Thomas Rabbitt

Pine Row Issue No. 6 Winter 2022-23 - Featured Poet

The Boreen in Snow


Laugh and look away from death.  What I fear –

A crash, some screaming – will not come to pass

Until my mind's eye makes it happen here

And now.  The dead are sleeping under grass

In spring on a hillock just past this curve.

For those who do not look true love must live

Forever out of sight.  I will not swerve;

There's no beast in the lane, nothing to give

Me pause to think, to turn today to then,

Unless the mind can stone by stone rebuild

The ruined castles of the past.  The past?

Its lives and loves are like the Christmas wren,

Plucked living from the thatches and then killed

For pennies, for pleasures which never last.


Interview with Thomas Rabbitt

Anything else you'd like to share about the poem "The Boreen in Snow"? 

It’s easiest to say that this poem is about how memory and anticipation work during one’s progress through time. For as long as we travel it, the narrow boreen, hemmed in by stone walls, might as well be one-way while we move with the speaker, back and forth, through snow and Christmas, to spring and the sleeping dead. My little farm in County Galway was at the end of a mile-long lane, the only house on the lane. There were two sharp curves, one to the left near the intersection with the Gardenfield road and one to the right near my house. My cousin Sean Walsh would have called an escaped cow wandering in the lane a “beast.” A reader might call that creature an act of the imagination like the stones of the past or the parade for a murdered wren on Saint Stephen’s Day.


I have a hard time seeing or hearing in my poem the last three lines of “Under Ben Bulben” (“Cast a cold eye / On life, on death. / Horseman, pass by!”). Yeats wrote more than 90 lines to set those final three, yet those three, old-fashioned and grandiose, are what we remember because the rest of the poem is another one of his sermons. “The Boreen in Snow” is more like Joyce’s “The Dead,” a discovery of what we have let living do to our lives.


I have no favorite poets, only favorite poems, too many to count. As did Yeats, I see the inspiration for poems – like the occasions of sin – wherever I turn my gaze, and so like Yeats I have over-produced, and like him I cannot bear to cull as much as I should. Already I have enough to build a few more books.

Recently published Tour of a Lifetime: Glenamaddy to Gomorrah now available for purchase

Thomas Rabbitt was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and educated at Harvard College, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Iowa. He is a winner of the Pitt Prize. Now retired, he is the former director of the creative writing program at the University of Alabama. He lives and works on a farm near Lewisburg, Tennessee.