Time period: 1963-1966

Poet: Seamus Heaney

Permanent URL: http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/17kq5


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A year has gone, twelve salaries have been spent

And not a penny saved; each month pounds went

To landlord, grocer, barmen, waitresses,

To girls at petrol-pumps and in payboxes.

Bed, meals, journeys, entertainments - there's how

The whole thing slipped away. It's April now

Again, and still no earthly treasure stored,

No heed paid to the canny unjust steward;

Just one year older, with no child, no poem

That will endure, no shape in paint or stone

Shored up against the ruins. The diary

Makes depressing reading. I can't tell why

I noted meals and meetings that now look

As useless as the stubs of old cheque-books -

"Dined with May" or "Wild night with Donal. Booze."

Rise like ghost hangovers to accuse

And puncture resolutions of amendment.

I'll bridge no future from a quicksand present

Where necessary routine buries guilt

And time's blade sinks in surely to the hilt.

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Her scarf a la Bardot,

In suede flats for the walk,

She came with me one evening

For air and friendly talk.

We crossed the quiet river,

Took the embankment walk.

Traffic holding its breath,

Sky a tense diaphragm:

Dusk hung like a backcloth

That shook where a swan swam,

Ambiguous as a hawk

Hanging deadly, calm.

A vacuum of need

Collapsed each hunting heart

But tremulously we held

As hawk and prey apart,

Preserved classic decorum

And practised life for art.

Our juvenilia

Had taught us both to wait,

Not to publish feeling

And regret it all too late -

Mushroom loves already

Had puffed and burst in hate.

So, chary and excited

As a thrush linked on a hawk,

We thrilled to the March twilight

With nervous childish talk:

Still waters running deep

Along the embankment walk.

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I was six when I first saw kittens drown.

Dan Taggart pitched them, 'the scraggy wee shits,'

Into a bucket; a frail metal sound,

Soft paws scraping like mad. But their tiny din

Was soon soused. They were slung on the snout

Of the pump and the water pumped in.

"Sure isn't it better for them now?" Dan said.

Like wet gloves they bobbed and shone till he sluiced

Then out on the dunghill, glossy and dead.

Suddenly frightened, for days I sadly hung

Round the yard, watching the three sogged remains

Turn mealy and crisp as old summer dung

Until I forgot them. But the fear came back

When Dan trapped big rats, snared rabbits, shot crows

Or, with sickening tug, pulled old hens' necks.

Still, living displaces false sentiments

And now, when shrill pups are prodded to drown

In a barrel, I applaud. It makes sense:

"Prevention of cruelty" talk cuts ice in town

Where they consider death unnatural,

But on well-run farms pests have to be kept down.

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And I was taught to feel, perhaps too much,

The self-sufficing power of solitude.


For ten miles the road races a stream,

Unreels unevenly over the hills' rumps.

The car drones hard, swings wide on corners, bumps.

Rocky elbows dig the horizon's ribs;

Thrush-brown bogland spreads like a dirty vest,

Drawn tight where the mountain swells a thug chest.

Driving alone here once, gooseflesh wind peeling

The land bare, rushes whistling, spare shrubs bent,

I lifted three unexpected children

With runny noses, smarting cheeks and eyes

That ran cold water and anxiety.

From the edge of the back seat they courteously

Spoke up with yes and now. The big white house

At the second bridge was where they lived. Yes,

They walked to school each day. No, it was less

Than four miles. In the driving mirror

Six wide eyes searched for the crooning radio

Till the eldest girl said, "Here," and I pulled slow

Round a hunch-backed bridge. An old woman waved

In the door, tall, clutching a black cat

To her bosom. Wore a black dress and a wide hat.

She staggered towards the road as I changed down,

Frantic with joy, still waving. Her mouth a dark gap.

Good God, she wanted a lift. I pulled up.

"Don't wait, don't take her," the eldest cautioned

As three bums slid down and the door shut.

"Thanks, mister. Go on. She's dotin', her head's cut."

To go or not to go was not the question:

That the girl spoke blunt facts seemed plain enough

So, wrecking a hill-crazed dream, I moved off.

The old lady gaped wide and waved me back.

The children clustered round and waved me on.

They all waved happily as I drove for town.

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At first there were short bouts

With people and old poems

For sparring partners.

He hit language rough clouts

But lacked style which only comes

Many hard scraps later.

Then one day he let go

Like an old bull, hugely:

Punched words like baled thunder

And won his first KO.

Was noted consequently

By critical punters.

So he wrote like hell; trounced

His each personal hate,

Love; and was promoted.

They praised the way he bounced

Plain speech, his use of brute

Verbs. Whole fights were quoted.

Suddenly, as if sick,

The punch weakened and scraps

Were lost. His jabs went blunt.

Fans missed the old cruel kick,

Discussed, forgot. Perhaps

Champ age. But poets don't

And though they must touch gloves

With speech and box hard thoughts,

They never simply slug

The ear. They dance and move

With purpose. so I doubt

The ex-champ was a thug.

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Sucking his tooth, savouring salvation

As a lozenge, he sentries picture queues,

Brands a ribald city with red-hot news,

A technicolour trailer of damnation.

In rhetoric outdated as the cut

Of his clothes sin tosses her lace-frilled hem.

Every cinema reeks, a den of shake;

Every star with cleavage, a scarlet slut.

He slams a charge of Christ's words in the breach

And belabours bored fronts with Scripture fire,

Aiming to cut down rather than inspire:

Quotations, hard as schrapnel, burst to teach.

The barrage flies above indifferent queues.

Beggars and flag-sellers at least embarrass

But preacher leaves us cold, we know his past:

Poor fear-drunk driftwood from a tide of booze.

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Bat-winged dusk; in the chill nave

Subdued and tight-lipped farmers sit

Totting up breaches of faith, hope, love.

Their souls sweat hot as an armpit.

Ancestral waistcoat, fading crease

Make MacKenna almost tidy;

The civil service of his knees

Applies for God's death subsidy.

With horn beads audible, head bare,

Handkerchief spread on the kneeling board,

He prepares accounts with nervous care,

Afraid to mince words with the Word.

His turn comes round, confess he must:

Within the hoarse dark of the box

He catalogues his lies, booze, lust

And noses out grace like an old fox.

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