Time period: 1966-1972
Poets: Seamus Heaney ; Brendan Kennelly ; Michael Longley
Permanent URL: http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/17ksf
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
The winds' enclosure, Atlantic's premises,
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.
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
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 oyster-catcher and osprey
Proceed and keep in line
While I, hands in my pockets, hesitant,
Am in two minds.
Old neighbours, though shipwreck's my decision,
People my brain -
Like breakwaters against the sun,
Command in silhouette
My island circumstance - my cells retain,
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,
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
Here, at the edge of my experience,
Along the broken shore extends
A lifetime's wrack and ruin -
No flotsam I may beachcomb now can hide
That water line.
Beyond the lobster pots where plankton spreads
Seals slip over the cockle beds.
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
No matter what repose holds shore and sky
From this place in the long run I,
Though here I might have been
Content with rivers where they meet the sea,
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.
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,
I fight all the way for balance -
In the mountain's shadow
Losing foothold, covet the privilege
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.