If my being could be likened to a light

Light, which is usually splashed carelessly around,
By the multitudinous habitations of the world
To fend off the vast darkness,
Is the same light
That can sizzle through steel in an instant.

The life force which animates my flaccid being,
Stretched out on the uncomfortable frame
Of a cane lounge I should have given away years ago,
Is the same life force
That through the green fuse drove Dylan’s flower.

Channel your energy; That’s the secret.
And a power in the universe you will be.

But if I were to begin
Cutting through life’s butter like a laser,
What would become of those moments
When I drink in the silence of your being,
Just a whisper in the shadows,
When I exhale tension in grateful release,
And breathe in the magic of a cool evening,
After a day of sullen, sodden heat.

The laser is an instrument of power and precision;
Perhaps that’s not what I was called to be.

I could be a torch though!
Powered by two batteries off the shelf,
Lighting the tree tops and the path’s end
As we walk.

Brian Devlin
November 14, 1987


A visit to the temple in autum

My dear friend, is your heart now peaceful?
Are you feeling quite free and strong?
“Was a Tang Dynasty princess ever joyous?”
To speak the truth is never wrong.

See those clumps of cypress,
So ancient, noble and calm?
Come, let’s walk past them. Tell me stories.
If you wish, hold my arm.

Emperors pass. Dowagers die.
Armies leave the unbeamed halls.
A girl of eight once gazed in wonder here:
Such spacious grounds, such distant walls.
Some middle harmomy splendid music, perhaps.
The Temple of Heaven echoes in its immensity.
The cypress quietly lives on, meanwhile,
Unmoved by the obscure charms of history.

Brian Devlin
Kuala Lumpur
November 11, 2000

Lu, the wanderer’s hymn for peace

Here around us are the clashing winds,
The tumult of frightened birds; yet see:
How strangely the darkening light
The gentle penetrating wind and
K’un the receptive earth make peace below.

The lapwing stirs again and softens its nest
For the coming young. And this leggy toad
Makes little motions in our mind
As he pushes slowly homewards.

Brian Devlin

In the Oxford Union during the Ides of March

In the Oxford Union during the Ides of March

Underneath the encircling balustrade, leadlight windows and gold-framed portraits,
Huddled in coats, sweaters and scarves against the unseasonable Spring cold,
We sat straining to hear each speaker’s every word: Teachers, linguists, poets,
Polylinguals, dramatists—each in our own way lovers of language. In all we were told

That week, we recognised, in among differences of colour and build, accent and style,
Age and gender, a pervasive sense of caring for others, a common commitment
To nurture others as teachers, actors, wordsmiths and artists: that, all the while,
Was the bond that drew us together, despite some moments of prickly disagreement.

Newfound colleagues, I salute you for your perspicacity, your willingness to share.
Thank you for the frameworks, which helped my thinking, and for the rich examples,
which stimulated my feeling, but, above all, for the new memories of Oxford: there
In the English springtime, framed by ancient, collegiate walls.
Truly, food for the soul!

Brian Devlin
March 22, 2007

A Child’s Mysteries

[Note to Michael and Jenny:
I wanted to say a few words to you on this day, in this poem,
which is dedicated to you, called “A Child’s Mysteries”.]


What is this hope I feel, that steadies my nerves.
Tightens my frame with resolve, lifts my head up high,
Concentrates my gaze, so that I look ahead without fear,
To life’s sweet mysteries?

Hope is that flame, ardent and yellow, which is
Cradled in the wax of life’s experiences.
You burn with hope, like lighted candles.

What is this spirit I know, that takes my breath away
When I dance in wonderment at this miraculous life?
I lift my arms and knees in praise and adoration and
Dance before the lordly lady of life.
Life is as mysterious as a loved one’s face, embraced

By shadow. Even a solitary grey bird pecking at crumbs
On winter’s doorstep can, in a flap of wings,
Launch itself into flight, to lean against the chill wind–
Supreme, confident and joyful.
Spirit is the wind which fills your wings, carries you
Through life’s dark nights, out over tumultuous seas.
You are light with flight, like gulls under full wing.

Brian Devlin
December 10, 1985


Take Vitebsk. Lovers toddle into flowers.
One very nude lady drifts apprehensively above field and church
Recalling the cunning buoyancy of that fabled cow.
And Christ flies down from the cross with gaudy wings
To drink with friends on festival days.

Brian Devlin


Deep in the heart of a growing pearl,
Through the soft whirl
Of colour and unfolding space,
A tiny, crystalline speck is agitating spheres without fade or blemish.
And so would I, a little mind at large,
Devise mandala worlds of translucent perfection.

Brian Devlin

For Michael—my son—and Rob

For Michael—my son—and Rob
Hackney Town Hall
September 12, 2014

Friends and family, you are here for Michael and Rob
Despite the distances you have travelled, or that great job.
You’ve brought feathers and boas and party balloons,
Hearts full of gladness. A flower girl dances. These are the boons
Of honesty, courage, friendship and love.

Rob, these last 14 years, you’ve pledged fealty to Michael. Truly,
You have earned the right to be recognised—socially, politically, legally.
All of the above.

I acknowledge that. There will be others who won’t.
Outside, beware The Golden Dawn in Greece, and others who don’t
see the affection that binds, the trust that endures.
Fortunately, laughter heals. Love cures.

Well Michael, my son. You’ve stepped out again. Now you are wed.
So I’ll tell you a story from a time long ago. A short one; ’nuff said.

Our ancestor, Christian Haeffner, was trained as a cooper. Though lame, club
footed, he walked from Sydney to Albury.
No work in sight, he
found gold and opened a pub.

Proud Lutheran, grandson of a judge, alright.
He married Catholic Mary, née Conway, in leafy Beechworth, in 1854.
They pioneered a family, after marrying for love, Catholic no more.

My father’s Dad, we called him Pop, had been a Catholic too.
The ancestral Devlins were from Ballynacrine—I’ll give you a clue,
It’s now Draperstown, nor’west of Loch Neagh.
They came to Melbourne by clipper, “The Morning Light”.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 12.11.31 am

Pop toḻd his Dad one day, “I love Gertrude”.
“Oh no!”, said his Dad. “She’s not a Mick.
You marry a Methodist? The thought makes me sick!”

On the day of his wedding, Pop went back to his house
all a-tremble, quite anxious about his future spouse.
His heart filled with trepidation for his home was locked.
The way inside was barred. He stood there, quite shocked!
Until he spied that open bathroom window. Pop crept inside.
There on his bed his wedding suit lay.
He dressed himself quietly and stole away.

None of his family that day came to see him be wed.
When he embraced his loyal Protestant wife, tears were shed.
He let all her children keep her faith. Like Christian, he too had married for love,
but he faced rejection, hostility, anger and silence. All of the above.

Should I, your Dad, oppose your innermost longing?
Close my heart too? Prevent your belonging
as Frederick did to poor Edward, my grandfather, my Pop?
It is almost time for me to desist from speaking, to come to a stop.

Am I to be a Frederick to your Edward, full of sharp rebuke?
Let me check. More of this hereafter. Oh no, is this a fluke?
Briars do have leaves as well as thorns—as sweet, as sharp.
I must away. Conclude this speech. End the tale.
My response is prepared. On darkness and doubts I will not harp.

I’ll cherish the gladness. Embrace you both now. Do not fail
men. Be true. Never weaken. In this I say from afar:
“In your long-sought unity, rejoice! You’ll have no anger from me.
You are a prince, Michael”. I say this sincerely, and happily:
“Rob, you were not my son-in-law before. Now you are”.

Brian Devlin
September 2014

Michael and Rob