‘Move, if you move, like water’: The Poetry of Thomas Kinsella, 1972–88

  • Maurice Harmon


Down on the water … at eye level … in the little light remaining overhead … the mayfly passed in a loose drift, thick and frail, a hatch slow with sex, separate morsels trailing their slack filaments, olive, pale evening dun, imagoes, unseen eggs dropping from the air, subimagoes, the river filled with their nymphs ascending and excited trout.

The Taoist idea of nature might serve as an allegory for Thomas Kinsella’s idea of a poem, for, while it would be far-fetched to discuss ‘Tao and Unfitness: At Inistiogue on the River Nore’ as an expression of the ideal poetic response, the Taoist perception of nature and Kinsella’s understanding of how a poem works are analogous. Taoists feel a stillness at the heart of nature and apprehend mysterious correspondences within it. The universe itself is a living organism, its woods and rivers infused with a mysterious spirit, its rocks and mountains endowed with a life force. To perceive the stillness they say one must cultivate stillness. Kinsella’s poem is a parable of Taoist perception, underlined by a sequence of quiet directives, such as ‘Move, if you move, like water’. The subject is delicate, the means recalcitrant. One constant is the distinction made between ordinary observation and intuitive communion.


Technical Supplement Model School Creative Imagination Life Force Good Fight 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maurice Harmon

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