Time period: 1966-1972

Poet: Michael Longley

Permanent URL: http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/17m52

Sources: Seamus Heaney papers, 1951-2004 ; Michael Longley papers, 1960-2000

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Exhaled at dawn with the cattle's breath

Out of the reticent illfitting earth,

Acre on care the mushrooms 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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In hotel rooms, in digs you went to school.

These dead were voices from the floor below

Who filled like an empty room your skull,

Who shared your perpetual one night stand

- The havoc there, and the manoeuvrings! -

Each coloured hero with his instrument.

You were bound with one original theme

To compose in your head your terminus,

Or to improvise with the best of them

That parabola from blues to barrelhouse.

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You scarcely raise a finger to the tide.

Pavilions, those days-off at the seaside

Collapse about your infinite arrest -

He sees your cove more clearly than the rest.

All evidence of dry land he relearns.

The ocean gathers where your shoulder turns.

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Comes into her own

(Her barren increments,

Her false dawn)

As excess baggage,

A currency defaced -

Quaint coinage

To farmhands, farmers

Crossing the yard

With lamps in the small hours

For such incorrigibles,

Difficult births

In byres and stables.

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Unweatherbeaten as the moon my face

Among the waterlogged, the commonplace,

Old boots and kettles for inheritance

Drifting into my head on the off-chance -

A wide Sargasso where the names of things

(Important guests at all such christenings)

Submerge in mind and pool like treasuretrove.

My face as sole survivor floats above.

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"...an imagining that the dropsical

collection of water which oppressed

him might be drawn off by making

incisions in his body, he, with his

usual resolute defiance of pain, cut

deep, when he thought that his surgeon

had done it too tenderly."

There was no place to go but his own head

Where hard lick 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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Although they've been gone for ages

On their morning walk just beyond

The icons and the cabbages,

Convening out of sight and sound

To turn slowly their missal pages,

They find us here of all places

And I abandon to the weather

And these unlikely mistresses

Where they bed down together,

our maidenhair, your night-dresses.

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Conveyed here in what ship of death

- Citations and their death throes,

Epitaphs, each last breath -

Our godforsaken heroes,

Outlandish dead beneath whose

Medals memory lies bruised.


Imagine among these meadows

Where the soldiers sink to dust

An aftermath with swallows

Lifting blood on their breasts

Up to the homely gables, and like

A dark cross overhead the hawk.

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