Michael Donaghy’s ‘Machines’


The poet Michael Donaghy died suddenly, and relatively young, in 2004 at the age of 50. He was a gifted poet, and now Picador Books has published both a Collected Poems and a ‘collected prose’ – a volume of criticism and articles.

One of my favourites from his work is Machines, which, brilliantly, links a technical explanation of why we stay up on a bicycle with our emotional experience of music.

Michael Donaghy

Dearest, note how these two are alike:
This harpsichord pavane by Purcell
And the racer’s twelve-speed bike.

The machinery of grace is always simple.
This chrome trapezoid, one wheel connected
To another of concentric gears,
Which Ptolemy dreamt of and Schwinn perfected,
Is gone. The cyclist, not the cycle, steers.
And in the playing, Purcell’s chords are played away.

So this talk, or touch if I were there,
Should work its effortless gadgetry of love,
Like Dante’s heaven, and melt into the air.

If it doesn’t, of course, I’ve fallen. So much is chance,
So much agility, desire, and feverish care,
As bicyclists and harpsichordists prove

Who only by moving can balance,
Only by balancing move.

from Shibboleth, 1998

‘The machinery of grace is always simple’. What a great line that is.

The picture of Michael Donaghy is from the South Bank Centre, which hosts a tribute to him on 14th March.



  1. I loved the way this great poem was followed by a Google ad for bicycle storage. Don’t you just love the poetry of the internet?

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