Seamus Heaney Poems Antaeus When I lie on the ground I rise flushed as a rose in the morning.

In flights I arrange a fall on the ring To rub myself with sand That is operative As an elixir.I cannot be weaned Off the earth's long contour, her riverveins. Down here in my cave Girdered with root and rock I am cradled in the dark that wombed me And nurtutred in every artery Like a small hillock. Let each new hero come Seeking the golden apples and Atlas. He must wrestle with me before pass Into that realm of fame Among sky-born and royal: He may well throw me and renew my bith But let him not plan, lifting me off the earth, My elevation, my fall. The Harvest Bow As you plaited the harvest bow You implicated the mellowed silence in you In wheat that does not rust But brightens as it tightens twist by twist Into a knowable corona, A throwaway love-knot of straw. Hands that aged round ashplants and cane sticks And lapped the spurs on a lifetime of game cocks Harked to their gift and worked with fine intent

Until your fingers moved somnambulant: I tell and finger it like braille, Gleaning the unsaid off the palpable, And if I spy into its golden loops I see us walk between the railway slopes Into an evening of long grass and midges, Blue smoke straight up, old beds and ploughs in hedges, An auction notice on an outhouse wall— You with a harvest bow in your lapel, Me with the fishing rod, already homesick For the big lift of these evenings, as your stick Whacking the tips off weeds and bushes Beats out of time, and beats, but flushes Nothing: that original townland Still tongue-tied in the straw tied by your hand. The end of art is peace Could be the motto of this frail device That I have pinned up on our deal dresser— Like a drawn snare Slipped lately by the spirit of the corn Yet burnished by its passage, and still warm. Casualty I He would drink by himself And raise a weathered thumb Towards the high shelf, Calling another rum And blackcurrant, without Having to raise his voice, Or order a quick stout By a lifting of the eyes And a discreet dumb-show Of pulling off the top; At closing time would go In waders and peaked cap Into the showery dark,


A dole-kept breadwinner But a natural for work. I loved his whole manner, Sure-footed but too sly, His deadpan sidling tact, His fisherman's quick eye And turned observant back. Incomprehensible To him, my other life. Sometimes on the high stool, Too busy with his knife At a tobacco plug And not meeting my eye, In the pause after a slug He mentioned poetry. We would be on our own And, always politic And shy of condescension, I would manage by some trick To switch the talk to eels Or lore of the horse and cart Or the Provisionals. But my tentative art His turned back watches too: He was blown to bits Out drinking in a curfew Others obeyed, three nights After they shot dead The thirteen men in Derry. PARAS THIRTEEN, the walls said, BOGSIDE NIL. That Wednesday Everyone held His breath and trembled. II It was a day of cold Raw silence, wind-blown Surplice and soutane: Rained-on, flower-laden Coffin after coffin Seemed to float from the door Of the packed cathedral Like blossoms on slow water. The common funeral Unrolled its swaddling band, Lapping, tightening Till we were braced and bound

Like brothers in a ring. But he would not be held At home by his own crowd Whatever threats were phoned, Whatever black flags waved. I see him as he turned In that bombed offending place, Remorse fused with terror In his still knowable face, His cornered outfaced stare Blinding in the flash. He had gone miles away For he drank like a fish Nightly, naturally Swimming towards the lure Of warm lit-up places, The blurred mesh and murmur Drifting among glasses In the gregarious smoke. How culpable was he That last night when he broke Our tribe's complicity? 'Now, you're supposed to be An educated man,' I hear him say. 'Puzzle me The right answer to that one.' III I missed his funeral, Those quiet walkers And sideways talkers Shoaling out of his lane To the respectable Purring of the hearse... They move in equal pace With the habitual Slow consolation Of a dawdling engine, The line lifted, hand Over fist, cold sunshine On the water, the land Banked under fog: that morning I was taken in his boat, The screw purling, turning Indolent fathoms white, I tasted freedom with him. To get out early, haul


Steadily off the bottom, Dispraise the catch, and smile As you find a rhythm Working you, slow mile by mile, Into your proper haunt Somewhere, well out, beyond... Dawn-sniffing revenant, Plodder through midnight rain, Question me again. The Tollund Man I Some day I will go to Aarhus To see his peat-brown head, The mild pods of his eye-lids, His pointed skin cap. In the flat country near by Where they dug him out, His last gruel of winter seeds Caked in his stomach, Naked except for The cap, noose and girdle, I will stand a long time. Bridegroom to the goddess, She tightened her torc on him And opened her fen, Those dark juices working Him to a saint's kept body, Trove of the turfcutters' Honeycombed workings. Now his stained face Reposes at Aarhus. II I could risk blasphemy, Consecrate the cauldron bog Our holy ground and pray Him to make germinate The scattered, ambushed

Flesh of labourers, Stockinged corpses Laid out in the farmyards, Tell-tale skin and teeth Flecking the sleepers Of four young brothers, trailed For miles along the lines. III Something of his sad freedom As he rode the tumbril Should come to me, driving, Saying the names Tollund, Grauballe, Nebelgard, Watching the pointing hands Of country people, Not knowing their tongue. Out here in Jutland In the old man-killing parishes I will feel lost, Unhappy and at home. From Lightenings I Shifting brilliancies. Then winter light In a doorway, and on the stone doorstep A beggar shivering in silhouette. So the particular judgement might be set: Bare wallstead and a cold hearth rained into-Bright puddle where the soul-free cloudlife roams. And after the commanded journey, what? Nothing magnificent, nothing unknown. A gazing out from far away, alone. And it is not particular at all,


Just old truth dawning: there is no nexttime-round. Unroofed scope. Knowledge-freshening wind. VI Once, as a child, out in a field of sheep, Thomas Hardy pretended to be dead And lay down flat among their dainty shins. In that sniffed-at, bleated-into, grassy space He experimented with infinity. His small cool brow was like an anvil waiting For sky to make it sing the prefect pitch Of his dumb being, and that stir he caused In the fleece-hustle was the original Of a ripple that would travel eighty years Outward from there, to be the same ripple Inside him at its last circumference. VII (I misremembered. He went down on all fours, Florence Emily says, crossing a eweleaze. Hardy sought the creatures face to face, Their witless eyes and liability To panic made him feel less alone, Made proleptic sorrow stand a moment Over him, perfectly known and sure. And then the flock's dismay went swimming on Into the blinks and murmurs and deflections He'd know at parties in renowned old age When sometimes he imagined himself a ghost

And circulated with that new perspective.) VIII The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise Were all at prayers inside the oratory A ship appeared above them in the air. The anchor dragged along behind so deep It hooked itself into the altar rails And then, as the big hull rocked to a standstill, A crewman shinned and grappled down the rope And struggled to release it. But in vain. 'This man can't bear our life here and will drown,' The abbot said, 'unless we help him.' So They did, the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed back Out of the marvellous as he had known it. 0/aug/21/seamus-heaney-humanchain-review Human Chain by Seamus Heaney Review Seamus Heaney's new collection brilliantly enacts the struggle between memory and loss, says Colm Tóibín In the early 1990s Seamus Heaney began to contemplate how to deal with time passing and the death of family and friends. In a lecture, he contrasted Philip Larkin's poem "Aubade", in which death comes as something dark and absolute and life seems a trembling, fearful preparation for extinction, with Yeats's "The Cold Heaven", which allowed a rich dialogue between the ideas of life as a cornucopia


and life as an empty shell. Heaney saw poetry itself, no matter what its content or tone, standing against the dull thought of life as a great emptiness. "When a poem rhymes," Heaney wrote, "when a form generates itself, when a metre provokes consciousness into new postures, it is already on the side of life. When a rhyme surprises and extends the fixed relations between words, that in itself protests against necessity. When language does more than enough, as it does in all achieved poetry, it opts for the condition of overlife, and rebels at limit." In his 1991 collection Seeing Things he included a poem, "Fosterling", which seemed like a blueprint for how he himself might proceed, speaking of a "heaviness of being" producing "poetry / Sluggish in the doldrums of what happens". And then writing of a change which had come: "Me waiting until I was nearly fifty / To credit marvels. Like the tree-clock of tin cans / The tinkers made. So long for air to brighten, / Time to be dazzled and the heart to lighten." The blueprint, however, has turned out not to open the way for an easy lightness, or a tone of bright hope, in Heaney's work, but for a struggle that his poems would enact and dramatise between the facts as Larkin presents them in "Aubade" and the idea, which Heaney proposes in his essay, that "the vision of reality which poetry offers should be transformative, more than just a printout of the given circumstances of its time and place". While his essay clearly comes down on one side, as does "Fosterling", the poems themselves have been more hushed in the presence of mortality, more open to the idea of loss as something pure. His poems have offered consolation or transformation only because they contain tones and phrases that are perfectly tuned; they are true to memory and loss, and thus somehow, at times

miraculously, they offer a vision of what is beyond them or above them. In Human Chain, his best single volume for many years, and one that contains some of the best poems he has written, Heaney allows this struggle between the lacrimae rerum and the consolations of poetry to have a force which is satisfying because its result is so tentative and uncertain. Memory here can be filled with tones of regret and even undertones of anguish, but it also can appear with a sense of hard-won wonder. There is an active urge to capture the living breath of things, but he also allows sorrow into his poems. He uses a poetic line which sometimes seems complete and whole in its rhythm, and at others is stopped short, held, left hanging. It is as though to allow the rhythm its full completion would be untrue to the shape of the experience that gave rise to the poem, untrue to the terms of the struggle between the pure possibility that language itself can offer and a knowledge of the sad fixtures which the grim business of loss can provide. The verse structure Heaney seems most at home with here is the one most used in Seeing Things: it contains four stanzas of three lines per stanza, a sonnet without the couplet. This system offers a sort of looseness, a buoyancy, a refusal to close and conclude; it means that the endings of these poems can have a particular pathos, a holding of the breath, "gleaning the unsaid off the palpable", as Heaney has it in his poem "The Harvest Bow". At times, despite his effort to be consoled, it is as though whatever is being remembered has taken all his heart for speech. This is most apparent in an elegy for the Irish singer David Hammond, which contains four of these three-line stanzas plus one extra line. It is the poem where the struggle between pure lament and the search for comfort in images seems most intense: 5

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. If there is a presiding spirit haunting this book, it is Virgil's Aeneid. InStepping Stones, his book of interviews with Dennis O'Driscoll, Heaney mentions that "there's one Virgilian journey that has indeed been a constant presence, and that is Aeneas's venture into the underworld. The motifs in Book VI have been in my head for years – the golden bough, Charon's barge, the quest to meet the shade of the father." Human Chain is a book of shades and memories, of things whispered, of journeys into the underworld, of elegies and translations, of echoes and silences. It conjures up the ghosts of three painters – Colin Middleton, Nancy Wynne-Jones, Derek Hill – who spent their lives working with Irish light and Irish weather. The three-part poem "Chanson d'Aventure", describing a journey by ambulance after suffering a stroke, invokes with gentle reverence John Keats, who wrote in a late poem of "This living hand, now warm and capable / of earnest grasping". Heaney describes: my once capable Warm hand, hand that I could not feel you lift And lag in yours throughout that journey When it lay flop-heavy as a bellpull The most ambitious poem in the book is an ingenious and moving encounter with Book VI of the Aeneid, with a description of finding a used copy of the book in Belfast and taking it on Route

110 across Northern Ireland ("Cookstown via Toome and Magharafelt"). Slowly the poem moves into the underworld ("It was the age of ghosts"), where it meets, among others, Louis O'Neill, one of the murdered dead in the Troubles, who is the subject of Heaney's earlier poem "Casualty" and wanders in a world of shady memory to emerge in a final poem about the birth of a first grandchild. Sometimes, it seems, it is enough for Heaney that he remembers. Throughout his career there have been poems of simple evocation and description. His refusal to sum up or offer meaning is part of his tact, but his skill at playing with rhythm, pushing phrases and images as hard as they will go, offers the poems an undertone, a gravity, a space between the words that allows them to soar or shiver. There is one poem, "Uncoupled" – a diptych in memory of his parents – that has all the placid beauty of a Dutch painting or a Schubert song. Both parts of the poem are structured in the customary four three-line stanzas, both beginning with the same three words "Who is this", both offering a single ghostly image from memory, something hovering between what is lost and what has now been found. The first part describes his mother carrying a tray of ashes from the house to the ash-pit; it offers a picture of immense, distant dignity, allowing the ashes to be "whitish dust and flakes still sparkling hot", purely themselves, but with all the resonance that they can command besides. The second part is a picture of his father "not much higher than the cattle / Working his way towards me through the pen, / His ashplant in one hand". The father is thus captured in an ordinary moment, but he is "Waving and calling something I cannot hear" because of


all the lowing and roaring, lorries revving At the far end of the yard, the dealers Shouting among themselves but also, it is implied, because time has passed and death has intervened. In the last two lines – the last 20 words of the poem have each only one stark syllable – you watch Heaney struggling between the world of painful fact and something in his own imaginative spirit which insists that language used with sombre tact and care "opts for the condition of overlife and rebels at limit": So that his eyes leave mine and I know The pain of loss before I know the term. Colm Tóibín's Brooklyn is published by Penguin.


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