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... It is often late, by chance, and with sudden delight, that we find those poets who later become vital to us. I knew Sorley MacLean by reputation before I felt his authority. His renovation of a poetic tradition, his cross-fertilisation of love and politics, of metaphysical technique and traditional Gaelic modes, of dan direach and personal destiny – I knew about all this at second-hand; it was part of that store of useful literary information that accumulates at the back of the literary mind like respected, unread books on the bookshelf ...

The Loaning

Seamus Heaney, 5 February 1981

... As I went down the loaning to the fields the wind shifting in the hedge was like an old one’s whistling speech. I knew then I was in the limbo of lost words. They had flown there from outhouses and crossroads, from under rotten carts and churchyard walls. I saw them streaming out of birch-white throats to nest a while in those old places, then on a day close as a stranger’s breath rising in smoky crowds on the summer sky to settle in the uvulae of mossed stones and the soft lungs of the hawthorn ...


Seamus Heaney, 3 July 1986

... I She taught me what her uncle once taught her: How easily the biggest coal block split If you got the grain and hammer angled right. The sound of that relaxed alluring blow, Its co-opted and obliterated echo, Taught me to hit, taught me to loosen, Taught me between the hammer and the block To face the music. Teach me now to listen, To strike it rich behind the linear black ...


Seamus Heaney, 18 September 1980

... As you came with me in silence to the pump in the long grass I heard much that you could not hear: the bite of the spade that sank it, the slithering and grumble as the mason mixed his mortar, and women coming with white buckets like flashes on their ruffled wings. The cast-iron rims of the lid clinked as I uncovered it, something stirred in its mouth ...

Casting and Gathering

Seamus Heaney, 27 September 1990

... for Ted Hughes Years and years ago, these sounds took sides: On the left bank a green silk tapered cast Went whispering through the air, saying hush And lush, entirely free, no matter whether It swished above the hayfield or the river. On the right bank, like a speeded-up corncrake, A sharp ratcheting kept on and on Cutting across the stillness as another Fisherman gathered line-lengths off his reel ...

The Birthplace

Seamus Heaney, 7 October 1982

... I The deal table where he wrote, so small and plain, the single bed a dream of discipline. And a flagged kitchen downstairs, its mote-slants of thick light: the unperturbed, reliable ghost-life he carried, with no need to invent. And high trees around the house, breathed upon day and night by winds as slow as a cart coming late from market or the stir a fiddle could make in his reluctant heart ...

An Invocation

Seamus Heaney, 6 August 1992

... 1 Incline to me, MacDiarmid, out of Shetland, Stone-eyed from stone-gazing, sobered up And thrawn. Not the old vigilante Of the chimney corner, having us on, Setting us off, the drinkers’ drinker; no, Incline as the sage of wind that flouts the rockface, As gull stalled in the seabreeze, gatekeeper Of open gates behind the brows of birds – Not to hear me take back smart remarks About your McGonaglish propensities, For I do not, but I add in middle age: I underprized your far-out, blethering genius ...

A Royal Prospect

Seamus Heaney, 2 March 1989

... On the day of their excursion up the Thames To Hampden Court, they were nearly sunstruck. She with her neck bared in a page-boy cut, He all dreamy anyhow, wild for her But pretending to be a thousand miles away, Studying the boat’s wake in the water. And here are the photographs. Head to one side, In her sleeveless blouse, one bare shoulder high And one arm loose, a bird with a drooped wing Surprised in cover ...

Two Poems

Seamus Heaney, 1 November 1984

... Hailstones I My cheek was hit and hit: sudden hailstones pelted and bounced on the road. When it cleared again something whipped and knowledgeable had withdrawn and left me there with my chances. I made a small hard ball of burning water running from my hand just as I make this now out of the melt of the real thing smarting into its absence. II To be reckoned with, all the same, those brats of showers ...

Three Poems

Seamus Heaney, 20 October 1983

... Unwinding If the twine unravels to the very end the stuff gathering under my fingernails is being picked off whitewash at the bedside. And the stuff gathering in my ear is their sex-pruned and unfurtherable moss-talk, incubated under lamplight, which will have to be unlearned even though from there on everything is going to be learning. So the twine unwinds and loosely widens backward through areas that forwarded understandings of all I would undertake ...

Three Poems

Seamus Heaney, 5 May 2005

... Rilke: The Apple Orchard Come just after the sun has gone down, watch This deepening of green in the evening sward: Is it not as if we’d long since garnered And stored within ourselves a something which From feeling and from feeling recollected, From new hope and half-forgotten joys And from an inner dark infused with these, Issues in thoughts as ripe as windfalls scattered Under trees here like trees in a Dürer woodcut – Pendent, pruned, the husbandry of years Gravid in them until the fruit appears – Ready to serve, replete with patience, rooted In the knowledge that no matter how above Measure or expectation, all must be Harvested and yielded, when a long life willingly Cleaves to what’s willed and grows in quiet resolve ...

A Retrospect

Seamus Heaney, 7 February 1991

... 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 ...


Seamus Heaney, 20 April 1989

... Travelling south at dawn, going full out Through high-up stone-wall country, the rocks still cold, Rainwater gleaming here and there ahead, I took a turn and met the fox stock still, Face to face in the middle of the road. Wildness tore through me as he dipped and wheeled In a level-running tawny breakaway. O neat head, fabled brush and astonished eye My blue Volkswagen flared into with morning! Let rebirth come through water, through desire, Through crawling backways across clinic floors: I have to cross back through that startled iris ...

Two Poems

Seamus Heaney, 25 October 1979

... A Deer in Glanmore for B.C. About a mile above and beyond our place, in a house with a leaking roof and cracked dormer windows Brigid came to live with her mother and sisters. For months after that she slept in a crowded bed under the branch-whipped slates, bewildered night after night by starts of womanhood, and a dream troubled her head of a ship’s passenger lounge where empty bottles rolled at every slow plunge and lift, a weeping child kept weeping, and a strange flowing black taxi pulled into a bombed station ...

Six Poems

Seamus Heaney, 26 October 1989

... When you sat, far-eyed and cold, in the basalt throne Of ‘the wishing chair’ at Giant’s Causeway, The small of your back made sense of the firmament. Like a papoose at sap-time strapped to a maple-tree, You gathered force out of the world-tree’s hardness. If you stretched your hand forth, things might turn to stone. But you were only goose-fleshed skin and bone, The rocks and wonder of the world were only Lava crystallised, salts of the earth The wishing chair gave savour to, its kelp And ozone sharpening your outlook Beyond the range of possibility ...

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