'THE LINEN INDUSTRY' a poem by Michael Longley

This contemporary love poem beautifully describes the linen industry in the landscape of Northern Ireland. As it says it’s part of our heritage that is nearly gone and so it’s lovely to see Irish linen still today being the subject matter of such lovely work...


The Linen Industry

Michael Longley


Pulling up flax after the blue flowers have fallen

And laying our handfuls in the peaty water

To rot those grasses to the bone, or building stooks

That recall the skirts of an invisible dancer.


We become a part of the linen industry

And follow its processes to the grubby town

Where fields are compacted into window-boxes

And there is little room among the big machines.


But even in our attic under the skylight

We make love on a bleach green, the whole meadow

Draped with material turning white in the sun

As though snow reluctant to melt were our attire.


What's passion but a battering of stubborn stalks,

Then a gentle combing out of fibres like hair

And a weaving of these into christening robes,

Into garments for a marriage or funeral?


Since it's like a bereavement once the labour's done

To find ourselves last workers in a dying trade,

Let flax be our matchmaker, our undertaker,

The provider of sheets for whatever the bed. 


And be shy of your breasts in the presence of death,

Say that you look more beautiful in linen

Wearing white petticoats, the bow on your bodice

A butterfly attending the embroidered flowers.


(Photo credit: The National Library of Ireland)


Posted by Katie Larmour