poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

poetic forms

occasions

About this Poem 

“I wrote this poem a little less than a year ago, when the scene that it describes (which took place in East Anglia, on the east coast of England, near to where I grew up) suddenly popped into my head. It seemed to me that since the subject was a ring, I should tackle it in a poetic form—a sestina—that was itself like something with its tail in its mouth.”
—Andrew Motion

The Ring

Soon my father will lose his wedding ring
but before that happens we take the path
along the cliff-edge past the sign that says
Danger: Keep Back because the waves below
have undermined it, and the next big storm
will be enough to bring the whole face down.

I know this but I can’t help looking down
and noticing how each wave throws a ring
of pretty foam that’s nothing like a storm
round fallen rocks forming a sort of path
for someone who might find themselves below
which no one ever would, my father says.

It’s much too dangerous, my father says,
new rock-falls any time might tumble down
and injure them, and while the sea below
looks calm, a quickly-rising tide would ring
and terrify them, devastate the path,
then drown them just as surely as a storm.

I hear him out about the calm and storm
and fall in line with everything he says,
continuing along the cliff-top path
until it leads us in a zig-zag down
onto the sea-shore where a wormy ring
of sand recalls the tunneling below.

My father says the North Sea is below
freezing almost, thanks to a recent storm,
and so he eases off his wedding ring
because the cold is bound to shrink, he says,
his fingers, and his ring would then slip down
and vanish like the dangerous cliff path.

He turns around to see once more the path,
the dizzy fall, the rocks, the waves below.
He thinks his only choice is to set down
on one stone of the many that the storm
has carried from their North Sea bed, which says
a lot about the power of storms, his ring.

It slides down out of sight as though the storm
has also switched his path to run below.
This neither of us says. He never finds his ring.

Copyright © 2018 by Andrew Motion. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 28, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Andrew Motion. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 28, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Andrew Motion

Andrew Motion

Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1984 and knighted in 1999, Andrew Motion served as Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1999 to 2009