Seamus Heaney (1939)
Selected Poems and Bibliography
Seamus Heaney (1939) is an Irish poet, writer and lecturer. He lives in Dublin. Regarded as an elder statesman of poetry, Heaney has received the T. S. Eliot Prize (2006) and the Nobel Prize in Literature (1995) and two Whitbread prizes (1996 and 1999). He was both the Harvard and the Oxford Professor of Poetry and was made a Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres in 1996.
The Rain Stick
Upend the rain stick and what happens next
Is a music that you never would have known
To listen for. In a cactus stalk
Downpour, sluice-rush, spillage and backwash
Come flowing through. You stand there like a pipe
Being played by water, you shake it again lightly
And diminuendo runs through all its scales
Like a gutter stopping trickling. And now here comes
A sprinkle of drops out of the freshened leaves,
Then subtle little wets off grass and daisies;
Then glitter-drizzle, almost-breaths of air.
Upend the stick again. What happens next
Is undiminished for having happened once,
Twice, ten, a thousand times before.
Who cares if all the music that transpires
Is the fall of grit or dry seeds through a cactus?
You are like a rich man entering heaven
Through the ear of a raindrop. Listen now again.
The 56 lb. weight. A solid iron
Unit of negation. Stamped and cast
With an inset, rung-thick, molded, short crossbar
For a handle. Squared-off and harmless-looking
Until you tried to lift it, then a socket-ripping,
Life-belittling force –
Gravity’s black box, the immovable
Stamp and squat and square-root of dead weight.
Yet balance it
Against another one placed on a weighbridge –
On a well-adjusted, freshly greased weighbridge –
And everything trembled, flowed with ‘give and take.
And this is all the good tidings amount to:
This principle of bearing, bearing up
And bearing out, just having to
Balance the intolerable in others
Against our own, having to abide
Whatever we settled for and settled into
Against our better judgment. Passive
Suffering makes the world go round.
Peace on earth, men of good will, all that
Holds good only as long as the balance holds,
The scales ride steady and the angels’ strain
Prolongs itself at an unearthly pitch.
To refuse the other cheek. To cast the stone.
Not to do so some time, not to break with
The obedient one you hurt yourself into
Is to fall the hurt, the self, the ingrown rule.
Prophesy who struck thee! When soldiers mocked
Blindfolded Jesus and he didn’t strike back
They were neither shamed nor edified, although
Something was made manifest – the power
Of power not exercised, of hope inferred
By the powerless forever. Still, for Jesus’ sake,
Do me a favour, would you, just this once?
Prophesy, give scandal, cast the stone.
Two sides to every question, yes, yes, yes…
But every now and then, just weighing in
Is what it must come down to, and without
Any self-exculpation or self-pity.
Alas, one night when follow-through was called for
And a quick hit would have fairly rankled,
You countered that it was my narrowness
That kept me keen, so got a first submission.
I held back when I should have drawn blood
And that way (mea culpa) lost an edge.
A deep mistaken chivalry, old friend.
At this stage only foul play cleans the slate.
The Flight Path
The first fold first, then more foldovers drawn
Tighter and neater every time until
The whole of the paper got itself reduced
To a pleated square he’d take up by two corners,
Then hold like a promise he had the power to break
But never did.
A dove rose in my breast
Every time my father’s bands came clean
With a paper boat between them, ark in air,
The lines of it as taut as a pegged tent:
High-sterned, splay-bottomed, the little pyramid
At the center every bit as hollow
As a part of me that sank because it knew
The whole thing would go soggy once you launched it.
Equal and opposite, the part that lifts
Into those full-starred heavens that winter sees
When I stand in Wicklow under the flight path
Of a late jet out of Dublin, its risen light
Winking ahead of what it hauls away:
Heavy engine noise and its abatement
Widening far back down, a wake through starlight.
The sycamore speaks in sycamore from darkness,
The light behind my shoulder’s cottage lamplight.
I’m in the doorway early in the night,
Standing-in myself for all of those
The stance perpetuates: the stay-at-homes
Who leant against the jamb and watched and waited,
The ones we learned to love by waving back at
Or coming towards again in different clothes
They were slightly shy of.
Who never once forgot
A name or a face, nor looked down suddenly
As the plane was reaching cruising altitude
To realize that the house they’d just passed over
Too far back now to see – was the same house
They’d left an hour before, still kissing, kissing,
As the taxi driver loaded up the cases.
Up and away. The buzz from duty free.
Black velvet. Bourbon. Love letters on high.
The spacewalk of Manhattan. The re-entry.
Then California. Laid-back Tiburon.
Burgers at Sam’s, deck-tables and champagne,
Plus a wall-eyed, hard-baked seagull looking on.
Again re-entry. Vows revowed. And off –
Reculer pour sauter, within one year of
Coming back, less long goodbye than stand-off.
So to Glanmore. Glanmore. Glanmore. Glanmore.
At bay, at one, at work, at risk and sure.
Covert and pad. Oak, bay and sycamore.
Jet-sitting next. Across and “cross and across.
Westering, eastering, the jumbo a school bus,
The Yard’ a cross between the farm and campus,
A holding pattern and a tautening purchase –
Sweeney astray in home truths out of Horace:
Skies change, not cares, for those who cross the seas.
The following for the record, in the light
Of everything before and since:
One bright May morning, nineteen-seventy-nine,
Just off the red-eye special from New York,
I’m on the train for Belfast. Plain, simple
Exhilaration at being back: the sea
At Skerries, the nuptial hawthorn bloom,
The trip north taking sweet hold like a chain
On every bodily sprocket.
Enter then –
As if he were some film noir border guard
Enter this one I’d last met in a dream,
More grimfaced now than in the dream itself
When he’d flagged me down at the side of a mountain road,
Come up and leant his elbow on the roof
And explained through the open window of the car
That all I’d have to do was drive a van
Carefully in to the next customs post
At Pettigo, switch off, get out as if
I were on my way with dockets to the office –
But then instead I’d walk ten yards more down
Towards the main street and get in with – here
Another school friend’s name, a wink and smile,
I’d know him all right, he’d be in a Ford
And I’d be home in three hours’ time, as safe
As houses …
So he enters and sits down
Opposite and goes for me head on.
‘When, for fuck’s sake, are you going to write
Something for us?’ ‘If I do write something,
Whatever it is, I’ll be writing for myself.’
And that was that. Or words to that effect.
The jail’s walls all those months were smeared with shite.
Out of Long Kesh after his dirty protest
The red eyes were the eyes of Ciaran Nugent
Like something out of Dante’s scurfy hell,
Drilling their way through the rhymes and images
Where I too walked behind the righteous Virgil,
As safe as houses and translating freely:
When he had said all this, his eyes rolled
And his teeth, like a dog’s teeth clamping round a bone,
Bit into the skull and again took hold.
When I answered that I came from ‘far away’,
The policeman at the roadblock snapped,’Where’s that?’
He’d only half heard what I said and thought
It was the name of some place up the country.
And now it is – both where I have been living
And where I left – a distance still to go
Like starlight that is light years on the go
From far away and takes light years arriving.
Out of the blue then, the sheer exaltation
Of remembering climbing zig-zag up warm steps
To the hermit’s eyrie above Rocamadour.
Crows sailing high and close, a lizard pulsing
On gravel at my feet, its front legs set
Like the jointed front struts of a moon vehicle.
And bigly, softly as the breath of life
In a breath of air, a lime-green butterfly
Crossing the pilgrims’ sunstruck via crucis.
Eleven in the morning. I made a note.
‘Rock-lover, loner, sky-sentry, all hall!’
And somewhere the dove rose. And kept on rising.
St Kevin and the Blackbird
And then there was St Kevin and the blackbird.
The saint is kneeling, arms stretched out, inside
His cell, but the cell is narrow, so
one turned-up palm is out the window, stiff
As a crossbeam, when a blackbird lands
And lays in it and settles down to nest.
Kevin feels the warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked
Neat head and claws and, finding himself linked
Into the network of eternal life,
Is moved to pity: now he must hold his hand
Like a branch out in the sun and rain for weeks
Until the young are hatched and fledged and flown.
And since the whole thing’s imagined anyhow,
Imagine being Kevin. Which is he?
Self-forgetful or in agony all the time
From the neck on out down through his hurting fore-arms?
Are his fingers sleeping? Does he still feel his knees?
Or has the shut-eyed blank of underearth
Crept up through him? Is there distance in his head?
Alone and mirrored clear in love’s deep river,
‘To labour and not to seek reward,’ he prays,
A prayer his body makes entirely
For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird
And on the riverbank forgotten the river’s name.
From “Human Chain”, 2010
It’s winter at the seaside where they’ve gone
For the wedding meal. And I am at the table,
A skirl of gulls. A smell of cooking fish.
Plump dormant silver. Stranded silence. Tears.
Their bibbed waitress unlids a clinking dish
And leaves them to it, under chandeliers.
And to all the anniversaries of this
They are not ever going to observe
Or mention even in the years to come.
And now the man who drove them here will drive
Them back, and by evening we’ll be home.
Love’s mysteries in souls do grow,
But yet the body in his book.
Strapped on, wheeled out, forklifted, locked
In position for the drive,
Bone-shaken, bumped at speed,
The nurse a passenger in front, you ensconced
In her vacated corner seat, me flat on my back –
Our ostures all the journey still the same,
Everithing and nothing spoken,
Our eyebeams threaded laser-fast, no transport
Ever like it until then, in the sunlit cold
Of a Saturday morning ambulance
When we might, O my love, have quoted Donne
On love on hold, body and soul apart.
Poetry: main collections
1966: Death of a Naturalist, Faber & Faber
1969: Door into the Dark, Faber & Faber
1972: Wintering Out, Faber & Faber
1975: Stations, Ulsterman
1975: North, Faber & Faber
1979: Field Work, Faber & Faber
1984: Station Island, Faber & Faber
1987: The Haw Lantern, Faber & Faber
1991: Seeing Things, Faber & Faber
1996: The Spirit Level, Faber & Faber
2001: Electric Light, Faber & Faber
2006: District and Circle, Faber & Faber
2010: Human Chain, Faber & Faber
Poetry: collected editions
1980: Selected Poems 1965-1975, Faber & Faber
1990: New Selected Poems 1966-1987, Faber & Faber
1998: Opened Ground: Poems 1966-1996, Faber & Faber
Prose: main collections
1980: Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978, Faber & Faber
1988: The Government of the Tongue, Faber & Faber
1995: The Redress of Poetry: Oxford Lectures, Faber & Faber
2002: Finders Keepers: Selected Prose 1971-2001, Faber & Faber
1990: The Cure at Troy A version of Sophocles’ Philoctetes, Field Day
2004: The Burial at Thebes A version of Sophocles’ Antigone, Faber & Faber
1983: Sweeney Astray: A version from the Irish, Field Day
1992: Sweeney’s Flight (with Rachel Giese, photographer), Faber & Faber
1993: The Midnight Verdict: Translations from the Irish of Brian Merriman and from the Metamorphoses of Ovid, Gallery Press
1995: Laments, a cycle of Polish Renaissance elegies by Jan Kochanowski, translated with Stanisław Barańczak, Faber & Faber
1999: Beowulf, Faber & Faber
1999: Diary of One Who Vanished, a song cycle by Leoš Janáček of poems by Ozef Kalda, Faber & Faber
2002: Hallaig, Sorley MacLean Trust
2002: Arion, a poem by Alexander Pushkin, translated from the Russian, with a note by Olga Carlisle, Arion Press
2004: The Testament of Cresseid, Enitharmon Press
2004: Columcille The Scribe, The Royal Irish Academy
2009: The Testament of Cresseid & Seven Fables, Faber & Faber
Limited editions and booklets (poetry and prose)
1965: Eleven Poems, Queen’s University
1968: The Island People, BBC
1968: Room to Rhyme, Arts Council N.I.
1969: A Lough Neagh Sequence, Phoenix
1970: Night Drive, Gilbertson
1970: A Boy Driving His Father to Confession, Sceptre Press
1973: Explorations, BBC
1975: Stations, Ulsterman Publications
1975: Bog Poems, Rainbow Press
1975: The Fire i’ the Flint, Oxford University Press
1976: Four Poems, Crannog Press
1977: Glanmore Sonnets, Editions Monika Beck
1977: In Their Element, Arts Council N.I.
1978: Robert Lowell: A Memorial Address and an Elegy, Faber & Faber
1978: The Makings of a Music, University of Liverpool
1978: After Summer, Gallery Press
1979: Hedge School, Janus Press
1979: Ugolino, Carpenter Press
1979: Gravities, Charlotte Press
1979: A Family Album, Byron Press
1980: Toome, National College of Art and Design
1981: Sweeney Praises the Trees, Henry Pearson
1982: A Personal Selection, Ulster Museum
1982: Poems and a Memoir, Limited Editions Club
1983: An Open Letter, Field Day
1983: Among Schoolchildren, Queen’s University
1984: Verses for a Fordham Commencement, Nadja Press
1984: Hailstones, Gallery Press
1985: From the Republic of Conscience, Amnesty International
1985: Place and Displacement, Dove Cottage
1985: Towards a Collaboration, Arts Council N.I.
1986: Clearances, Cornamona Press
1988: Readings in Contemporary Poetry, DIA Art Foundation
1988: The Sounds of Rain, Emory University
1989: An Upstairs Outlook, Linen Hall Library
1989: The Place of Writing, Emory University
1990: The Tree Clock, Linen Hall Library
1991: Squarings, Hieroglyph Editions
1992: Dylan the Durable, Bennington College
1992: The Gravel Walks, Lenoir Rhyne College
1992: The Golden Bough, Bonnefant Press
1993: Keeping Going, Bow and Arrow Press
1993: Joy or Night, University of Swansea
1994: Extending the Alphabet, Memorial University of Newfoundland
1994: Speranza in Reading, University of Tasmania
1995: Oscar Wilde Dedication, Westminster Abbey
1995: Charles Montgomery Monteith, All Souls College
1995: Crediting Poetry: The Nobel Lecture, Gallery Press
1997: Poet to Blacksmith, Pim Witteveen
1998: Commencement Address, UNC Chapel Hill
1998: Audenesque, Maeght
1999: The Light of the Leaves, Bonnefant Press
2001: Something to Write Home About, Flying Fox
2002: Hope and History, Rhodes University
2002: Ecologues in Extremis, Royal Irish Academy
2002: A Keen for the Coins, Lenoir Rhyne College
2003: Squarings, Arion Press
2004: Anything can Happen, Town House Publishers
2005: The Door Stands Open, Irish Writers Centre
2005: A Shiver, Clutag Press
2007: The Riverbank Field, Gallery Press
2008: Articulations, Royal Irish Academy
2008: One on a Side, Robert Frost Foundation
2009: Spelling It Out, Gallery Press
Critical studies of Heaney
1993: The Poetry of Seamus Heaney ed. by Elmer Andrews,
1993: Seamus Heaney: The Making of the Poet by Michael Parker,
1995: ritical essays on Seamus Heaney ed. by Robert F. Garratt,
1998: The Poetry of Seamus Heaney: A Critical Study by Neil Corcoran,
2000: Seamus Heaney by Helen Vendler, Harvard University Press
2003: Seamus Heaney and the Place of Writing by Eugene O’Brien, University Press of Florida,
2004: Seamus Heaney Searches for Answers by Eugene O’Brien, Pluto Press: London.
2007: Seamus Heaney and the Emblems of Hope by Karen Marguerite Moloney.
2007: Seamus Heaney: Creating Irelands of the Mind by Eugene O’Brien, Liffey Press.
2009: The Cambridge Companion to Seamus Heaney edited by Bernard O’Donoghue
2010: Poetry and Peace: Michael Longley, Seamus Heaney, and Northern Ireland by Richard Rankin Russell.
2010: Defending Poetry: Art and Ethics in Joseph Brodsky, Seamus Heaney, and Geoffrey Hill by David-Antoine Williams
2003 The Poet & The Piper – Seamus Heaney & Liam O’Flynn.
2009 Collected Poems – Recording of Heaney reading all of his collected poems.
Major prizes and honours
1966 Eric Gregory Award
1967 Cholmondeley Award
1968 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize
1975 EM Forster Award
1975 Duff Cooper Memorial Prize
1995 Nobel Prize for Literature
1996 Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
2006 T S Eliot Prize for District and Circle
2007 Poetry Now Award for District and Circle
2009 David Cohen Prize for Literature
2011 Poetry Now Award for Human Chain
2011 Griffin Poetry Prize for Human Chain
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