Ireland in the 1960s was not universally a peaceful place, but neither was the US. Ilex is holly, which is native to the North America and Europe, but magnolia is a New World tree, so it looks as if Henry is on a ship approaching the US, “his own warring state.” Henry’s “crisis” arises from a dilemma: Go home or go back?
‘My friends are full’ he muttered to himself,
‘I’ll make no more. So many now are dead.
Backward is the gallant word,
No moving forward. Forward often means new life, new friends, new possibilities. He’s not seeing new possibilities at home, not in his state of spiritual and physical decline. He won’t be up to making new friends here. Leaving the new land (the New World) “undistressed,” the happy rotors of the churning ship, gladly escorting him in reverse, do their retrograde work. It seems he’ll not be staying:
Bourbon waters finished their amber
Errands, chains of acid
That bit the tendons of his throat,
Keys that would have sung him forward.
The stairs from the dock are steep.
His heart is a tissue.
The propellers of the ship quiver
Their retrograde work.
Burial at sea is no honor.
Borne on the backs of teeming cod,
He whirls weary as a galaxy
In the fading sargasso.