A Retrospect

Seamus Heaney

I

The whole country apparently afloat:
Every road bridging or skirting water,
The land islanded, the field drains still as moats.

A bulrush sentried the lough shore: I had to
Wade barefoot over spongy, ice-cold marsh
(Soft bottom with bog-water seeping through

The netted weeds) to get near where it stood
Perennially anomalous and dry,
Like chalk or velvet rooting in the mud.

Everything ran into water colour.
The skyline was full up to the lip
As if the earth were going to brim over,

As if we moved in the first stealth of flood
For remember, at one place, the swim and flow
From hidden springs made a river in the road.
                                                (1966)

II

Another trip they seemed to keep repeating
Was up to Glenshane Pass – his ‘Trail of Tears’,
As he’d say every time, and point out streams
He first saw on the road to boarding-school.
And then he’d quote Sir John Davies’ despatch
About his progress through there from Dungannon
With Chichester in 1608:
‘The wild inhabitants wondered as much
To see the King’s deputy, as Virgil’s ghosts
Wondered to see Aeneas alive in Hell.’

They liked the feel of the valley out behind,
As if a ladder leaned against the world
And they were climbing it but might fall back
Into the total air and emptiness
They carried on their shoulders.

                         The old road
Went up and up, it was lover country,
Their drive-in in the sky, where each parked car
Played possum in the twilight and clouds moved
Smokily in the deep of polished roofs
And dormant windscreens.

                        And there they were,
Astray in the hill-fort of all pleasures
Where air was other breath and grass a whisper,
Feeling empowered but still somehow constrained:
Young marrieds, apt now to the licit within doors,
They fell short of the sweetness that had lured them.
No nest in rushes, the heather bells unbruised,
The love-drink of the mountain streams untasted.

So when they turned, they turned with the fasted eyes
Of wild inhabitants, and parked in silence
A bit down from the summit, where the brae
Swept off like a balcony, then seemed to drop
Sheer towards the baronies and cantreds.
Evening was dam water they saw down through.
The scene stood open, the visit lasted,
They gazed beyond themselves until he eased
The brake off and they freewheeled quickly
Before going into gear, with all the usual old
High-pitched strain and gradual declension.