Rapture’s Road by Seán Hewitt review – a hide and seek of the self
Seán Hewitt made his name with an arresting debut collection, Tongues of Fire, and an unforgettable memoir, All Down Darkness Wide, an account of his life as a young gay man and a moving exploration of his relationship with a depressed partner, a book that doubled as a homage to Gerard Manley Hopkins. In the memoir, he described himself, at one point, as a ghost looking on to his own life. Rapture’s Road, his stunning second poetry selection, is a continuation of that haunting and Hopkins’s influence is again present, though the poems are also suggestive of Thomas Hardy in their robust yearning and dependence on landscape.
Hewitt’s poetry plays with the concept of identity, both revealing and hiding aspects of the self. In his most notable poems, he uses nature as a disguise, resembling a costume box. In an untitled piece, he describes the night as a gown that he, resembling an androgynous figure in the garden, raises his arms for and lets fall over his cool skin before slinking through the fields at dusk. In another untitled poem, he imagines what it would be like to “step naked inside” the “original night blue dress” made of silk. In Immram, he recalls bathing in silver waters where even his skin seemed to sing in its cool embrace.
The subtle disguise seems to be more essential than unnecessary and is closely intertwined with the homoerotic themes of the poetry. As you read Hewitt’s words, they themselves appear to be forbidden fruit, reflecting his extreme caution about potential mistakes, knowledge, and revelations. The first poem, A Ministry, starts with the line: “Why have you brought me here/ once again, feet.”
The decision to not immediately delve into the poetic aspect of the poem is well thought out and adds a playful element. As a natural lyric poet, Hewitt accurately compares the winter night sky to the inside of a mussel shell and introduces the concept of a dual self, one being a “sinner and priest”. These poems suggest that coming out is an ongoing process, with different ways of expressing and embracing one’s sexuality. The second section, which is untitled, describes a landscape filled with larks, violets, and holm oaks. It could have easily taken a wrong turn by leading to a car park where men meet for sex, but Hewitt skillfully navigates this potential issue.
Head to the parking lot next to the field.
The headlights are on and the engines are off, ready for action.
killed and the windscreens all fogged over
Stand in the purgatory of the trees
to watch the man passing the windows
like an angel, bowing to them
He was raised in a household that followed the Catholic faith, and his poems are filled with religious references. They are also inspired by a mysterious and untamed nature, frequently featuring moths which are comparable to ghosts. Hewitt’s poetic style also captures the beauty of the merveille du jour, described as an elegant and stylish moth with a mint-green and herringbone pattern, passing by in the darkness of night.
He has written some great poems about his parents, but occasionally he becomes overly sentimental. In one poem, “Little Flower,” he references Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and uses a diminutive tone, which is just one of the issues. However, in other poems like “Dispersion Song,” he is able to break free from this tendency and capture a moment of pure joy and release. This moment feels timeless and joyful, as if he has been sent off the beaten path and into the beauty of nature.
Seán Hewitt’s “Rapture’s Road” is available from Jonathan Cape for £12.99. To help the Guardian and Observer, you can purchase your own copy at guardianbookshop.com, though additional shipping fees may apply.
The “Dispersion Song” composed by Seán Hewitt.
and follow the winding path.
I veer off the road and make my way through the tall grass, following the curving trail.
My calves are being whipped by the seed-heads.
as I run, my ankles giving way, stumbling,
in the trees
As the sun sets, the trees are filled with rooks.
“Returning to the holm oaks, I have a sense of settling once more.”
Similar to the initial person, but not the final one.
I am not actively moving towards or away from any specific object or location.
However, beyond cognition, the stems protrude.
The bedstraw and moths are rising and flying about.
then overtaking me and falling again
Golden grass swirled around as the sun beamed down.
The trees rustled with life as the branches swayed.
and the mountains crumble
The ground will be freshly fractured, the earth will split open, and the mountains will collapse.
would stop hurting
Lastly, I believe – if only my physical pain would cease.
I feel like nothing could stop me – I don’t think I would ever give up.