Works in Progress - Winter 2019

Descent Into the Underworld

An excerpt from “How Do the Dead Walk”

By Andrew Motion | December 3, 2018
Flickr/Fiddian Warman
Flickr/Fiddian Warman

Andrew Motion is a former poet laureate of the United Kingdom and the Homewood Professor of the Arts at Johns Hopkins University. His forthcoming epic poem, “How Do the Dead Walk,” tells the story of Major H, a soldier recently returned from Afghanistan, who now lives with his family on a farm near the Essex coast. One evening, on a walk near the River Blackwater, he falls through the ruins of an ancient saltworks and finds himself in the underworld. The following is an excerpt from a section of the poem titled “The Salt Works.”

The sky-dome meanwhile
plumps flawless
utterly devoid of prophecy.

Then he looks again
and a colossal horizon-gash is all.

Heavenly furnace doors flung open
and battle-scarred clouds rampaging.

How he wants to know
did he miss the instant of change
from day to no.

And the tide ditto.

One minute waves
belly-crawling through shivery reeds
cheekily sniping and strafing.

The next this full and utterly feeble

Yet he never did blink not once.

He never did catch
the moment itself
the turbulent stop
and slop of the world
as it swerved in another direction.

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