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This poem is taken from PN Review 80, Volume 17 Number 6, July - August 1991.

Poems Michael Higgins

Michael Higgins was born in 1939 on the Isle of Man. He was educated at King William's College, and trained as an actor at the Bristol Old Vic. He worked on the stage for several years, without conspicuous success, but already he was writing, drawing, beginning to develop his interest in painting. He lived as a market gardener and farm labourer in the Channel Islands and in Lancashire before studying at Liverpool Art College in the early 1970s. His decision to become a painter carried a fierce, single-minded commitment, and what he retrospectively called 'an absurd ambition'. After Liverpool, he moved with his young family to a small, isolated cottage in Snowdonia, and for the rest of his life he worked, full time, and with unbroken determination, at his painting. He remained secretive about his work, and exhibited very few of his paintings.

A notebook entry tells of these years and the crises within them.

Dilemma - that 15 years of my life ... seemed idle, wasted, shameful - that when at the age of thirty I discovered some talent for art, it seemed these years might be redeemed - that thro' all the waste & shame I had in fact been living richly (thanks to my eyes) gathering the raw stuff which I could now use - that for a climactic period of roughly five years (ending quite abruptly I now think half way thro' my time at art school) I saw nature with an almost religious intensity ... that now aged forty-one I must confess tho' I loathe the very words, rebel against them, that for instance a tree seems as Blake said, no more than 'a green thing in the way', a nothing to what it was (a sort of kingdom, or empire of kingdoms) - that yet in my mind if not my eyes nature remains what it was ...

And, throughout his life, he continued to write. He filled hundreds of notebooks with sketches, finished drawings, visual notes, and with poems and fragments of prose. Over the years there was an increasing concentration on poetry. But he kept these writings to himself. At the end, he regretted this; he asked me to read through the notebooks after his death to decide if there was anything worth preserving.

He died in November 1988. He had leukaemia, and he spent most of the last few months of his life enclosed in a small hospital room. In this room, near to death, he filled a last notebook with poems. A small selection from this notebook is printed below.


the same old oppositions!
in bed at night I wept
with fear - but those magicians
who made me their adept

unfolded morning light
moulded the clouds in shape
of dove or swan, drove night
beyond the furthest cape -

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