Seamus Heaney: Crossings, xxxiii

The world lost a Great One, August 30, 2013.
-Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam-


Be literal a moment. Recollect
Walking out on what had been emptied out
After he died, turning your back and leaving.

That morning tiles were harder, windows colder,
The raindrops on the pane more scourged, the grass
Barer to the sky, more wind-harrowed,

Or so it seemed. The house that he had planned
‘Plain, big, straight, ordinary, you know’,
A paradigm of rigour and correction,

Rebuke to fanciness and shrine to limit,
Stood firmer than ever for its own idea
Like a printed X-ray for the X-rayed body.

–Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney: The Door Was Open and the House Was Dark

“The Door Was Open and the House Was Dark”

              In memory of David Hammond

The door was open and the house was dark
Wherefore I called his name, although I knew
The answer this time would be silence

That kept me standing listening while it grew
Backwards and down and out into the street
Where as I’d entered (I remember now)

The streetlamps too were out.
I felt, for the first time there and then, a stranger,
Intruder almost, wanting to take flight

Yet well aware that here there was no danger,
Only withdrawal, a not unwelcoming
Emptiness, as in a midnight hangar

On an overgrown airfield in late summer.

                             –Seamus Heaney, from Human Chain

Seamus Heaney: Had I Not Been Awake

(credit: John Minihan)

Seamus Heaney: April 13, 1939-August 30, 2013
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam

“Had I Not Been Awake”

Had I not been awake I would have missed it,
A wind that rose and whirled until the roof
Pattered with quick leaves off the sycamore

And got me up, the whole of me a-patter,
Alive and ticking like an electric fence:
Had I not been awake I would have missed it,

It came and went so unexpectedly
And almost it seemed dangerously,
Returning like an animal to the house,

A courier blast that there and then
Lapsed ordinary. But not ever
After. And not now.

–Seamus Heaney, from Human Chain

Seamus Heaney audio presentation. And a poem.

(credit John Minihan)

Seamus Heaney. One of my favorite living poets. I had the chance to listen to this Royal Society of Literature presentation the other day–if you like poetry, you might think of taking the time to listen for yourself. In the meantime, here is a selection from Heaney’s poem series named Squarings.

Crossings: xxxvi

And yes, my friend, we too walked through a valley.
Once. In darkness. With all the streetlamps off.
As danger gathered and the march dispersed.

Scene from Dante, made more memorable
By one of his head-clearing similes–
Fireflies, say, since the policemen’s torches

Clustered and flicked and tempted us to trust
Their unpredictable, attractive light.
We were herded shades who had to cross

And did cross, in a panic, to the car
Parked as we’d left it, that gave when we got in
Like Charon’s boat under the faring poets.

Seamus Heaney: Squarings xlvii

The visible sea at a distance from the shore
Or beyond the anchoring grounds
Was called the offing.

The emptier it stood, the more compelled
The eye that scanned it.
But once you turned your back on it, your back

Was suddenly all eyes like Argus’s.
Then, when you’d look again, the offing felt
Untrespassed still, and yet somehow vacated

As if a lambent trooop that exercised
On the borders of your vision had withdrawn
Behind the skyline to manoeuvre and regroup.

~Seamus Heaney

Heaney. One of the greats. Of all time.

The Skylight

You were the one for skylights. I opposed

Cutting into the seasoned tongue-and-groove

Of pitch pine. I liked it low and closed,

Its claustrophobic, nest-up-in-the-roof

Effect. I liked the snuff-dry feeling,

The perfect, trunk-lid fit of the old ceiling.

Under there, it was all hutch and hatch.

The blue slates kept the heat like midnight thatch.

But when the slates came off, extravagant

Sky entered and held surprise wide open.

For days I felt like an inhabitant

Of that house where the man sick of the palsy

Was lowered through the roof, had his sins forgiven,

Was healed, took up his bed and walked away.

–Seamus Heaney