Time period: 1963-1966

Poet: Seamus Heaney

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


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Cut from the green hedge a forked hazel stick

That he held tight by the arms of the V:

Circling the terrain, hunting the pluck

Of water, nervous, but professionally

Unfussed. The pluck came sharp as a sting.

The rod jerked down with precise convulsions,

Spring water suddenly broadcasting

Through a green aerial its secret stations.

The bystanders would ask to have a try.

He handed them the rod without a word.

It lay dead in their grasp till nonchalantly

He gripped the expectant wrists. The hazel stirred.

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High-riding kites appear to range quite freely

Though reined by strings, strict and invisible.

The pigeon that deserts you suddenly

Is heading home, instinctively faithful.

Lovers with barrages of hot insult

Often cut off their nose to spite their face,

Endure a hopeless day, declare their guilt,

Re-enter the native port of their embrace.

Blinding in Paris, for his party-piece

Joyce named the shops along O'Connell Street

And on Iona Colmcille sought ease

by wearing Irish mould next to his feet.

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Jaws puff round and solid as a turnip,

Dead eyes are statue's and the upper lip

Bullies the heavy mouth down to a droop.

A bowler suggests the stage Irishman -

Whose look has two parts scorn, two parts dead man -

His silver watch chain girds him like a hoop.

My father's uncle, from whom he learnt the trade,

Long fixed in sepia tints, begins to fade

And must come down. Now on the bedroom wall

There is a faded patch where he has been

As if a bandage had been ripped from skin,

Empty plaque to a house's rise and fall.

Twenty years ago I herded cattle

Into pens or held them against a wall

Until my father won at arguing

His own price on a crowd of cattlemen

Who handled rumps, groped teats, stood, paused and then

Bought a round of drinks to clinch the bargain.

Uncle and nephew, fifty years ago,

Hackled and herded through the fair days too.

This barrel of a man penned in the frame:

I see him with the jaunty hat pushed back,

Draw thumbs out of his waistcoat, curtly smack

Hands and sell. Father, I've watched you do the same

And watched you sadden when the fairs were stopped.

No room for dealers if the farmers shopped

Like housewives at an auction ring. Your stick

Was parked behind the door and stands there still.

Closing this chapter of our chronicle

Take your uncle's portrait to the attic.

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. . . . the others, with emaciated faces and prominent, staring eyeballs, were evidently in an advanced state of starvation. The officer in charge reported the incident to Sir James Dombrain, the Inspector General . . . . . and Sir James "very inconveniently," wrote Routh, "interfered."
Cecil Woodham-Smith: The Great Hunger.

Routine patrol off West Mayo; sighting

A rowboat heading unusually far

Beyond the creek, I tacked and hailed the crew

In Gaelic. Their stroke had clearly weakened

As they pulled to, from guilt or bashfulness

I was conjecturing when, O my sweet Christ,

We saw piled in the bottom of their craft

Six grown men with gaping mouths and eyes

Bursting the sockets like spring onions in drills.

Six wrecks of bone and pallid, tautened skin.

"Biadh, biadh, biadh," in whines and snarls their desperation

Rose and fell like a flock of starving gulls.

We'd known about the shortage but on board

They always kept us right with flour and beef

So understand my feelings, and the men's,

Who had no mandate to relieve distress.

There was relief available in Westport

Though these poor brutes would clearly never make it.

I had to refuse food: they cursed and howled

Like dogs that had been kicked hard in the privates.

When they drove at me with their starboard oar

(Risking capsize themselves) I saw they were

Violent and without hope. I hoisted

And cleared off. Less incidents the better.

Next day, like six bad smells, those living skulls

Drifted through the dark of bunk and hatches

And once in port I exorcised my ship

Reporting all to the Inspector General.

Sir James, I understand, urged free relief

For famine victims in the Westport Sector

And earned tart reprimand from good Whitehall.

Let natives prosper by their own exertions;

Who could not swim might go ahead and sink.

"The Coast Guard with their zeal and activity

Are too lavish" were the words, I think.

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(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 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.

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The swell foams where they float and crawl,

A catherine-wheel of arm and hand.

Each head bobs curtly as a football.

The yelps are faint here on the strand.

No milk-limbed Venus ever rose

Miraculous on this western shore;

A pirate queen in battle clothes

Is our sterner myth. The breakers pour

Themselves into themselves, the years

Shuttle through space invisibly.

Where crests unfurl like creamy beer

The queen's clothes melt into the sea

And generations sighing in

The salt suds where the wave has crashed

Labour in fear of flesh and sin

For the thime has been accomplished

As through the swallows in swimsuits,

Brown-legged, smooth-shouldered and bare-backed

They wade ashore with skips and shouts.

So Venus comes, matter-of-fact.

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The ridged lip set upstream, you flail

Inland again; your exile in the sea

Unconditionally cancelled by the pull

Of your home water's gravity.

And I stand in the centre, casting.

The river, cramming under me, reflects

Slung gaff and net, and a white wrist flicking,

Setting you up the well-dressed specks.

Walton thought garden-worms, perfumed

By oil crushed from dark ivy berries

The lure that took you best. But here you're doomed

By senseless hunger in your eyes.

Ripples arrowing beyond me,

The current strumming rhythms up my leg:

Involved in water's choreography

I go like you by gleam and drag

And will strike when you strike, to kill.

We're both annihilated with the fly.

You can't resist a gullet full of steel.

I will turn home fish-smelling, scaly.

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