Time period: 1966-1972

Poet: Seamus Heaney

Permanent URL: http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/17kr9


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Right along the lough shore

A smoke of flies

Drifts thick in the sunset.

They come shattering daintily

Against the windscreen,

The grill and bonnet whisper

At their million collisions:

It is to drive through

A hail of fine chaff.

Yet we leave no clear wake

For they open and close on us

As the air opens and closes.

To-night when we put out our light

To kiss between sheets

Their just audible siren will go

Outside the window,

Their invisible veil

Weakening the moonlight still further

And the walls will carry a rash

Of them, a green pollen.

They'll have infiltrated our clothes by morning.

If you put one under a lens

You'd be looking at a pumping body

With such outsize beaters for wings

That this visitation would seem

More drastic than Pharaoh's -

I'm told they're mosquitoes

But I'd need forests and swamps

To believe it

For these are our innocent, shuttling

Choirs, dying through

Their own live empyrean, troublesome only

As the last veil on a dancer.

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A latch lifting, an edged cave of light

Opens across the yard. Out of the low door

They stoop in to the honeyed corridor,

Then walk straight through the wall of the dark.

A puddle, cobble-stones, jambs and doorstep

Are set steady in a block of brightness

Till she strides in again beyond her shadows

And cancels everything behind her.

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A tramp whom parents made crow

Like a cock for his victuals.

His head a toby jug now

Tilts disembodied and falls

Wide open in a bellow

That for years the lower jaw

Dammed into performances

For frightened youngsters below

Kitchen tables. He wants his

Revenge. Go on then. Bellow.

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Man to the hills, woman to the shore. (Gaelic proverb)

I have crossed the dunes with their whistling bent

Where dry loose sand was riddling round the air

And I'm walking the firm margin. White pocks

Of cockle, blanched roofs of clam and oyster

Hoard the moonlight, woven and unwoven

Off the bay. A pale sud at the far rocks

Comes and goes.

Out there he put me through it.

Under the boards the mackerel slapped to death

Yet we still took them in at every cast,

Stiff flails of cold convulsed with their first breath.

My line plumbed certainly the undertow,

Loaded against me once I went to draw

And flashed and fattened up towards the light.

He was all business in the stern. I called:

"This is so easy that it's hardly right,"

But he unhooked and coped with frantic fish

Without speaking. Then suddenly it lulled,

We'd crossed where they were running, the line rose

Like a let-down and I was conscious

How far we'd drifted out beyond the head.

"Count them up at your end", was all he said

Before I saw the porpoises' thick backs

Cartwheeling like the flywheels of the tide,

Soapy and shining. To have seen a hill

Splitting the water could not have numbed me

More than the close irruption of that school,

Tight viscous muscle, hooped from tail to snout,

Each one revealed complete as it bowled out

And under.

They will attack a boat.

I knew it and I asked John to put in

But he would not, declared it was a yarn

My people had been fooled by far too long

And he would prove it now and settle it.

Maybe he shrank when those thick slimy backs

Propelled towards us: I lay and screamed

Under splashed brine in an open rocking boat

Feeling each dunt and slither through the timber,

Sick at their huge pleasures in the water.

I sometimes walk this strand for thanksgiving

Or maybe it's to get away from him

Skittering his spit across the stove. Here

Is the taste of safety, the shelving sand

Harbours no worse than razor shell or crab -

Though my father recalls carcasses of whales

Collapsed and gasping, right up to the dunes.

But to-night such moving, sinewed life patrols

The blacker fathoms out beyond the head.

Astray upon a detritus of shells,

Between parched dunes and salivating wave

I claim rights on this fallow avenue,

A membrane between moonlight and my shadow.

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Kennedy thought he'd test him from the start

And never slackened but the old arm shot out

Imperiously. "There you are. You land

Across the sandy bottom. Good God, man,

Is this your first time in upon the island?"

And Kennedy, well shocked that sixty years

Unsettled neither certainty nor sand,

Headed the currach in to the bare shore.

The green land bulked up and blocked the sky.

"That hill was never steep as that before,"

The old man said, standing in wet shoes

Between the silent land and lashing breaker.

Hearing his voice diminished in his ear.

Kennedy wondered if he knew the house

But said nothing, letting the heaped shingle,

Anonymous acres, deserted right-of-ways

Divest their undisturbed green desolation

To close with the ghost world that had lured them there.

"God O God, man, eighteen when I left!

They were every one lined up there to convey me

And when I walked over the shoe mouth in the tide

The youngsters cried but the old ones watched my back."

They climbed up the cart track to his house

Where he knelt down outside the rotten door

To pray. "God bless and God rest my father."

The door ripped off its hinges when he pushed.

He stooped himself under the mildewed roof,

Put out his arms almost from wall to wall

As if to shoulder an antique yoke, called

Kennedy. "Our house was a bigger house

Than this house; there never were five children

Reared on this floor. I guess it's caving in."

When they came out he reckoned it too dull

For photographs so Kennedy produced

The whiskey and they drank a lot quickly

On the doorstep, leaving the door collapsed.

"No wonder they all left. There's no life here.

I'm sorry, fellow, to have dragged you out

To a place like this." He never looked back

Going down to the currach. At his back

The marked shore sloped vacant to the tide;

The unpictured hill reflected and diminished

In Kennedy's unwatching oarsman's eye.

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A pallor in the headlights'

Range wavered and disappeared.

Weeping, blood bright from her cuts

When she'd fled the hedged and wired

Road, they eyed her nakedness

Astray among the cattle

At first light. Lanterns, torches

And the searchers' gay gabble

She eluded earlier:

Now her own people only

Closed around her dazed whimper,

With rugs, dressings and brandy

Conveying maiden daughter

Back to family hearth and floor.

Why run, our lovely daughter,

Bare-breasted from our door?

So she became a by-word.

By the shocked button-lipped

Her bare act was embroidered.

And she began to be met

By the drunk, the vicious

Who told of lewd invitings

And tumbles in cold ditches

And foul, secret whisperings -

Even though during this time

She sat bandaged by the fire,

Moved from there to the bedroom

Obedient, behind her stare.

Till, like good luck, she returned.

At night, crossing the thresholds

Of empty homes, she warmed

Her dewy roundings and folds

To sleep in the chimney nook.

After all, they were neighbours.

As neighbours, when they came back

Surprised but unmalicious

Greetings passed

Between them. She was there first

And so appeared no haunter

But, making all comers guests,

She stirred as from a winter

Sleep. Smiled. Uncradled her breasts.

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