Seamus Heaney

POETRY: Changes by Seamus Heaney

July 25, 2018

As you came with me in silence to the pump in the long grass I heard much that you could not hear: the bite of the spade that sank it, the slithering and grumble as the mason mixed his mortar, and women coming with white buckets like flashes on their ruffled wings. The cast-iron rims of the lid clinked as I uncovered it, something stirred in its mouth. I had a bird’s eye view of a bird, finch-green, speckled and white, nesting in dry leaves, flattened, still, suffering the light. So I roofed the citadel as gently as I could, and told you and you gently unroofed it but where was the bird now? There was the single egg, pebbly white, and from the rusted bend of the snout tail-feathers splayed and sat tight. So tender, I said, “Remember [...]

POETRY: The Birch Grove by Seamus Heaney

July 19, 2018

At the back of a garden, in earshot of river water, In a corner walled off like the baths or bake-house Of an unroofed abbey or broken-floored Roman villa, They have planted their birch grove. Planted it recently only, But already each morning it puts forth in the sun Like their own long grown-up selves, the white of the bark As suffused and cool as the white of the satin nightdress She bends and straightens up in, pouring tea, Sitting across from where he dandles a sandal On his big time-keeping foot, as bare as an abbot’s. Red brick and slate, plum tree and apple retain Their credibility, a CD of Bach is making the rounds Of the common or garden air. Above them a jet trail Tapers and waves like a willow wand or a taper. “If [...]

POETRY: The Turnip-Snedder by Seamus Heaney

July 11, 2018

For Hughie O’Donoghue In an age of bare hands and cast iron, the clamp-on meat-mincer, the double flywheeled water-pump, it dug its heels in among wooden tubs and troughs of slops, hotter than body heat in summertime, cold in winter as winter’s body armour, a barrel-chested breast-plate standing guard on four braced greaves. “this is the way that God sees life,” it said, “from seedling-braird to snedder,” as the handle turned and turnip-heads were let fall and fed to the juiced-up inner blades, “This is the turnip-cycle,” as it dropped its raw sliced mess, bucketful by glistering [...]

POETRY: A Herbal by Seamus Heaney

July 6, 2018

After Guillevic’s “Herbier de Bretagne” Everywhere plants Flourish among graves, Sinking their roots In all the dynasties Of the dead. * Was graveyard grass In our place Any different? Different from ordinary Field grass? Remember how you wanted The sound recordist To make a loop, Wildtrack of your feet Through the wet At the foot of a field? * Yet for all their lush Compliant dialect No way have plants here Arrived at a settlement. Not the mare’s tail, Not the broom or whins. It must have to do With the wind. * Not that the grass itself Ever rests in peace. It too takes issue, Now sets its face. To the wind, Now turns its back. * “See me?” it says. “The wind Has me well rehearsed In the ways of [...]

POETRY: A Brigid’s Girdle by Seamus Heaney

June 30, 2018

for Adele Last time I wrote I wrote from a rustic table Under magnolias in South Carolina As blossoms fell on me, and a white gable As clean-lined as the prow of a white liner Bisected sunlight in the sunlit yard. I was glad of the early heat and the first quiet I’d had for weeks. I heard the mocking bird And a delicious, articulate Flight of small plinkings from a dulcimer Like feminine rhymes migrating to the north Where you faced the music and the ache of summer And earth’s foreknowledge gathered in the earth. Now it’s St. Brigid’s Day and the first snowdrop In County Wicklow, and this a Brigid’s Girdle I’m plaiting for you, an airy fairy hoop (Like one of those old crinolines they’d trindle), [...]

POETRY: An Ulster Twilight by Seamus Heaney

June 23, 2018

The bare bulb, a scatter of nails, Shelved timber, glinting chisels: In a shed of corrugated iron Eric Dawson stoops to his plane At five o’clock on a Christmas Eve. Carpenter’s pencil next, the spoke-shave, Fretsaw, auger, rasp and awl, A rub with a rag of linseed oil. A mile away it was taking shape, The hulk of a toy battleship, As waterbuckets iced and frost Hardened the quiet on roof and post. Where is he now? There were fifteen years between us two That night I strained to hear the bells Of a sleigh of the mind and heard him pedal Into our lane, get off at the gable, Steady his Raleigh bicycle Against the whitewash, stand to make sure The house was quiet, knock at the door And hand his parcel to a peering woman: “I [...]

POETRY: A Dog Was Crying Tonight In Wicklow Also by Seamus Heaney

June 16, 2018

In memory of Donatus Nwoga When human beings found out about death They sent the dog to Chukwu with a message: They wanted to be let back to the house of life. They didn’t want to end up lost forever Like burnt wood disappearing into smoke Or ashes that get blown away to nothing. Instead they saw their souls in a flock at twilight Cawing and headed back to the same old roosts And the same bright airs and wing-stretchings each morning. Death would be like a night spent in the wood: At first light they’d be back in the house of life. (The dog was meant to tell all this to Chukwu.) But death and human beings took second place When he trotted off the path and started barking At another dog in broad daylight just barking Back at him from [...]

POETRY: Seeing Things by Seamus Heaney

June 9, 2018

I Inishbofin on a Sunday morning. Sunlight, turfsmoke, seagulls, boatslip, diesel. One by one we were being handed down Into a boat that slipped and shilly-shallied Scaresomely every time. We sat tight On short cross-benches, in nervous twos and threes, Obedient, newly close, nobody speaking Except the boatmen, as the gunwales sank And seemed they might ship water any minute. The sea was very calm but even so, When the engine kicked and our ferryman Swayed for balance, reaching for the tiller, I panicked at the shiftiness and heft Of the craft itself. What guaranteed us— That quick response and buoyancy and swim— Kept me in agony. All the time As we went sailing evenly across The deep, still, seeable-down-into water, It was as if I [...]

POETRY: A Drink Of Water by Seamus Heaney

June 2, 2018

She came every morning to draw water Like an old bat staggering up the field: The pump’s whooping cough, the bucket’s clatter And slow diminuendo as it filled, Announced her. I recall Her grey apron, the pocked white enamel Of the brimming bucket, and the treble Creak of her voice like the pump’s handle. Nights when a full moon lifted past her gable It fell back through her window and would lie Into the water set out on the table. Where I have dipped to drink again, to be Faithful to the admonishment on her cup, Remember the Giver, fading off the [...]

POETRY: The Underground by Seamus Heaney

May 26, 2018

There we were in the vaulted tunnel running, You in your going-away coat speeding ahead And me, me then like a fleet god gaining Upon you before you turned to a reed Or some new white flower japped with crimson As the coat flapped wild and button after button Sprang off and fell in a trail Between the Underground and the Albert Hall. Honeymooning, mooning around, late for the Proms, Our echoes die in that corridor and now I come as Hansel came on the moonlit stones Retracing the path back, lifting the buttons To end up in a draughty lamplit station After the trains have gone, the wet track Bared and tensed as I am, all attention For your step following and damned if I look [...]

POETRY: Station Island XI by Seamus Heaney / John of the Cross

February 13, 2018

As if the prisms of the kaleidoscope I plunged once in a butt of muddied water Surfaced like a marvelous lightship And out of its silted crystals a monk’s face That had spoken years ago from behind a grille Spoke again about the need and chance To salvage everything, to re-envisage The zenith and glimpsed jewels of any gift Mistakenly abased …. What came to nothing could always be replenished. “Read poems as prayers,” he said, “and for your penance Translate me something by Juan de la Cruz.” Returned from Spain to our chapped wilderness, His consonants aspirate, his forehead shining, He had made me feel there was nothing to confess. Now his sandaled passage stirred me on to this: How well I know that fountain, filling, running, [...]

POETRY: A New Work In The English Tongue by Seamus Heaney

May 29, 2013

On first reading Ted Hughes’s “Birthday Letters” 1 Post-this, post-that, post-the-other, yet in the end Not past a thing. Not understanding or telling Or forgiveness. But often past oneself, Pounded like a shore by the roller griefs In language that can still knock language sideways. 2 I read it quickly, then stood looking back As if it were a bridge I had passed under— The single span and bull’s eye of the one Over the railway lines at Anahorish— So intimate in there, the tremor-drip And cranial acoustic of the stone With its arch-ear to the ground, a listening post Of soul on its lonely path, the rails on either side Shining in silence, the fretful part of me Stepped in so deep in unshadowed apprehension I [...]

POETRY: The Nature Of Seamus Heaney

October 31, 2012

Digging Between my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests; snug as a gun. Under my window, a clean rasping sound When the spade sinks into gravelly ground: My father, digging. I look down Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds Bends low, comes up twenty years away Stooping in rhythm through potato drills Where he was digging. The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft Against the inside knee was levered firmly. He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep To scatter new potatoes that we picked, Loving their cool hardness in our hands. By God, the old man could handle a spade. Just like his old man. My grandfather cut more turf in a day Than any other man on Toner’s bog. Once I carried him milk in a bottle Corked [...]