Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Carol Ann Duffy: "Prayer"

Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child's name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio's prayer—
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.*

*[Curator's note: These last words are from the "Shipping Forecast," a BBC Radio broadcast of weather reports and forecasts for the seas around the British Isles. Rockall, Malin, Dogger and Finisterre are four "sea areas." My friend Mary O'Connor, a poet born in Ireland, tells me the "Shipping Forecast" is "often the last thing on BBC Radio between midnight and two."]

"Prayer" by Carol Ann Duffy, from Mean Time. © Anvil Press Poetry, 2004.

Photography credit: Detail from "Man watching people go by," by stefg74, Greece, 2010 (originally black and white).


  1. the Dogger, Rockall, Malin litany is also quoted by Seamus Heaney in his "Glanmore Sonnets" from Field Work -- sonnet 7, i think! maybe 8

  2. I love finding the links between one poem and another, one work and another.

    Seamus Heaney's Glenmore Sonnets, mentioned in a comment above, has the shipping news in a slightly different order: "Dogger, Rockall, Malin, Irish Sea": https://www.brinkerhoffpoetry.org/poems/glanmore-sonnets

    Coincidentally, just yesterday I read a piece about Rockall and its history within the British Empire: https://everythingisamazing.substack.com/p/we-cant-live-on-rockall-but-for-some.


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