POEMS BY SEAMUS HEANEY, BRENDAN KENNELLY, and MICHAEL LONGLEY

Time period: 1966-1972

Poets: Seamus Heaney ; Brendan Kennelly ; Michael Longley

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

Source: Michael Longley papers, 1960-2000


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DEATH OF A NATURALIST

All year the flax-dam festered in the heart

Of the townland; green and heavy headed

Flax and rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.

Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun.

Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles

Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.

There were dragon-flies, spotted butterflies,

The best of all was the warm thick slobber

Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water

In the shade of the banks. Here, every spring

I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied

Specks to range on window-sills at home

On shelves at school, and wait and watch until

The fattening dots burst into nimble-

Swimming tadpoles. Miss Walls would tell us how

The daddy frog was called a bullfrog

And how he croaked and how the mammy frog

Laid hundreds of little eggs and this was

Frogspawn. You could tell the weather by frogs too

For they were yellow in the sun and brown

In rain.

The one hot day when fields were rank

With cowdung in the grass and angry frogs

Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through the hedges

To a coarse croaking that I had not heard

Before. The air was thick with a bass chorus.

Right down the dam gross-bellied frogs were cocked

On sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails. Some hopped:

The slap and plop were obscene threats. Some sat

Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting.

I sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings

Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew

That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.


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LOVERS ON ARAN

The timeless waves, bright sifting, broken glass,

Came dazzling around, in the rocks,

Came glinting, sifting from the Americas

To possess Aran. Or did Aran rush

To throw wide arms of rock around a tide

That yielded with an ebb, with a soft crash?

Did sea define the land or the land the sea?

Each drew new meaning from the waves' collision.

Sea broke on land to full identity.


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FOLLOWER

My father worked with a horse-plough,

His shoulders globed like a full sail strung

Between the shafts of the furrow.

The horses strained at his clicking tongue.

An expert. He would set the wing

And fit the bright steel-pointed sock.

The sod rolled over without breaking.

At the headrig, with a single pluck

Of reins, the sweating team turned around

And back into the land. His eye

Narrowed and angled at the ground,

Mapping the furrow exactly.

I stumbled in his hob-nailed wake,

Fell soemtimes on the polished sod;

Sometimes he rode me on his back

Dipping and rising to his plod.

I wanted to grow up and plough,

To close one eye, stiffen my arm.

All I ever did was follow

In his broad shadow round the farm.

I was a nuisance, tripping, falling,

Yapping always. But today

It is my father who keeps stumbling

Behind me, and will not go away.


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ELEGY FOR A STILL-BORN CHILD

I

You 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,

And parents reaching for a phantom limb.

I drive by remote control on this bare road

Under a drizzling sky, a circling rock.

Past mountain fields, full to the brim with cloud,

White waves riding home on a wintry lough.


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PERSONAL HELICON

For Michael Longley

As a child, they could not keep me from wells

And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.

I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells

Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.

One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.

I savoured the rich crash when a bucket

Plummeted down at the end of a rope.

So deep you saw no reflection in it.

A shallow one under a dry stone ditch

Fructified like any aquarium.

When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch

A white face hovered over the bottom.

Others had echoes, gave back your own call

With a clean new music in it. And one

Was scaresome for there, out of ferns and tall

Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.

Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,

To stare big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring

Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme

To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.


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ANTAEUS

When I lie on the ground

I rise flushed like a rose in the morning.

In fights I arrange a fall on the ring

To rub myself with sand

That is operative

As an elixir. I cannot be weaned

Off her breasts' firm contour, her river-veins.

Down here in my cave

Girdered with root and rock

I am cradled in the dark that wombed me

And recharge from each worming artery.

My limbs bulge like a wheat sack.

Let each new hero come

Seeking the golden apples and Atlas.

He must wrestle with me before he pass

Into that realm of fame

Among sky-born and royal.

He may well throw me and renew my birth.

But let him not plan, lifting me off the earth,

My elevation, my fall.


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THE AFTER-CHILD

The red heart of the wild boy

Loved the line of trees in the stormy glen,

Loved the mad songs of the tinker-men

And the thin rain of joy.

He could not avoid the hour to brood

On why the growing ghost

Found peace and pleasure most

In solitude.

He hated quarrelling, and knew

That all self-pity, armouring his power

With its small fierceness for an hour,

Clung damp as evening dew.

He saw life caught in a stony road,

In iron, hard and black;

He bent, took on his back,

The broken load.

Mind held a tired woman, so

Pale near the window where the sun came free

On frosted September mornings. She

Was beautiful, but oh

The lined tiredness that filled her face.

Afar, he stared at her,

The red heart hard astir

At wordless grace.

In the small homes of the poor,

He saw their proud humility in bread,

Wher ehope became small words unsaid,

Love, white ash on the floor.

A shrunken woman had held them all;

She carried life alone,

While it made half-heard moan

Within her shawl.

Groping towards the morning light,

He found small shadows on the sandy grass,

Where light-winged linnets dipped to pass

In curving high their flight.

Time was the noon of a windy day,

And all it had of truth

Was white food for the youth

Along his way.

Time was never right nor wrong;

Eternity was there, in voice, in look,

In ailing letters of a book,

And in a drunkard's son:

He watched it as through a rainy glass,

And when it stood, as though

Bidding him come or go,

He let it pass.

He let it pass. All he heard,

He sifted first, then kept it in his heart,

Pondering on each little part,

Till it became a Word.

He thought still of trees and stormy glen,

And, looking at wet stone,

He made his way alone,

Like other men.


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THE BLIND MAN

Dark from birth,

And therefore spared the shock

Of losing light, now having known its worth.

I am aware of darkness round the clock,

A velvet kingdom, limits undefined,

Where touch, smell, ear equip me well.

Fastidiously, I try the noisy grind,

The aimless gusto of external hell.

I walk the inner alleys night and day,

Explore the salty laneways of the blood,

Note weeds and grasses, refuse thrown away,

Deduce what's evil, beautiful or good.

I move down sidestreets of the marrowbone,

Go moodily along its thoroughfare

On which the sun has sometimes shone;

And therefore I am blithe and debonair.

I've been informed of the things I miss:

Birds that steadily attempt the air,

Peculiar tints of whiskey in a glass,

Surprising sunlight in a woman's hair;

Shells half-buried in the sand

Originally spawned at sea,

Nature's gayest finery and

Casual phenomena of every day.

But vision is not simply seeing straight,

And things discoverable without existing within;

My shells and birds are different, yet elate

Me utterly. Images that spin

Within these limits are my own,

With colours, shapes and forms that I create,

Discovered somewhere in the blood and bone -

I only see whatever I can make.

Therefore I accept dark privacy;

I move beyond each voice

Which, unaware, asserts I cannot see.

While they acclaim, reproach, commend, rejoice,

I go among them, prodding the strange air,

Awkwardly involved while still outside,

Conscious of the things I'm fit to share,

Acknowledging the light I've been denied.


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MARLOWE

There was a quarrel about the bill

Of reckoning, not paid until

Marlowe, knifed above the eye

By Ingram Frazier, finally

Settled everything with his blood.

The whole account was closed for good.

It was a giant heart that fell

The victim of a tavern brawl.

Young Kit Marlowe met his doom

In a smoky upstairs room.

The blood that flowed was poetry

Unformed by the quick alchemy

That fashioned Faustus in his prime

And followed the fantastic dream

Of Tamburlaine, but was unmade

By the sharp flash of Frazier's blade.

The dark impenetrable past

Remains the scene of tragic waste;

Wasted wisdom, blood and bone

Impoverish the mind of man.

The tragic pity of what is lost

Makes us the living dispossessed;

We inherit but a part

Of the rich flux, preserved in art,

And therefore every single soul

Is ultimately less than whole.

Present poverty derives

From the curse of wasted lives.

The dead creator on the floor

Has spoken well and must endure,

Surviving hands that ruin and waste

Incessantly, till all seems lost.

It is impossible to tell

How tragic is the unpaid bill,

Or guess at what was left unsaid

When the blood poured from Marlowe's head.


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THE GOOD

(For Eavan)

The good are vulnerable

As any bird in flight,

They do not think of safety,

Are blind to possible extinction

And when most vulnerable

Are most themselves.

The good are real as the sun,

Are best perceived through clouds

Of casual corruption

That cannot kill the luminous sufficiency

That shines on city, sea and wilderness,

Fastidiously revealing

One man to another,

Who yet will not accept

Responsibilities of light.

The good incline to praise,

To have the knack of seeing that

The best is not destroyed

Although forever threatened.

The good go naked in all weathers,

And by their nakedness rebuke

The small protective sanities

That hide men from themselves.

The good are difficult to see

Though open, rare, destructible;

Always, they retain a kind of youth,

The vulnerable grace

Of any bird in flight,

Content to be itself,

Accomplished master and potential victim,

Accepting what the earth or sky intends.

I think that I know one or two

Among my friends.


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LIGHT DYING

In Memoriam Frank O'Connor (Michael O'Donovan)

Climbing the last steps to your house, I knew

That I would find you in your chair,

Watching the light die along the canal,

Recalling the glad creators, all

Who'd played a part in the miracle;

A silver-haired remembering king, superb there

In dying light, all ghosts being at your beck and call,

You made them speak as only you could do,

Of generosity or loneliness or love

Because, you said, all men are voices, heard

In the pure air of the imagination.

I hear you now, your rich voice deep and kind,

Rescuing a poem from time, bringing to mind

Lost centuries with a summoning word,

Lavishing on us who need much more of

What you gave, glimpses of heroic vision.

So you were angry at the pulling down

Of what recalled a finer age; you tried

To show how certain things destroyed, ignored,

Neglected was a crime against the past,

Impoverished the present. Some midland town

Attracted you, you stood in the waste

Places of an old church and, profoundly stirred,

Pondered how you could save what time had sorely tried,

Or else you cried in rage against the force

That would reduce to barren silence all

Who would articulate dark Ireland's soul;

You knew the evil of the pious curse,

The hearts that make God pitifully small

Until He seems the God of little fear

And not the God that you desired at all;

And yet you had the heart to do and dare.

I see you standing at your window,

Lifting a glass, watching the dying light

Along the quiet canal bank come and go

Until the time has come to say good-night:

You seem me to the door; you lift a hand

Half-shyly, awkwardly, while I remark

Your soul's fine courtesy, my friend, and

Walk outside, alone, suddenly in the dark.

But in the dark or no, I realise

Your life's transcendent dignity,

A thing more wonderful than April skies

Emerging in compelling majesty,

Leaving mad March behind and making bloom

Each flower outstripping every weed and thorn;

Life rises from the crowded clay of doom,

Light dying promises the ligth re-born.


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THE DUMMIES

Their restless hands articulate desire

In frantic gestures of meaning,

Fantastic patters of the inner fire.

So it must have been among the first

Brothers - a frenzy of excitement

Before love, hate, hunger, thirst

Were named. Four dummies! Brothers too!

Each one in his particular silence

Creates bridges, trees, deep spaces through

Which he reaches to a brother, hungrily.

Outer beasts move in colourful confusion.

Brothers need each other, utterly.

The spirit's energy is their eloquence. Their

Animated hands mould marvellous

Expressions out of the simple air.

Yet, each one's unalterable separateness remains.

In tragic silence, each dumb soul

Is islanded in darkness of the city lanes.


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THE OSPREY

To whom certain water talents -

Webbed feet, oils - do not occur,

Regulates his liquid acre

From the sky, his proper element.

There, already, his eye removes

The trout each fathom magnifies.

He lives, without compromise,

His unamphibious two lives --

An inextinguishable bird whom

No lake's waters waterlog.

He shakes his feathers like a dog.

It's all of air that ferries him.


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THE HEBRIDES

I

The winds' enclosure, Atlantic's premises,

Last balconies

Above the waves, The Hebrides -

Too long did I postpone

Presbyterian granite and the lack of trees,

This orphaned stone

Day in, day out colliding with the sea.

Weather forecast,

Compass nor ordnance survey

Arranges my welcome

For, on my own, I have lost my way at last,

So far from home.

In whom the city is continuing,

I stop to look,

To find my feet among the ling

And bracken - over me

The bright continuum of gulls, a rook

Occasionally.

II

My eyes, slowly accepting panorama,

Try to include

In my original idea

The total effect

Of air and ocean - waterlogged all wood -

All harbours wrecked -

My dead-lights latched by whelk and barnacle

Till I abide

By the sea wall of the time I kill -

My each nostalgic scheme

Jettisoned, as crises are, the further side

Of sleep and dream.

Between wind and wave this holiday

The cormorant,

The oyster-catcher and osprey

Proceed and keep in line

While I, hands in my pockets, hesitant,

Am in two minds.

III

Old neighbours, though shipwreck's my decision,

People my brain -

Like breakwaters against the sun,

Command in silhouette

My island circumstance - my cells retain,

Perpetuate

Their crumpled deportment through bad weather.

And I feel them

Put on their raincoats for ever

And walk out in the sea.

I am, though each one waves a phantom limb,

The amputee,

For these are my sailors, these my drowned -

In their heart of hearts,

In their city I ran aground.

Along my arteries

Sluice those homewaters petroleum hurts.

Dry dock, gantries,

Dykes of apparatus educate my bones

To track the buoys

Up sea lanes love emblazons

To streets where shall conclude

My journey back from flux to poise, from poise

To attitude.

Here, at the edge of my experience,

Another tide

Along the broken shore extends

A lifetime's wrack and ruin -

No flotsam I may beachcomb now can hide

That water line.

IV

Beyond the lobster pots where plankton spreads

Porpoises turn.

Seals slip over the cockle beds.

Undertow dishevels

Seaweed in the shallows - and I discern

My sea levels.

To right and left of me there intervene

The tumbled burns -

And these, on turf and boulder weaned,

Confuse my calendar -

Their tilt is suicidal, their great return

Curricular.

No matter what repose holds shore and sky

In harmony,

From this place in the long run I,

Though here I might have been

Content with rivers where they meet the sea,

Remove upstream

Where the salmon, risking fastest waters -

Waterfall and rock

And the effervescent otters -

On bridal pools insist

As with fin and generation they unlock

The mountain's fist.

V

Now, buttoned up, with water in my shoes,

Clouds around me,

I can, through mist that misconstrues,

Read like a palimpsest

My past - those landmarks and that scenery

I dare to resist.

Into my mind's unsympathetic trough

They fade away -

And to alter my perspective

I feel in the sharp cold

Of my vantage point too high above the bay

The sea grow old.

Granting the trawlers far below their stance,

Their anchorage,

I fight all the way for balance -

In the mountain's shadow

Losing foothold, covet the privilege

Of vertigo.


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ELEGY FOR FATS WALLER

Lighting up, lest all our hearts should break,

His fiftieth cigarette of the day,

Happy with so many notes at his beck

And call, he sits there taking it away,

The maker of immaculate slapstick.

With music and with such precise rampage

Across the deserts of the blues a trail

He blazes, towards the one true mirage,

Enormous on a nimble-footed camel

And almost refusing to be his age.

He plays for hours on end and though there be

Oases one part water, two parts gin,

He tumbles past to reign, wise and thirsty,

At the still centre of his loud dominion -

THE SHOOK, THE SHAKE, THE SHEIK OF ARABY.


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DR JOHNSON DYING

There was no place to go but his own head

Where hard luck lodged as in an orphanage

With the desperate and the underfed.

So, surgeon himself to his dimensions,

The words still unembarrassed by their size,

He corrected death in its declensions,

The waters breaking where he stabbed the knife,

Washing his pockmarked body like a reef.


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GATHERING MUSHROOMS

Exhaled at dawn with the cattle's breath

Out of the reticent illfitting earth,

Acre on acre the mushroom grew -

Bonus and bounty socketed askew.

Across the fields, as though to confound

Our processions and those underground

Accumulations, secret marriages,

We drew together by easy stages.


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PERSEPHONE

I

I see as through a skylight in my brain

The mole strew its buildings in the rain,

The swallows turn above their broken homes

And all my acres in delirium.

II

Straightjacketed by cold and numskulled

Now sleep the welladjusted and the skilled -

The bat folds its wing like a winter leaf,

The squirrel in its hollow holds aloof.

III

The weasel and ferret, the stoat and fox

Move hand in glove across the equinox.

I can tell how softly their footsteps go -

Their footsteps borrow silence from the snow.

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