Martin Burke





(Irlande/Irland – Belgique/Belgium)





Though I no longer remember the title of the Noh play, nor the name of its author, which provided the impetus for the poem, this does not really matter – for the intention has not been one of interpretation, nor reprensentation, but of association.
An image gives rise to a word – a word suggests the mirror-image and shadow of itself ; the poem delivers itself according to the amount of resistance the poet offers to it. The lesser the resistance the more authentic the poem – something that every poet aims for but which is not always achieved.



Now lost – now lost to sight

As if an angles wing had vanished among lesser forms

Or perhaps like a stream strayed as an unseen tributary into larger waters

So that it survives –itself yet other than itself

Shadow within a density of shadows

An echo carried by a names which does not name the echo it carries

As if

Like an angle’s wing

It was capable of entering history without ever being limited by that


Thus for every word which pleases us there is a word which only pleases itself

A playwright writes a text but the play writes its own subtext

So that if a protagonist staggers out of a sprawling forest he will speak a word

Pleasing to himself, pleasing to us, but mostly pleasing to itself

As if an angles wing was stirring a vat of water which we stop at to drink from


Lost to sight where nothing is lost

A subtext augmenting a written text so that what was once unspoken

Can be said -or at least be hinted by the many unending ripples in a vat




The moment you step into a house you become the occupant it desires –
Thus in Boston I am Whitman while in Hiroshima I am a descendent of Basho
(if you ask me for evidence or precedent for this I will merely dismiss the question)
See me forage among webs spread across old pages held by dust and serenity
Watch me rake the leaves of enduring autumn even where winter has been brought by
he wind

Landscapes impose their attitudes on me –make demands –suggest a syntax
Offer scope but impose limitations I must work within
So it is that on entering a country my first question is: What country is this?
Where, though Whitman and Basho answer in a complementary fashion
I must fashion an answer that is faithful to both yet breaks free of their shadow

I pose a question to the landscape for every question it poses of me
Essentially we are both asking –who am I? What am I? (and it there a difference?)
Poet? Priest? Layman? Traveller with a specific purpose? Something, someone other?

Yet here (and even though it will seem that only now have I noticed them)
I see that whatever I am, whoever I am, nothing interferes with or diminishes
The qualities of these splendidly vivid roses and that they outrank the landscape
Which seeks to hold them to define them (which is, of course, an attitude I approve of)
Something splendid yet something equally tragic is inherent in their reticence to accept y admiration

As if disturbed water was shy concerning the origins of its shuddering
Or that I found myself, a welcome but unexpected guest, among a gathering of ghosts webbed in cobwebs, water, and dust

Thus even history comes abundant with largess so that something splendid will emerge
No matter how difficult it is, or will be, to maintain balance, proportion, such graces as define
The well-lived life where death is always death

Yes, in the mountains no less than on the shore we will vanish with the grass clutched about these roses

The moment you step into a house you become the occupant it desires among webs spread across old pages held by dust and serenity



Those stories. (already they have grown fabulous, too much so, for this generation); I remember, then forget what I remembered.

Something about an old man sweeping leaves. Something about nostalgia. Something about regret.

Something –

But I can’t say what; nor have the need to for the story, deeper than memory, outlives memory, being what remains unbroken though it is webbed in cobwebs, water and dust:



And it is this:


You are a fisherman.

You find an angle’s wing hanging on a pine-tree.

You intend take it home with you – foreseeing the pride later generations will have in owning it.


Which is when the angel appears:

-Stop! That cloak is mine.

Where are you going with it?

It is an angel’s robe of feathers.

A cloak that no human may wear.

Put it back where you found it.

Is the owner an angel?
Then, I will put it in safekeeping.
A treasure in the land, a marvel to men unborn.

-Then how shall I mount the ways of air?
How climb into the sky?
Let there be charity in your heart and give it back to me.
-There is no charity in my heart.
Your words do not move me.
-I am a bird without wings, I cannot rise.
-To the low earth you sink -an angel living in the soiled world.

The music you first heard now turns to lament.

It says

even the fresh flower droops and fades
that the sickness of men will corrupt heaven

-Angel, now I begin to understand your sorrow
-If you understand then return my wing
Yet everything has a price.
Even understanding.
If you want this wing you must dance for me as only an angel can.


(there is a pause, a slight pause, as if some playwright wrote its duration)

Now I am happy.
I will mount the sky again and to thank you
I will dance the dance of remembrance: a dance fit for princes, the dance that turns to the towers of the moon
I will dance as a gift to the sorrowful world of men.
So give me my cloak –I cannot dance without it.

-Not yet –for if I give it to you, you will not dance for me but fly to heaven
No, deceit is for men.
There is no deceit in heaven.
-I am ashamed.
Look, I give you back your robe.

She begins to dance.
The sky-robe flutters and yields to the wind.
Sleeve like a flower wet with rain. . .

“Why do we call the sky of heaven wide-stretched and everlasting?

In the old days two gods came and built a measure for men yet, without limit, they arched it and named it wide-stretched and everlasting.”

Dressed in white, dressed in black, the angles are ranked for the fading moon.
One lady for each night of the moon.
Each lady fulfils her duty and ritual.
I am one of those-a moon-lady of heaven.

My fruit is the fruit of the moon-tree yet I came to the east dividing my body, living with people and giving them the gift of music and dance.
Now spring has come to earth, and who knows –but in the valley of the moon the moon-tree puts her blossom on?

This is the sign of spring.
It is the beauty of wind and sky.
Blow, blow and build cloud-walls across the sky lest the vision leave us!
The tang of spring is on the woods
This colour on the headland,
This snow on the mountain or moonlight on the clear shore-
Which is the fairest?
Who can say?
Spring whispers through the trees
So what cause has heaven to be estranged from us?
Are we not the children of the gods on the temple walls- born where no cloud hides the moon in the land of sunrise.

May our Lord’s life last long as a great rock rubbed only by the rare trailing of an angel’s feather-skirt.
Oh, marvellous music!

The Eastern song joined to many instruments; harp, pipes, flute, spread their notes beyond the lonely clouds.

The sunset is stained with crimson light from Mount Sumeru’s side –a  dance the waves mirror and shadow

Like a hand in a sleeve moving in a dance as I move in this dance that is done.
To thee, O Monarch of the Moon, be glory and praise, Thou son of Seishi Omnipotent!”

(Do not question the silence which follows this.
This silence is as necessary to an Angle as are the words they use
Silence is also an essential part of the armoury of an Angle’s language)


I am robed in sky, in the empty blue of heaven.


Now she is robed in a garment of mist, Spring mist.


Wonderful in perfume and colour, an angel’s skirt-

Left, right, left, left, right.

Springing from side to side

The skirt swishes, the flowers nod,

The feathery sleeves trail out and return, the dancing-sleeves.


She has danced many dances,
But they are not yet numbered,
The dances of the East.
And now she, whose beauty is as the young moon,
Shines on us in the sky of midnight,
The fifteenth night,
With the beam of perfect fulfilment,
The splendour of Truth.
The vows of the Buddha are fulfilled,

And the land we live in
is rich with the Seven Treasures
This dance rained down on us,
The gift of Heaven.
But, as the hours pass by,
Sky-cloak of feathers fluttering, fluttering,
Over the pine-woods of Mio,
Past the Floating Islands, through the feet of the clouds she flies,
Over the mountain of Ashitaka, the high peak of Fuji,
Very faint her form,
Mingled with the mists of heaven;
Now lost to sight.



What (necessary?) misunderstanding has now entered your understanding?

Perhaps already you are loosing sight of the shadow you glimpsed or the landscape has suggested a syntax you are unfamiliar with?

You are the child of many and no one

You seek a precedent but no such precedent exists nor is that any evidence you can offer which will ever satisfy the world

Something has disturbed the vat of you mind and you will never be the same

Whatever landscape you now name will name you as its own.










Martin Burke was born in Ireland but for the past 27 years he has lived in Brugge, Belgium.

He was active in the poetry scene in Ireland in the early 70’s with poetry published in the Stony Thursday Book (Limerick), New Irish Writing ( Dublin ) and New poetry ( Cork ).

On the move to Belgium poetry ceased and it is only in the past four years that it has once again returned. Since then he has published several books and has developed a style of writing that draws on the visionary poets of the total poetic tradition and this is one that allows him to bridge the gap between the written and the spoken – a development that culminated in the publication of KINGS-five poems for the theatre.

Indeed theatre is also a great love of his and he is in the process of setting up the Kosmos Theatre Group – a bilingual theatre group (English and Flemish) – in Brugge.

His work has appeared in World Order, Analysands, The Lilliput Review, Drunken Boat, Snakeskin, Poetry about Poetry, Other Poetry, Transference, Arts Dialogue, Virtual Writer, and others. This year he has published two books: The Other Life and The Weave That Binds Us.

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