POEMS BY SEAMUS HEANEY

Time period: 1966-1972

Poet: Seamus Heaney

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

Sources: Michael Longley papers, 1960-2000 ; Seamus Deane papers 1960-2011


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ICON

Here is Patrick

Banishing the serpents,

The gold nostrils flared

On his crozier.

He has staked a cluster

One of which slithers

Its head up the staff.

Still from low swamps

And secret drains,

The drenched grasslands,

Luxuriant growths

Beside dunghills and wells

Their sphincters quietly

Rippling, snakes point

And pass to the sea.

Crusty with sand

They dirty and fatten

The lip of the wave.

The whole island

Writhes at the edges.

Here is Patrick

Ridding the country,

A celtic worm-clot

Paralysed round his staff.


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LIMBO

Fishermen at Ballyshannon

Netted an infant last night

Along with the salmon

An illegitimate spawning,

A small one thrown back

To the waters. But I'm sure

As she stood in the shallows

Ducking him tenderly

Till the frozen knobs of her wrists

Were dead as the gravel,

He was a minnow with hooks

Tearing her open.

She waded in under

The sign of her cross.

He was hauled in with the fish.

Now limbo will be

A cold glitter of souls

Through some far briny zone.

But even Christ's palms, unhealed,

Smart and cannot fish there.


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WEDDING DAY

Oh my love I am afraid.

The sound has stopped in the day

And these images reel over

And over. Why all those tears,

The wild grief on his face

Outside the taxi! The sap

Of mourning has gorged

Our friends on the steps?

You sing behind the tall cake

Like a deserted bride

Who persists, demented,

And goes through the ritual.

When I went to the gents

There was a skewered heart

And a legend of love.

Let me sleep on your breast to the airport.


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THE LAST MUMMER

Carries a stone in his pocket,

An ash-plant under his arm.

Moves out of the fog on the lawn,

Pads up the terrace.

The luminous screen in the corner

Has them charmed in a ring

So he stands a long time behind them.

St. George, Beelzebub and Jack Straw

Can't be conjured from mist.

He catches the stick in his fist

And, shrouded, starts beating

The bars of the gate.

His boots crack the road. The stone

Clatters down off the slates.


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HIGH STREET, BELFAST, 1786

Here are men in tricorn hats

And lownecked belles, all full of chat,

Blocking the vista to the docks;

The loosed-out carts

And panniered horse, the dogs

At random.

It's twenty to four

By the public clock. A cloaked rider

Clops off into an entry

Coming perhaps from the Linen Hall

Or Cornmarket

Where (this civic print unfrozen)

In twelve years time

They hanged young MacCracken -

And this man with a crutch

And this tricorned fop

Forever arrested, pre-revolution.

Pen and ink, water tint

Fence and fetch us in

Under bracketed tavern signs,

The edged gloom of arcades.

It's twenty to four

On one of the last afternoons

Of reasonable light.

Smell the tidal Lagan:

Take a last turn with citizens

In the tang of possibility.


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TWEED

How different are the words home, Christ, ale,

master, on his lips and on mine!

Stephen Dedalus

"The wool trade" - the phrase

Rambled warm as a fleece

Out of his word hoard.

To shear, to bale and bleach and card

Unwound from the spools

Of his vowels.

And square-set men in tunics

Who plied soft names like Bruges

In their talk, merchants

Back from the Netherlands.

O all the hamlets where

Hills and flocks and streams conspired

To a language of waterwheels,

A lost syntax of looms and spindles,

How they hang fading

In the gallery of the tongue!

And I must talk of tweed,

A stiff cloth with flecks like blood.


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DAWN

Somebody lets up a blind.

The shrub at the window

Glitters, a mint of green leaves

Pitched and tossed.

When we stopped at the lights

In the centre, pigeons were down

On the street, a scatter

Of cobbles clucking and settling.

We went at five miles an hour.

A tut-tutting colluquy

Was in session, scholars

Arguing through until morning

In Pompeian silence.

The dummies watched from the window -

Displays as we slipped to the sea.

I got away out by myself

On a scurf of winkles and cockles

And found myself suddenly

Unable to move without crunching

Acres of their crisp delicate turrets.


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BYE-CHILD

When the tilley lamp glowed,

A yolk of light

In their back window,

The child in the outhouse

Put his eye to a chink -

Little henhouse boy

Sharp-faced as new moons

Remembered, your photo still

Glimpsed like a rodent

On the floor of my mind,

Little moon man,

Kenneled and faithful

At the foot of the yard,

Your frail shape luminous,

Weightless, is stirring the dust,

The cobwebs, the musts

From droppings dried under the roosts

And dead smells from slops

Slipped in through the trap-door

By your mother and keeper.

Until they arrived

With warrants and cameras

Framing his life,

Crusading into that grief,

He had spoken no word.

How to speak for him?

Vigils, solitudes, fasts,

Unchristened tears,

His puzzled love of the light.

He speaks for me at last

With his elusive mime

Of something beyond patience,

His speechless obvious proof

Of those lunar distances

Travelled beyond love.

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