Sean O'Brien

Image by Caroline Forbes

Reading Stevens in the Bath

Sean O'Brien

Reading Stevens in the Bath

Sean O'Brien

Poem introduction

'Reading Stevens in the Bath' is perhaps best described as a deranged song of praise to Wallace Stevens, set in a place he certainly never visited: Newcastle upon Tyne.

Reading Stevens in the Bath

Reading Stevens in the Bath

It is Newcastle at evening. It is far
From the furnished banks of the coaly Tyne
But close beside the hidden and infernal banks

Of the unutterable Ouseburn. Howay. It cries
Its native cry, this poisoned soup of prawns.
Howay. The evil river sings. The mind,

In Forest HalL the haunted disbelieving suburb
Like a field of snowmen, the mind in Forest Hall
Lays by its knitting and considers

Going to the Fusilier. Howay. But in the upper room,
The room upstairs, the upstairs room,
The blear of glass and heat wherein

Not much is visible, a large pink man
ls reading Stevens in the bath. Howay. It is bath-time,
The time of the bath, the green-watered, where the mind

Lies unencumbered by the body as by time.
It is the bath as absolute, admitting
No conditional of green, the bath in which the bather

Lies considering. And the mind takes out
Its lightness to inspect. and finding nothing there
Begins to sing, embodying, emboldening its note.

It is the singing body in the bath, the mind.
Bookless Fruiterers, tell me if you can
What he may find to sing about, that man

Half-audible, and howling, as it were, the moon
That rests its gravity on weary Forest Hall,
That sends its tidal song by Tyne,

By Ouseburn, by the purifying plant
And ultimately here, to this balneum absolute.
Steam-punkah'd bath at the end of the mind, whose singer

Sings beyond the scope of tongues and sanity
Of neighbours, howling like a wolf among the snowmen
To the moon which does not listen:

Say it's only a paper moon.
Sailing over a cardboard sea.
But it wouldn't be make-believe

if you believed in me.
Howay. Howay. Howay!

from Cousin Coat (Picador, 2002), copyright © Sean O'Brien 2002, used by permission of the author and the publisher


Sean O'Brien

Sean O'Brien Reading from his Poems

1The Amateur God

2In a Military Archive

3Cousin Coat


5HMS Glasshouse

6Working on the Railway


8Ballad of the Lit and Phil

9After Laforgue


11Special Train


13Essay on Snow

14Reading Stevens in the Bath

15Welcome, Major Poet


17Songs from the Black Path, I, III


19Songs from the Drowned Book I, V


21Postcards to the Rain God (an extract)

22The Thing

23After Rilke: To Holderlin

Books by Sean O'Brien