Time period: 1963-1966
Poet: Seamus Heaney
Permanent URL: http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/17knw
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.
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.
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.
(Cock-fights, or 'battles', are still held in parts of the country on Easter Monday, despite severe legislation to the contrary.")
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.