freed):
Well, I think many poems begin with an instant. I was driving home from New York with my four-year-old son and in the Lincoln Tunnel, out of nowhere, he said, Those lights are like tadpoles, and then this morning he came up with the bright idea that we’re like horses. I think that the impulse to find the likeness between unlike things is very basic to us, and it is out of that, of course, which the simile or metaphor springs. So a poem moves towards some sort of clarification, and the creation of a space in which sense, however fleetingly, may be made.
Muldoon then moved into a short reflection on children, which again ties nicely into the above work:
One of the things you discover about children of course is that they come, not exactly fully formed, but quite formed, in terms of their personalities. And I can imagine myself around three or four being a right little smartass, in the way that my children come up with the most extraordinary things, but I’m programmed to accept them. That was probably more difficult for my parents to deal with… One is never going to get it right, no matter what one does. Of course that’s one of the things one understands as a parent, that one’s children are going to have to find something against which they can react. Most of these reasons are emblematic rather than real. So I think the invention of a life is not such a far-fetched notion, I think it happens all the time.
I took the above picture on Inch Beach in Ireland, not too far from Muldoon’s place of birth.
More short poems that spin on brilliant metaphors:
- “Separation” by W.S. Merwin
- “What the Pencil Writes” by James Laughlin
- “The Russian Greatcoat” by Theodore Deppe