Time period: 1966-1972

Poet: Seamus Heaney

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


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He is wintering out

the back-end of a bad year,

swinging a hurricane-lamp

through some outhouse;

a jobber among shadows.

Old work-whore, slave-

blood, who stepped fair-hills

under each bidder's eye

and kept your patience

and your counsel, how

you draw me into

your trail. Your trail

broken from haggard to stable,

a straggle of fodder

stiffened on snow,

comes first-footing

the back doors of the little

barons: resentful

and impenitent,

carrying the warm eggs.

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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 boot crack the road. The stone

clatters down off the slates.


He came trammelled

in the taboos of the country

picking a nice way through

the long toils of blood

and feuding.

His tongue went whoring

among the civil tongues,

he had an eye for weather-eyes

at cross-roads and lane-ends

and could don manners

at a flutter of curtains.

His straw mask and hunch were fabulous

disappearing beyond the lamplit

slabs of a yard.


You dream a cricket in the hearth

and cockroach on the floor,

a line of mummers

marching out the door

as the lamp flares in the draught:

melted snow off their feet

leaves you in peace.

Again the old year dies

on your hearthstone, for good luck.

The moon's host elevated

in a monstrance of holly trees,

he makes dark tracks, who had

untousled a first dewy path

into the summer grazing.

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Cloudburst and steady downpour now

for days.

Still mammal,

straw-footed on the mud,

he begins to sense weather

by his skin.

A nimble snout of flood

Licks over stepping stones

And goes uprooting

he fords

his life by sounding.



A man wading lost fields

breaks the pane of flood:

a flower of mud -

water blooms up to his reflection

like a cut swaying

its red spoors through a basin.

His hands grub

where the spade has uncastled

sunken drills, an atlantis

he depends on. So

he is hooped to where he planted

and sky and ground

are running naturally among his arms

that grope the cropping land.


When rains were gathering

there would be an all-night

roaring off the ford.

Their world-schooled ear

Could monitor the usual

confabulations, the race

slabbering past the gable,

the Moyola harping on

its gravel beds:

all spouts by daylight

brimmed with their own airs

and overflowed each barrel

in long tresses.

I cock my ear

at an absence -

in the shared calling of blood

arrives my need

for antediluvian lore.

Soft voices of the dead

are whispering by the shore

that I would question

(and for my children's sake)

about crops rotted, river mud

glazing the baked clay floor.


The tawny guttural water

spells itself: Moyola

is its own score and consort,

bedding the locale

in the utterance,

reed music, an old chanter

breathing its mists

through vowels and history.

A swollen river,

a mating call of sound

rises to pleasure me, Dives,

hoarder of common ground.

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Some day I will go to Aarhus

To see his peat-brown head,

The mild pods of his eye-lids,

His pointed skin cap.

In the flat country nearby

Where they dug him out,

His last gruel of winter seeds

Caked in his stomach,

Naked except for

the cap, noose and girdle,

I will stand a long time.

Bridegroom to the goddess,

She tightened her torc on him

And opened her fen,

Those dark juices working

Him to a saint's kept body,

Trove of the turfcutters'

Honeycombed workings.

Now his stained face

Reposes at Aarhus.


I could risk blasphemy

Consecrate the cauldron bog

Our holy ground and pray

Him to make germinate

The scattered, ambushed

Flesh of labourers,

Stockinged corpses

Laid out in the farmyards,

Tell-tale skin and teeth

Flecking the sleepers

Of four young brothers, trailed

For miles along the lines.


Something of his sad freedom

As he rode the tumbril

Should come to me, driving,

Saying the names

Tollund, Grabaulle, Nebelgard,

Watching the pointing hands

Of country people,

Not knowing their tongue.

Out there in Jutland

In the old man-killing parishes

I will feel lost,

Unhappy and at home.

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I sit under Rand McNally's

"Official Map of the Moon" -

The colour of frogskin,

Its enlarged pores held

Open and one called

"Pitiscus" at eye level -

Recalling the last night

In Donegal, my shadow

Neat upon the whitewash

From her bony shine,

The cobbles of the yard

Lit pale as eggs.

Summer had been a free fall

Ending there,

The empty amphitheatre

Of the west. Good Friday

We had started out

Past shopblinds drawn on the afternoon,

Cars stilled outside still churches,

Bikes tilting to a wall;

We drove by,

A dwindling interruption

As clappers smacked

On a bare altar

And congregations bent

To the studded crucifix.

What nails dropped out that hour?

Roads unreeled, unreeled

Falling light as casts

Laid down

On shining waters.

Under the moon's stigmata

Six thousand miles away,

I imagine untroubled dust,

A loosening gravity,

Christ weighing by his hands.

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