Crossings

Seamus Heaney

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.

Only to come up, year after year, behind
Those open-ended, canvas-covered trucks
Full of soldiers sitting cramped and staunch,

Their hands round gun-barrels, their gaze abroad
In dreams out of the body-heated metal.
Silent, time-proofed, keeping an even distance

Beyond the windscreen glass, carried ahead
On the phantasmal flow-back of the road,
They still mean business in the here and now.

So draw no attention, steer and concentrate
On the space fleeing between like a speeded-up
Melt-down of souls from hell’s deep, straw-flecked ice.

Everything flows. Even a solid man,
A pillar to himself and to his trade,
All yellow boots and stick and soft felt hat,

Can sprout wings at the ankle and grow fleet
As the god of fair days, stone posts, roads and cross-roads,
Guardian of travellers and psychopomp.

‘Look for a man with an ash-plant on the boat,’
My father told his sister setting out
For London, ‘and stay near him all night

And you’ll be safe.’ Flow on, flow on
The journey of the soul with its soul guide
And the mysteries of dealing men with sticks!

The ice was like a bottle. We lined up
Eager to re-enter the long slide
We were bringing to perfection, time after time

Running and readying and letting go
Into a sheerness that was its own reward:
A farewell to sure-footedness, a pitch

Beyond our usual hold upon ourselves.
And what went on went in, from grip to give,
The narrow milky way in the black ice,

The race-up, the free passage and return –
It followed on itself like a ring of light
We knew we’d come through and kept sailing towards.

Choose one set of tracks and track a hare
Until the prints stop, just like that, in snow.
End of the line. Smooth drifts. Where did she go?

Back on her tracks, of course, and took a spring
Yards off to the side; clean break; no scent or sign.
She landed in her form and then ate snow.

(Which is why Pliny thought the fur goes white
And why one friend imagined the Holy Ghost
As a great white hare on the summit of a ridge –

Then sprung himself at last, still weaving, dodging,
Haring it out until the very end,
The shake-the-heart, the dew-hammer, the far-eyed.)