POEMS BY SEAMUS HEANEY

Time period: 1963-1966

Poet: Seamus Heaney

Permanent URL: http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/17knw

Sources: Belfast Creative Writing Group 1963-6; Michael Longley papers, 1960-2000


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ELEGY FOR AN UNBORN CHILD

I

Your mother walks light as an empty creel

Unlearning the intimate nudge and pull

Your trussed-up weight of seed-flesh and bone-curd

Had insisted on. That evicted world

Contracts round its history, its scar.

Doomsday struck when your collapsed sphere

Extinguished itself in our atmosphere,

Your mother heavy with the lightness in her.

II

For six months you stayed cartographer

Charting my friend from husband towards father.

He guessed a globe behind your steady mound.

Then the pole fell, shooting star, into the ground.

III

On lonely journeys I think of it all,

Birth of death, exhumation for burial,

A wreath of small clothes, a memorial pram,

Parents groping for a phantom limb.

I drive by remote control on this bare road

Under a drizzling sky, a circling rook,

Past mountain fields, full to the brim with cloud,

White waves riding home on a wintry lough.


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TRIPTYCH FOR THE EASTER BATTLERS

(Cock-fights, or 'battles', are still held in parts of the country on Easter Monday, despite severe legislation to the contrary.")
I

It drew them compulsively as a lover:

A word whispered between mouthfuls of stout

Or a wink when they were standing around

After chapel summoned this passover.

And birds fed up like kings of the yard

Were gathered and starved into condition;

Five counties prepared themselves with caution.

The spurs were brought down, all ragged claws pared

For this confluence of wild pulse and death leap

When the new year sought its underground passion,

Old hungers wakening in the dancing sun,

The law melting, irrelevant, in their heat.

II

The shuttered eye is his least brilliant part,

Efficient, pebbly, busy as radar,

Cool arbiter of his so flashy art.

A dead star

Among his enamelled constellations.

Copper and golden like some Saxon grail

The nebula of wing, a sheen of oiled guns

From his comet tail.

He is the centre of his own system,

All gravities tending towards claw and beak;

Generating his own cataclysm

When all those worlds must strike.

III

One eye matched his. Here is Hogarth's cockpit:

The crowd elbows and grunts, the cripples sweat.

A trapped hag gapes and chokes, obscenely twisted

To keep her view. As in a Way of the Cross

Eyes are glutting, armpits and hair wet.

The yells burst loud as amplified applause.

For in the sun, their shadows a quick blur,

Two crested cocks, like hammers drawn back

On trigger legs, crouch low to spring: each spur

Fixed deadly, each beak hones as a saw's tooth.

Look at the blind man's mouth, opening black,

And, flailing his crutch, the man with gout -

All set down as for a crucifixion.

His eye maintains it all in ecstasy,

Bird and man extinguished in communion:

The battling ringside, hot as a hot stud,

(This is Easter battlers' Calvary)

And airborne cocks, buoyant on their own blood.


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HOMAGE TO PIETER BRUEGHEL

Those six blind beggars still grope to a fall

And strain themselves grotesquely towards hurt -

The followers titled off the vertical,

The leaders capsized, chartless, in the dirt.

Elsewhere a bleeding mother labours still,

A skeleton draws skulls in a horse-drawn cart.

Another rattles through a chest of coin.

Another's bone hand fondles my lady's groin.

Your eye contained the latest communique.

At times we lose you, find only the impact

Of infinite terror that was never gay.

The one legged man on crutches is hump-backed,

Children run blank and haunted at their play.

Those skeletons drive all things underground.

Meanwhile a hound licks the stabbed man's wound.

This is the obverse of interiors.

Small-windowed rooms, all furniture and wall,

Must end up solid masks instead of mirrors.

And yet you found what the facts tried to kill,

The real unshakeables lodged out of doors:

Hope may be blind-man's-buff but life is seasonal.

Skate, hunt, lop, cut the corn, take ease

Spread out, unbuttoned, grateful, under trees.


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PERSEPHONE

So winter closed its fist

And got it stuck in the pump.

The plunger froze up a lump

In its throat, ice founding itself

Upon iron. The handle

Paralysed at an angle.

Then the twisting of wheat straw

Into ropes, lapping them tight

Round stem and snout, then a light

That sent the pump up in flame.

It cooled, we lifted her latch.

Her entrance was wet, but she came.


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ROOKERY

Here they come, freckling the sunset,

The slow big sailers bearing down

On the plantation. They have flown

Their sorties and are now well met.

The upper twigs dip and wobble

With each almost two-point landing,

Then ride to rest. There is nothing

Else to do now only settle.


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REQUIEM FOR THE IRISH REBELS

( Wexford, 1798)

The pockets of our great-coats full of barley

(No kitchens on the run, no striking camp)

We moved quick and sudden in our own country.

The priest lay behind ditches with the tramp.

A people, hardly marching - on the hike -

We found new tactics happening each day:

Horsemen and horse fell to the twelve foot pike,

We'd stampede cattle into infantry,

Retreat through hedges where cavalry must be thrown

Until, on Vinegar Hill, the fatal conclave:

Twenty thousand died; shaking scythes at cannon.

The hillside blushed, soaked in our broken wave.

They buried us without shroud or coffin

And in August barley grew up out of the grave.


But they keep up a guttural chat

As thunder

Something in that

who


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THE PENINSULA

When you have nothing more to say, just drive

For a day all round the peninsula;

The sky is high as over a runway,

The land without marks so you will not arrive

But pass through, though always skirting landfall.

At dusk, horizons drink down sea and hill,

The ploughed field swallows the whitewashed gable

And you're in the dark again. Now recall

The glazed foreshore and silhouetted log,

That rock were breakers shredded into rags,

The leggy birds stilted on their own legs,

Islands riding themselves out into the fog

And drive back home, still with nothing to say

Except that now you will uncode all landscapes

By this: things founded clean on their own shapes,

Water and ground in their extremity.


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ORANGE DRUMS, TYRONE 1966

The lambeg balloons at this belly, weighs

His back on his haunches, lodging thunder

Grossly there between his chin and his knees:

He is raised up by what he buckles under.

Each arm extended by a seasoned rod,

He parades behind it. And though the drummers

Are granted passage through the nodding crowd

It is the drums preside like giant tumers.

Training the note of hate on the ear's greed,

His battered signature subscribes 'No Pope'.

The pigskin's scourged until his knuckles bleed.

The air is pounding like a stethoscope.

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