By Robin Robertson
The tick you hear
is the heart valve’s catch,
holding back the wrong
traffic of blood;
this click is the notch in a run
of iron, and love is a ratchet
that slides only one way
and cannot return.
This poem is collected in Swithering, the winner of the 2006 Forward Prize for Poetry.
The Catch starts with a little sound, and Robertson spins this out in two sentences, which essentially, really, are just one sentence, as there is a semi-colon linking the second one.
I enjoy the monosyllabic manner in which Robertson conveys the ticking of a “heart valve’s catch” with just a pair of fall-rise rhythm. He reverses and varies this rhythm in the third line – rise-fall-rise - after showing us where the ticking is coming from, in the second line, where the rushing of “is the” leads to, and stops at, the slow rendering of “the heart valve’s catch”, with a comma to make sure you pause a little longer here. The third line runs-on very strongly towards the rushing sound (“traffic”) of the start of the fourth and last line of the first stanza, and stops at “blood”, a very strong end-stopping with a semi-colon.
In the first line of the next and last stanza, “click” rhymes back to “tick”, as a link. All these mechanical imagery of gears and valves and iron and ratchet is softened a little in the penultimate line, after “that”, with liquid and long vowels, because all this is because of love. What a ratchet does, the last two lines expands on, everything moving only in one direction, not able to go back. These two lines also link back to the last two lines of the first stanza with their motif of flow and direction.
Do you feel as in The Catch when you fall in love?