The poet and author Richard Tillinghast, writing in the literary magazine The New Criterion in 1999, expressed admiration for Mr. Mahon’s plainspokenness.
“Mahon’s work is reticent, witty, and bracingly hard-edged,” he wrote. “Most refreshingly he does not attempt the de rigueur transcendental moment at the end of a poem, where most American writers feel called upon to hit high C.”
By way of example, Mr. Tillinghast cited the ending of Mr. Mahon’s poem “A Lighthouse in Maine,” which was inspired by the Edward Hopper painting “The Lighthouse at Two Lights”:
You make a left beyond the town, a right,
you turn a corner and there, ivory-white,
it shines in modest glory above a bay.
Out you get and walk the rest of the way.
Mr. Mahon married Doreen Douglas in 1972. They separated in the 1980s, and she died in 2010. He is survived by his partner, Sarah Iremonger; two children from his marriage, Rory and Katherine Jane Mahon; a daughter from a relationship with Jane Desmarais, Maisie Mahon; and a grandson.
If many of Mr. Mahon’s poems had an edge, one of his most popular, a work often cited amid the current pandemic, took a different tone. It is called “Everything Is Going to Be All Right,” from 1978:
How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden