Posts tagged Seamus Heaney
Posts tagged Seamus Heaney
“Go beyond what’s reliable
in all that keeps pleading and pleading,
these eyes and puddles and stones,
and recollect how bold you were
when I visited you first
with departures you cannot go back on.”
Seamus Heaney, from “Making Strange”
“Soul has its scruples. Things not to be said.
Things for keeping, that can keep the small-hours gaze
Open and steady. Things for the aye of God
And for poetry. Which is, as Milosz says,
‘A dividend from ourselves,’ a tribute paid
By what we have been true to. A thing allowed.”
Seamus Heaney, the fifth part of “On His Work in the English Tongue”
“The little violets’ heads bowed on their stems,
The pre-dawn gossamers, all dew and scrim
And star-lace, it was more through them
I felt the beating of the huge time-wound
We lived inside.”
Seamus Heaney, from “His Dawn Vision,” part of his “Mycenae Lookout” poem cycle, in his collection The Spirit Level.
The Spirit Level is the first book of Heaney’s I ever read. I remember pulling it off the shelf in Book People in Austin, Texas. I flipped through the pages, then sat down on the floor of the bookstore, and read the entire thing. Once I had finished, I bought everything they had of his, broke college student that I was. The debt that I owe to him, as a writer, as a person, I will never be able to repay.
“Because Sweeney was a pilgrim
to the stoup of every well
and every green-frilled, cress-topped stream,
their water’s his memorial.
Now, if it be the will of God,
rise, Sweeney, take this guiding hand
that has to lay you in the sod
and draw the dark blinds of the ground.
I ask a blessing, by Sweeney’s grave.
His memory flutters in my breast.
His soul roosts in the tree of love.
His body sinks in its clay nest.”
Seamus Heaney, from Sweeney Astray
Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona daoibh.
“One night I walked across the Fews -
the hills were dark, the starlight dead -
when suddenly five severed heads,
five lantern ghouls appeared and rose
like bats from hell, surrounding me.
Then a head spoke - another shock!”
Seamus Heaney, from “Sweeney Astray”
I put the talking severed heads into a story.
“And the poet draws from his word-hoard a weird tale
Of a life and a love balked, which I reword here
Remembering earth-tremors once on Dartmoor,
The power station wailing in its pit
Under the heath, as if our night walk led
Not to the promised tor but underground
To sullen halls where encumbered sleepers groaned.”
Seamus Heaney, from “On His Work in the English Tongue,” in his collection, Electric Light
This is what I want to do - to take my reader by the hand, and lead them not to the place they thought they were going, but underground.
“The clouds would tatter a moment
over green peninsulas, cattle
far below, the dormant roadways -
and I imagined her clothes half-slipped
off the chair, the dawn-fending blind, her eyelids’
glister and burgeon.”
Seamus Heaney, from “Sweeney’s Returns” in his collection, Station Island
Station Island is, of course, the location of Saint Patrick’s Purgatory, in case any of you fancy a quick trip to Hell.
And Sweeney is always himself, mad and feathered.
A latch lifting, an edged den of light
Opens across the yard. Out of the low door
They stoop into the honeyed corridor,
Then walk straight through the wall of the dark.
A puddle, cobble-stones, jambs and doorstep
Are set ready in a block of brightness.
Till she strides in again beyond her shadows
And cancels everything behind her.
Seamus Heaney. From his collection, Wintering Out
There is an entire story contained in that final couplet.
“She carded the webs of desire,
she disinterred gutlines and lightning,
she broke the ice of demure
and exemplary stars -
and rooted me to the spot,
under my old clandestine
Seamus Heaney, from “Alerted” which is part of his poem cycle, “Sweeney Redivivus.” You can find these particular Mad Sweeney poems in Heaney’s collection Station Island.
I do love a good Mad Sweeney story.
“I lay waiting
between turf-face and demesne wall,
between heathery levels
and glass-toothed stone.
My body was braille
for the creeping influences:
dawn suns groped over my head
and cooled at my feet,
through my fabrics and skins
the seeps of winter
the illiterate roots
pondered and died
in the cavings
of stomach and socket.
I lay waiting
on the gravel bottom
my brain darkening,
a jar of spawn
dreams of Baltic amber.
Bruised berries under my nails,
the vital hoard reducing
in the crock of the pelvis.
My diadem grew carious
in the peat floe
like the bearings of history.
Seamus Heaney, from “Bog Queen” in his collection, North.
A reminder that all our histories are made of ghosts.