Poetry by Seamus Heaney

Doubletake 2

Three-Piece 3

Bogland_ 5

Casualty_ 6

From Clearances - 3 9

From Clearances - 5 9

The Harvest Bow_ 10

From Lightenings 11

Song_ 12

The Tollund Man_ 13

Personal Helicon_ 15

Digging_ 16

The Forge 17

Punishment 18

The Skunk 19

From Station Island_ 20

From the Republic of Conscience 22

Mid-term Break 23

Death of a Naturalist 24

Docker 25

Follower 26

From the Frontier of Writing_ 27

Keeping Going_ 28

Postscript 30

Anahorish_ 30

Mossbawn: Two Poems in Dedication_ 31

The Haw Lantern_ 32

Blackberry Picking_ 33

The Given Note 33

Sloe Gin_ 34

Broagh_ 34

Wedding Day_ 35

North_ 36

The Disappearing Island_ 37

The Toome Road_ 37

Wolfe Tone 38

The Singer?s House 39

Bog Queen_ 40

Scaffolding_ 41

Belderg_ 42

The Otter 43

From the Cure at Troy_ 44


Human beings suffer,
they torture one another,
they get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
can fully right a wrong
inflicted and endured.

The innocent in gaols
beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker's father
stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
faints at the funeral home

History says, Don't hope
on this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
the longed for tidal wave
of justice can rise up,
and hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
on the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
and cures and healing wells.

Call the miracle self-healing:
The utter self-revealing
double-take of feeling.
if there's fire on the mountain
or lightning and storm
and a god speaks from the sky.

That means someone is hearing
the outcry and the birth-cry
of new life at its term.


1. A Suit

"I'll make you one," he said, "and balance it

Perfectly on you." And I could almost feel

The plumb line of the creased tweed hit my heel,

My shoulders like a spar or a riding scale

Under the jacket, my whole shape realigned

In ways that suited me down to the ground.

So although a suit was the last thing that I needed

I wore his words and told him that I'd take it

And told myself it was going for a song.

2. A Tie

She made

me one

of hard

silk thread,


tight skein


by hand,


and strict

as cyng-


all a-


like rain

on fern

or em-

erald ems

or fine

ground jade,

my thin

green line

for which

I grat-



in Lat-

in quotes

(with gen-

der change

in sub-

ject and

tense change

in verb):



quod non


and trans-

late thus

(to tie

the knot),

"She puts

a shine

on all

she puts

her hand

to." Love

and thanks


to her.

3. A Coat

"We're not a mile off it," I heard him say, with an ought

Dragging and lengthening out the sound of that "not" ?

For Mr Simpson, though he worked in Magherafelt,

Was from Antrim and glottal and more of a Pict than a Celt.

But an Ulsterman. An Ulsterman for sure,

Calling a spade a spade and the door the dure

And any child he was fitting with clothes the wean.

My father poked his cattle-dealer's cane

Into the coats on the coatrack for the only one

That took his fancy and when I had put it on,

"We're not a mile off it," Mr Simpson said again,

Uneager and sure of the sale; and confidentially then,

"Ulster, you know, is the name for an overcoat.

The Oxford English Dictionary even gives it.

Ulster." He paused and he mused. "All over the world

Good cloth and good wear and the whole of your money's


I hear him still when I reach deep into the long

Cold draught of the sleeve of some ulster I'm fitting on

And wish my hand would come through and beyond all that

Deep glottal purchase and worth, like the virtual flight

Of The Red Hand of Ulster beyond the beyond of its myth,

Back to its unbloodied cuff at its unsevered wrist,

Flexing its fingers again and combing the air

And a wild, post-Shakespearean streel of gallowglass hair.


for T. P. Flanagan

We have no prairies

To slice a big sun at evening--

Everywhere the eye concedes to

Encrouching horizon

Is wooed into the cyclops' eye

Of a tarn. Our unfenced country

Is bog that keeps crusting

Between the sights of the sun.

They've taken the skeleton

Of the Great Irish Elk

Out of the peat set it up

An astounding crate full of air.

Butter sunk under

More than a hundred years

Was recovered salty and #CCCCFF.

The ground itself is kind #CCCCFF butter

Melting and opening underfoot

Missing its last definition

By millions of years.

They'll never dig coal here

Only the waterlogged trunks

Of great firs soft as pulp.

Our pioneers keep striking

Inwards and downwards

Every layer they strip

Seems camped on before.

The bogholes might be Atlantic seepage.

The wet centre is bottomless.



He would drink by himself

And raise a weathered thumb

Towards the high shelf

Calling another rum

And #CCCCFFcurrant without

Having to raise his voice

Or order a quick stout

By a lifting of the eyes

And a discreet dumb-show

Of pulling off the top;

At closing time would go

In waders and peaked cap

Into the showery dark

A dole-kept breadwinner

But a natural for work.

I loved his whole manner

Sure-footed but too sly

His deadpan sidling tact

His fisherman's quick eye

And turned observant back.


To him my other life.

Sometimes on the high stool

Too busy with his knife

At a tobacco plug

And not meeting my eye

In the pause after a slug

He mentioned poetry.

We would be on our own

And always politic

And shy of condescension

I would manage by some trick

To switch the talk to eels

Or lore of the horse and cart

Or the Provisionals.

But my tentative art

His turned back watches too:

He was blown to bits

Out drinking in a curfew

Others obeyed three nights

After they shot dead

The thirteen men in Derry.

PARAS THIRTEEN the walls said

BOGSIDE NIL. That Wednesday

Everyone held

His breath and trembled.


It was a day of cold

Raw silence wind-blown

Surplice and soutane:

Rained-on flower-laden

Coffin after coffin

Seemed to float from the door

Of the packed cathedral

Like blossoms on slow water.

The common funeral

Unrolled its swaddling band

Lapping tightening

Till we were braced and bound

Like brothers in a ring.

But he would not be held

At home by his own crowd

Whatever threats were phoned

Whatever flags waved.

I see him as he turned

In that bombed offending place

Remorse fused with terror

In his still knowable face

His cornered outfaced stare

Blinding in the flash.

He had gone miles away

For he drank like a fish

Nightly naturally

Swimming towards the lure

Of warm lit-up places

The blurred mesh and murmur

Drifting among glasses

In the gregarious smoke.

How culpable was he

That last night when he broke

Our tribe's complicity?

'Now you're supposed to be

An educated man '

I hear him say. 'Puzzle me

The right answer to that one.'


I missed his funeral

Those quiet walkers

And sideways talkers

Shoaling out of his lane

To the respectable

Purring of the hearse...

They move in equal pace

With the habitual

Slow consolation

Of a dawdling engine

The line lifted hand

Over fist cold sunshine

On the water the land

Banked under fog: that morning

I was taken in his boat

The screw purling turning

Indolent fathoms

I tasted freedom with him.

To get out early haul

Steadily off the bottom

Dispraise the catch and smile

As you find a rhythm

Working you slow mile by mile

Into your proper haunt

Somewhere well out beyond...

Dawn-sniffing revenant

Plodder through midnight rain

Question me again.

From Clearances - 3

In Memoriam M.K.H. 1911-1984

When all the others were away at Mass

I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.

They broke the silence let fall one by one

Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:

Cold comforts set between us things to share

Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.

And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes

From each other's work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside

Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying

And some were responding and some crying

I remembered her head bent towards my head

Her breath in mine our fluent dipping knives--

Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

From Clearances - 5

In Memoriam M.K.H. 1911-1984

The cool that came off the sheets just off the line

Made me think the damp must still be in them

But when I took my corners of the linen

And pulled against her first straight down the hem

And then diagonally then flapped and shook

The fabric like a sail in a cross-wind

They made a dried-out undulating thwack.

So we'd stretch and fold and end up hand to hand

For a split second as if nothing had happened

For nothing had that had not always happened

Beforehand day by day just touch and go

Coming close again by holding back

In moves where I was x and she was o

Inscribed in sheets she'd sewn from ripped-out flour sacks.

The Harvest Bow

As you plaited the harvest bow

You implicated the mellowed silence in you

In wheat that does not rust

But brightens as it tightens twist by twist

Into a knowable corona

A throwaway love-knot of straw.

Hands that aged round ashplants and cane sticks

And lapped the spurs on a lifetime of game cocks

Harked to their gift and worked with fine intent

Until your fingers moved somnambulant:

I tell and finger it like braille

Gleaning the unsaid off the palpable

And if I spy into its golden loops

I see us walk between the railway slopes

Into an evening of long grass and midges

Blue smoke straight up old beds and ploughs in hedges

An auction notice on an outhouse wall--

You with a harvest bow in your lapel

Me with the fishing rod already homesick

For the big lift of these evenings as your stick

Whacking the tips off weeds and bushes

Beats out of time and beats but flushes

Nothing: that original townland

Still tongue-tied in the straw tied by your hand.

The end of art is peace

Could be the motto of this frail device

That I have pinned up on our deal dresser--

Like a drawn snare

Slipped lately by the spirit of the corn

Yet burnished by its passage and still warm.

From Lightenings


Shifting brilliancies. Then winter light

In a doorway and on the stone doorstep

A beggar shivering in silhouette.

So the particular judgement might be set:

Bare wallstead and a cold hearth rained into--

Bright puddle where the soul-free cloud-life roams.

And after the commanded journey what?

Nothing magnificent nothing unknown.

A gazing out from far away alone.

And it is not particular at all

Just old truth dawning: there is no next-time-round.

Unroofed scope. Knowledge-freshening wind.


Once as a child out in a field of sheep

Thomas Hardy pretended to be dead

And lay down flat among their dainty shins.

In that sniffed-at bleated-into grassy space

He experimented with infinity.

His small cool brow was like an anvil waiting

For sky to make it sing the prefect pitch

Of his dumb being and that stir he caused

In the fleece-hustle was the original

Of a ripple that would travel eighty years

Outward from there to be the same ripple

Inside him at its last circumference.


(I misremembered. He went down on all fours

Florence Emily says crossing a ewe-leaze.

Hardy sought the creatures face to face

Their witless eyes and liability

To panic made him feel less alone

Made proleptic sorrow stand a moment

Over him perfectly known and sure.

And then the flock's dismay went swimming on

Into the blinks and murmurs and deflections

He'd know at parties in renowned old age

When sometimes he imagined himself a ghost

And circulated with that new perspective.)


The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise

Were all at prayers inside the oratory

A ship appeared above them in the air.

The anchor dragged along behind so deep

It hooked itself into the altar rails

And then as the big hull rocked to a standstill

A crewman shinned and grappled down the rope

And struggled to release it. But in vain.

'This man can't bear our life here and will drown '

The abbot said 'unless we help him.' So

They did the freed ship sailed and the man climbed back

Out of the marvellous as he had known it.


A rowan like a lipsticked girl.

Between the by-road and the main road

Alder trees at a wet and dripping distance

Stand off among the rushes.

There are the mud-flowers of dialect

And the immortelles of perfect pitch

And that moment when the bird sings very close

To the music of what happens.

The Tollund Man


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 near by

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 Grauballe Nebelgard

Watching the pointing hands

Of country people

Not knowing their tongue.

Out here in Jutland

In the old man-killing parishes

I will feel lost

Unhappy and at home.

Personal Helicon

for Michael Longley

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 #CCCCFF 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.


Between my finger and m thumb

The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window a clear rasping sound

When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:

My father digging. I looked down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds

Bends low comes up twenty years away

Stooping in rhythm through potato drills

Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug the shaft

Against the inside knee was levered firmly.

He rooted out all tops buried the bright edge deep

To scatter new potatoes that we picked

Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God the old man could handle a spade.

Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day

Than any other man on Toner's bog.

Once I carried him milk in a bottle

Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up

To drink it then fell to right away

Nicking and slicing neatly heaving sods

Over his shoulder going down and down

For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould the squelch and slap

Of soggy peat the curt cuts of an edge

Through living roots awaken in my head.

But I've no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests.

I'll dig with it.

The Forge

All I know is a door into the dark.

Outside old axles and iron hoops rusting;

Inside the hammered anvil's short-pitched ring

The unpredictable fantail of sparks

Or hiss when a new shoe toughens in water.

The anvil must be somewhere in the centre

Horned as a unicorn at one end square

Set there immovable: an altar

Where he expends himself in shape and music.

Sometimes leather-aproned hairs in his nose

He leans out on the jamb recalls a clatter

Of hoofs where traffic is flashing in rows;

Then grunts and goes in with a slam and flick

To beat real iron out to work the bellows.


I can feel the tug

of the halter at the nape

of her neck the wind

on her naked front.

It blows her nipples

to amber beads

It shakes the frail rigging

of her ribs.

I can see her drowned

body in the bog

the weighing stone

the floating rods and boughs.

Under which at first

she was a barked sapling

that is dug up

oak-bone brain-firkin:

her shaved head

like a stubble of corn

her blindfold a soiled bandage

her noose a ring

to store

the memories of love.

Little adultress

Before they punished you

you were flaxen-haired

undernourished and your

tar-face was beautiful.

My poor scapegoat

I almost love you

but would have cast I know

the stones of silence.

I am the artful voyeur

of your brain's exposed

and darkened combs

your muscles' webbing

and all your numbered bones:

I who have stood dumb

When your betraying sisters

cauled in tar

wept by the railings

who would connive

in civilized outrage

yet understand the exact

and tribal intimate revenge

The Skunk

Up striped and damasked like the chasuble

At a funeral mass the skunk's tail

Paraded the skunk. Night after night

I expected her like a visitor.

The refrigerator whinnied into silence.

My desk light softened beyond the verandah.

Small oranges loomed in the orange tree.

I began to be tense as a voyeur.

After eleven years I was composing

Love-letters again broaching the word "wife"

Like a stored cask as if is slender vowel

Had mutated into the night earth and air

Of California. The beautiful useless

Tang of eucalyptus spelt your absence.

The aftermath of a mouthful of wine

Was like inhaling you off a cold pillow.

And there she was the intent and glamorous

Ordinary mysterious skunk

Mythologized demythologized

Snuffing the boards five feet beyond me.

It all came back to me last night stirred

By the sootfall of your thing at bedtime

Your head-down tail-up hunt in a bottom drawer

For the plunge-line nightdress.

From Station Island


Like a convalescent I took the hand

stretched down from the jetty sensed again

an alien comfort as I stepped on ground

to find the helping hand still gripping mine

fish-cold and bony but whether to guide

or to be guided I could not be certain

for the tall man in step at my side

seemed blind though he walked straight as a rush

upon his ash plant his eyes fixed straight ahead.

Then I knew him in the flesh

out there on the tarmac among the cars

wintered hard and sharp as a #CCCCFFthorn bush.

His voice eddying with the vowels of all rivers

came back to me though he did not speak yet

a voice like a prosecutor's or a singer's

cunning narcotic mimic definite

as a steel nib's downstroke quick and clean

and suddenly he hit a litter basket

with his stick saying Your obligation

is not discharged by any common rite.

What you must do must be done on your own

So get back in harness. The main thing is to write

for the joy of it. Cultivate a work-lust

that imagines its haven like your hands at night

dreaming the sun in the sunspot of a breast.

You are fasted now, light-headed, dangerous.

Take off from here. And don't be so earnest,

Let others wear the sackcloth and the ashes.

Let go, let fly. Forget.

You've listened long enough. Now strike your note.

It was as if I had stepped free into space

alone with nothing that I had not known

already. Raindrops blew in my face

as I came to. "Old father mother's son

there is a moment in Stephen's diary

for April the thirteenth a revelation

set among my stars-that one entry

has been a sort of password in my ears

the collect of a new epiphany

the Feast of the Holy Tundish." "Who cares

he jeered, any more? The English language

belongs to us. You are raking at dead fires

a waste of time for somebody your age.

That subject people stuff is a cod's game

Infantile like your peasant pilgrimage.

Your lose more of yourself than you redeem

Doing the decent thing. Keep at a tangent.

When they make the circle wide it's time to swim

out on your own and fill the element

with signatures on your own frequency

echo soundings searches probes allurements

elver-gleams in the dark of the whole sea."

The shower broke in a cloudburst the tarmac

Fumed and sizzled. As he moved off quickly

The downpour loosed its screens round his straight walk.

From the Republic of Conscience

When I landed in the republic of conscience

it was so noiseless when the engines stopped

I could hear a curlew high above the runway.

At immigration, the clerk was an old man

who produced a wallet from his homespun coat

and showed me a photograph of my grandfather.

The woman in customs asked me to declare

the words of our traditional cures and charms

to heal dumbness and avert the evil eye.

No porters. No interpreter. No taxi.

You carried your own burden and very soon

your symptoms of creeping privilege disappeared.

Fog is a dreaded omen there but lightning

spells universal good and parents hang

swaddled infants in trees during thunderstorms.

Salt is their precious mineral. And seashells

are held to the ear during births and funerals.

The base of all inks and pigments is seawater.

Their sacred symbol is a stylized boat.

The sail is an ear, the mast a sloping pen,

the hull a mouth-shape, the keel an open eye.

At their inauguration, public leaders

must swear to uphold unwritten law and weep

to atone for their presumption to hold office ?

and to affirm their faith that all life sprang

from salt in tears which the sky-god wept

after he dreamt his solitude was endless.

I came back from that frugal republic

with my two arms the one length, the customs

woman having insisted my allowance was myself.

The old man rose and gazed into my face

and said that was official recognition

that I was now a dual citizen.

He therefore desired me when I got home

to consider myself a representative

and to speak on their behalf in my own tongue.

Their embassies, he said, were everywhere

but operated independently

and no ambassador would ever be relieved.

Mid-term Break

I sat all morning in the college sick bay

Counting bells knelling classes to a close.

At two o'clock our neighbors drove me home.

In the porch I met my father crying--

He had always taken funerals in his stride--

And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram

When I came in, and I was embarrassed

By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were "sorry for my trouble,"

Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,

Away at school, as my mother held my hand

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.

At ten o'clock the ambulance arrived

With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.

Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops

And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him

For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,

He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.

No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

A four foot box, a foot for every year.

Death of a Naturalist

All year the flax-dam festered in the heart

Of the townland; green and heavy headed

Flax had 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,

But 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

In rain.

Then one hot day when fields were rank

With cowdung in the grass the angry frogs

Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through 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.


There, in the corner, staring at his drink.

The cap juts like a gantry's crossbeam,

Cowling plated forehead and sledgehead jaw.

Speech is clamped in the lips' vice.

That fist would drop a hammer on a Catholic-

Oh yes, that kind of thing could start again;

The only Roman collar he tolerates

Smiles all round his sleek pint of porter.

Mosaic imperatives bang home like rivets;

God is a foreman with certain definite views

Who orders life in shifts of work and leisure.

A factory horn will blare the Resurrection.

He sits, strong and blunt as a Celtic cross,

Clearly used to silence and an armchair:

Tonight the wife and children will be quiet

At slammed door and smoker's cough in the hall.


My father worked with a horse-plough,

His shoulders globed like a full sail strung

Between the shafts and the furrow.

The horse 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 round

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 sometimes 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.

From the Frontier of Writing

The tightness and the nilness round that space

when the car stops in the road, the troops inspect

its make and number and, as one bends his face

towards your window, you catch sight of more

on a hill beyond, eyeing with intent

down cradled guns that hold you under cover

and everything is pure interrogation

until a rifle motions and you move

with guarded unconcerned acceleration?

a little emptier, a little spent

as always by that quiver in the self,

subjugated, yes, and obedient.

So you drive on to the frontier of writing

where it happens again. The guns on tripods;

the sergeant with his on-off mike repeating

data about you, waiting for the squawk

of clearance; the marksman training down

out of the sun upon you like a hawk.

And suddenly you're through, arraigned yet freed,

as if you'd passed from behind a waterfall

on the black current of a tarmac road

past armor-plated vehicles, out between

the posted soldiers flowing and receding

like tree shadows into the polished windscreen.

Keeping Going

The piper coming from far away is you

With a whitewash brush for a sporran

Wobbling round you, a kitchen chair

Upside down on your shoulder, your right arm

Pretending to tuck the bag beneath your elbow,

Your pop-eyes and big cheeks nearly bursting

With laughter, but keeping the drone going on

Interminably, between catches of breath.


The whitewash brush. An old blanched skirted thing

On the back of the byre door, biding its time

Until spring airs spelled lime in a work-bucket

And a potstick to mix it in with water.

Those smells brought tears to the eyes, we inhaled

A kind of greeny burning and thought of brimstone.

But the slop of the actual job

Of brushing walls, the watery grey

Being lashed on in broad swatches, then drying out

Whiter and whiter, all that worked like magic.

Where had we come from, what was this kingdom

We knew we'd been restored to? Our shadows

Moved on the wall and a tar border glittered

The full length of the house, a black divide

Like a freshly opened, pungent, reeking trench.


Piss at the gable, the dead will congregate.

But separately. The women after dark,

Hunkering there a moment before bedtime,

The only time the soul was let alone,

The only time that face and body calmed

In the eye of heaven.

Buttermilk and urine,

The pantry, the housed beasts, the listening bedroom.

We were all together there in a foretime,

In a knowledge that might not translate beyond

Those wind-heaved midnights we still cannot be sure

Happened or not. It smelled of hill-fort clay

And cattle dung. When the thorn tree was cut down

You broke your arm. I shared the dread

When a strange bird perched for days on the byre roof.


That scene, with Macbeth helpless and desperate

In his nightmare--when he meets the hags agains

And sees the apparitions in the pot--

I felt at home with that one all right. Hearth,

Steam and ululation, the smoky hair

Curtaining a cheek. 'Don't go near bad boys

In that college that you're bound for. Do you hear me?

Do you hear me speaking to you? Don't forget!'

And then the postick quickening the gruel,

The steam crown swirled, everything intimate

And fear-swathed brightening for a moment,

Then going dull and fatal and away.


Grey matter like gruel flecked with blood

In spatters on the whitewash. A clean spot

Where his head had been, other stains subsumed

In the parched wall he leant his back against

That morning like any other morning,

Part-time reservist, toting his lunch-box.

A car came slow down Castle Street, made the halt,

Crossed the Diamond, slowed again and stopped

Level with him, although it was not his lift.

And then he saw an ordinary face

For what it was and a gun in his own face.

His right leg was hooked back, his sole and heel

Against the wall, his right knee propped up steady,

So he never moved, just pushed with all his might

Against himself, then fell past the tarred strip,

Feeding the gutter with his copious blood.


My dear brother, you have good stamina.

You stay on where it happens. Your big tractor

Pulls up at the Diamond, you wave at people,

You shout and laugh about the revs, you keep

old roads open by driving on the new ones.

You called the piper's sporrans whitewash brushes

And then dressed up and marched us through the kitchen,

But you cannot make the dead walk or right wrong.

I see you at the end of your tether sometimes,

In the milking parlour, holding yourself up

Between two cows until your turn goes past,

Then coming to in the smell of dung again

And wondering, is this all? As it was

In the beginning, is now and shall be?

Then rubbing your eyes and seeing our old brush

Up on the byre door, and keeping going.


And some time make the time to drive out west

Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,

In September or October, when the wind

And the light are working off each other

So that the ocean on one side is wild

With foam and glitter, and inland among stones

The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit

By the earthed lightening of flock of swans,

Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,

Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads

Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.

Useless to think you'll park or capture it

More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,

A hurry through which known and strange things pass

As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways

And catch the heart off guard and blow it open


My "place of clear water,"

the first hill in the world

where springs washed into

the shiny grass

and darkened cobbles

in the bed of the lane.

Anahorish, soft gradient

of consonant, vowel-meadow,

after-image of lamps

swung through the yards

on winter evenings.

With pails and barrows

those mound-dwellers

go waist-deep in mist

to break the light ice

at wells and dunghills.

Mossbawn: Two Poems in Dedication

For Mary Heaney

I. Sunlight

There was a sunlit absence.

The helmeted pump in the yard

heated its iron,

water honeyed

in the slung bucket

and the sun stood

like a griddle cooling

against the wall

of each long afternoon.

So, her hands scuffled

over the bakeboard,

the reddening stove

sent its plaque of heat

against her where she stood

in a floury apron

by the window.

Now she dusts the board

with a goose's wing,

now sits, broad-lapped,

with whitened nails

and measling shins:

here is a space

again, the scone rising

to the tick of two clocks.

And here is love

like a tinsmith's scoop

sunk past its gleam

in the meal-bin.

The Haw Lantern

The wintry haw is burning out of season,

crab of the thorn, a small light for small people,

wanting no more from them but that they keep

the wick of self-respect from dying out,

not having to blind them with illumination.

But sometimes when your breath plumes in the frost

it takes the roaming shape of Diogenes

with his lantern, seeking one just man;

so you end up scrutinized from behind the haw

he holds up at eye-level on its twig,

and you flinch before its bonded pith and stone,

its blood-prick that you wish would test and clear you,

its pecked-at ripeness that scans you, then moves on.

Blackberry Picking

Late August, given heavy rain and sun

For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.

At first, just one, a glossy purple clot

Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.

You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet

Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it

Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for

Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger

Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots

Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.

Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills

We trekked and picked until the cans were full

Until the tinkling bottom had been covered

With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned

Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered

With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.

We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.

But when the bath was filled we found a fur,

A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.

The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush

The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.

I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair

That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.

Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.

The Given Note

On the most westerly Blasket

In a dry-stone hut

He got this air out of the night.

Strange noises were heard

By others who followed, bits of a tune

Coming in on loud weather

Though nothing like melody.

He blamed their fingers and ear

As unpractised, their fiddling easy

For he had gone alone into the island

And brought back the whole thing.

The house throbbed like his full violin.

So wether he calls it spirit music

Or not, I don't care. He took it

Out of wind off mid-Atlantic.

Still he maintains, from nowhere.

It comes off the bow gravely,

Rephrases itself into the air.

Sloe Gin

The clear weather of juniper

darkened into winter.

She fed gin to sloes

and sealed the glass container.

When I unscrewed it

I smelled the disturbed

tart stillness of a bush

rising through the pantry.

When I poured it

it had a cutting edge

and flamed

like Betelgeuse.

I drink to you

in smoke-mirled, blue-black,

polished sloes, bitter

and dependable.


Riverbank, the long rigs

ending in broad docken

and a canopied pad

down to the ford

The garden mould

bruised easily, the shower

gathering in your heelmark

was the black O

in Broagh,

its low tattoo

among the windy boortrees

and rhubarb-blades

ended almost

suddenly, like the last

gh the strangers found

difficult to manage.

Wedding Day

I am afraid.

Sound has stopped in the day

And the images reel over

And over. Why all those tears,

The wild grief on his face

Outside the taxi? The sap

Of mourning rises

In our waving guests.

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.


I returned to a long strand,

the hammered curve of a bay,

and found only the secular

powers of the Atlantic thundering.

I faced the unmagical

invitations of Iceland,

the pathetic colonies

of Greenland, and suddenly

those fabulous raiders,

those lying in Orkney and Dublin

measured against

their long swords rusting,

those in the solid

belly of stone ships,

those hacked and glinting

in the gravel of thawed streams

were ocean-defeated voices

warning me, lifted again

in violence and epiphany.

The longship's swimming tongu

was buoyant with hindsight -

it said Thor's jammer swung

to geography and trade,

thick-witted couplings and revenges,

the hatreds and behindbacks

of the althings, lies and women,

exhaustions nominated peace,

memory incubating the spilled blood.

It said, "Lie down

in the word-hoard, burrow

the coil and gleam

of your furrowed brain.

Compose in darkness.

Expect aurora borealis

in the long foray

but no cascade of light.

Keep you eye clear

as the bleb of the icicle,

trust the feel of what nubbed treasure

your hands have known."

The Disappearing Island

Once we presumed to found ourselves for good

Between its blue hills and those sandless shores

Where we spent our desperate night in prayer and vigil,

Once we had gathered driftwood, made a hearth

And hung our cauldron like a firmament,

The island broke beneath us like a wave.

The land sustaining us seemed to hold firm

Only when we embraced it in extremis.

All I believe that happened there was vision.

The Toome Road

One morning early I met armoured cars

In convoy, warbling along on powerful tyres,

All camouflaged with broken alder branches,

And headphoned soldiers standing up in turrets.

How long were they approaching down my roads

As if they owned them? The whole country was sleeping.

I had rights-of-way, fields, cattle in my keeping,

Tractors hitched to buckrakes in open sheds,

Silos, chill gates, wet slates, the greens and reds

Of outhouse roofs. Whom should I run to tell

Among all of those with their back doors on the latch

For the bringer of bad news, that small-hours visitant

Who, by being expected, might be kept distant?

Sowers of seed, erectors of headstones...

O charioteers, above your dormant guns,

It stands here still, stands vibrant as you pass,

The visible, untoppled omphalos.

Wolfe Tone

Light as a skiff, manoeuvrable

yet outmanoeuvred,

I affected epaulettes and acockade,

wrote a style well-bred and impervious

to the solidarity I angled for,

and played the ancient Roman with a razor.

I was the shouldered oar that ended up

far from the brine and whiff of venture,

like a scratching-post or a crossroads flagpole,

out of my element among small farmers -

I who once wakened to the shouts of men

rising from the bottom of the sea,

men in their shirts mounting through deep water

when the Atlantic stove our cabin's dead lights in

and the big fleet split and Ireland dwindled

as we ran before the gale under bare poles

The Singer?s House

When they said Carrickfergus I could hear

the frosty echo of saltminers' picks.

I imagined it, chambered and glinting,

a township built of light

What do we say any more

to conjure the salt of our earth?

So much comes and is gone

that should be crystal and kept

and amicable weathers

that bring up the grain of things,

their tang of season and store,

are all the packing we'll get.

So I say to myself Gweebarra

and its music hits off the place

like water hitting off granite.

I see the glittering sound

framed in your window,

knives and forks set on oilcloth,

and the seals' heads, suddenly outlined,

scanning everything.

People here used to believe

that drowned souls lived in the seals.

At spring tides they might change shape.

They loved music and swam in for a singer

who might stand at the end of summer

in the mouth of a whitewashed turf-shed,

his shoulder to the jamb, his song

a rowboat far out in evening.

When I came here first you were always singing,

a hint of the clip of the pick

in your winnowing climb and attack.

Raise it again, man. We still believe what we hear.

Bog Queen

I lay waiting

between turf-face and demsne wall,

between heatherly levels

and glass-toothed stone.

My body was braille

for the creeping influences:

dawn suns groped over my head

and cooled at my feet,

through my fabrics and skins

the seeps of winter

digested me,

the illiterate roots

pondered and died

in the cavings

of stomach and socket.

I lay waiting

on the gravel bottom,

my brain darkening,

a jar of spawn

fermenting underground

dreams of Baltic amber.

Bruised berries under my nails,

the vital hoard reducing

in the crock of the pelvis.

My diadem grew carious,

gemstones dropped

in the peat floe

like the bearings of history.

My sash was a black glacier

wrinkling, dyed weaves

and phoenician stitchwork

retted on my breasts'

soft moraines.

I knew winter cold

like the nuzzle of fjords

at my thighs -

the soaked fledge, the heavy

swaddle of hides.

My skull hibernated

in the wet nest of my hair.

Which they robbed.

I was barbered

and stripped

by a turfcutter's spade

Who veiled me again

and packed coomd softly

between the stone jambs

at my head and my feet.

Till a peer's wife bribed him.

The plait of my hair,

a slimy birth-cord

of bog, had been cut

and I rose from the dark,

hacked bone, skull-ware,

frayed stitches, tufts,

small gleams on the bank.


Masons, when they start upon a building,

Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

Make sure that planks won?t slip at busy points,

Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.

And yet all this comes down when the job?s done

Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be

Old bridges breaking between you and me

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall

Confident that we have built our wall.


"They just kept turning up

And were thought of as foreign'-

One-eyed and benign

They lie about his house,

Quernstones out of a bog.

To lift the lid of the peat

And find this pupil dreaming

Of neolithic wheat!

When he stripped off blanket bog

The soft-piles centuries

Fell open like a glib:

There were the first plough-marks,

The stone age fields, the tomb

Corbelled, turfed and chambered,

Floored with dry turf-coomb.

A landscape fossilized,

Its stone wall patterings

Repeated before our eyes

In the stone walls of Mayo

Before I turn to go

He talked about persistance,

A congurence of lives,

How, stubbed and cleared of stones,

His home accrued growth rings

Of Iron, flint and bronze.

So I talked of Mossbawn,

A bogland name. 'But Moss?'

He crossed my old home's music

With older strains of Norse.

I'd told how its foundation

Was mutable as sound

And how I could derive

A forked root from that ground

And make bawn an English fort,

A planter's walled-in mound

The Otter

When you plunged

The light of Tuscany wavered

And swung through the pool

From top to bottom.

I loved your wet head and smashing crawl,

Your fine swimmer's back and shoulders

Surfacing and surfacing again

This year and every year since.

I sat dry-throated on the warm stones.

You were beyond me.

The mellowed clarities, the grape-deep air

Thinned and disappointed.

Thank God for the slow loadening,

When I hold you now

We are close and deep

As the atmosphere on water.

My two hands are plumbed water.

You are my palpable, lithe

Otter of memory

In the pool of the moment,

Turning to swim on your back,

Each silent, thigh-shaking kick

Re-tilting the light,

Heaving the cool at your neck.

And suddenly you're out,

Back again, intent as ever,

Heavy and frisky in your freshened pelt,

Printing the stones.

From the Cure at Troy

Human beings suffer,

They torture one another,

They get hurt and get hard.

No poem or play or song

Can fully right a wrong

Inflicted and endured.

The innocent in gaols

Beat on their bars together.

A hunger-striker's father

Stands in the graveyard dumb.

The police widow in veils

Faints at the funeral home.

History says, Don't hope

On this side of the grave.

But then, once in a lifetime

The longed-for tidal wave

Of justice can rise up,

And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change

On the far side of revenge.

Believe that a further shore

Is reachable from here.

Believe in miracles

And cures and healing wells.

Call miracle self-healing:

The utter, self-revealing

Double-take of feeling.

If there's fire on the mountain

Or lightning and storm

And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing

The outcry and the birth-cry

Of new life at its term.