Carol Ann Duffy was today announced as the next poet laureate. This poem by her is one of my favourites.
Phare Ar-men, Finisterre, France
Somehow the picture of Ar-men, a lighthouse off the west coast of France (Pointe du Raz), seemed appropriate!
Prayer – Carol Ann Duffy
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.
Carol Ann Duffy (1955-)
From Mean Time (Anvil, 1993)
The map for the shipping forecast covers the North Atlantic from Iceland to Portugal and stretches through the North Sea from Norway to the English Channel. Its list of memorable names gives vital information to seafarers around the coasts of Britain and Northern Europe. Years ago I remember hearing it each day on the radio, but somehow I never catch it now – I must be listening at the wrong time. Full information about daily Shipping Forecast can be found at the Met Office. The map no longer shows Finisterre, which was once located between Biscay and Sole, but since 2002 renamed as Fitzroy.
Every day the familiar liturgy of the names for each shipping area, with its weather information, are announced in the same order with the same measured delivery – rhythmical, almost prayerful, gently but soothingly monotonous even. There is an aching loneliness about this poem but there is also comfort in the realisation of familiar sounds in the world outside and inside on the radio. Rhythms echoing the sound patterns of prayer: wind and movement in the trees, the rattle of a distant train, the piano practice of a child and finally ‘a radio’s prayer – Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.’
Finisterre – literally finis terrae or ends of the earth – is the most westerly departement in France, mirroring Cornwall and Land’s End in south west Britain which is equally rugged. A beautiful and wild place but treacherous for those who sail in its waters. We have been to Pointe du Raz (see the official French site for great pictures), which is the most visited but not quite the most westerly point in France – Pointe de Corsen is slightly further west. Just beyond the point are two lighthouses. The nearest is called La Vielle (the old) and can clearly be seen from the coast. Further out into the Atlantic and often not visible is the lighthouse appropriately named Ar-men.