Seamus Heaney, Tinder

We picked flints,
Pale and dirt-veined,
So small finger and thumb
Ached around them;
Cold beads of history and home
We fingered, a cave-mouth flame
Of leaf and stick
Trembling at the mind’s wick.
We clicked stone on stone
That sparked a weak flame-pollen
And failed, our knuckle joints
Striking as often as the flints.
What did we know then
Of tinder, charred linen and iron,
Huddled at dusk in a ring,
Our fists shut, our hope shrunken?
What could strike a blaze
From our dead igneous days?
Now we squat on cold cinder,
Red-eyed, after the flames’ soft thunder
And our thoughts settle like ash.
We face the tundra’s whistling brush
With new history, flint and iron,
Cast-offs, scraps, nail, canine.

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Seamus Heaney, Tinder

Seamus Heaney, Weighing in

The 56 lb. weight. A solid iron
Unit of negation. Stamped and cast
With an inset, rung-thick, moulded, 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 judgement. 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 fail 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.

Seamus Heaney, Weighing in

Seamus Heaney, Blackberry Picking

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.
Seamus Heaney, Blackberry Picking

Seamus Heaney, Found Poem

Like everybody else, I bowed my head
during the consecration of the bread and wine,
lifted my eyes to the raised host and raised chalice,
believed (whatever it means) that a change occurred.
I went to the altar rails and received the mystery
on my tongue, returned to my place, shut my eyes fast, made
an act of thanksgiving, opened my eyes and felt
time starting up again.
There was never a scene
when I had it out with myself or with an other.
The loss of faith occurred off stage. Yet I cannot
disrespect words like ‘thanksgiving’ or ‘host’
or even ‘communion wafer.’ They have an undying
pallor and draw, like well water far down.

Seamus Heaney, Found Poem

Seamus Heaney, Digging

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

Seamus Heaney, Digging

Seamus Heaney, Lightenings viii

The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise
Were all at prayers inside the oratory
A ship appeared above them in the air.
The anchor dragged along behind so deep
It hooked itself into the altar rails
And then, as the big hull rocked to a standstill,
A crewman shinned and grappled down the rope
And struggled to release it. But in vain.
‘This man can’t bear our life here and will drown,’
The abbot said, ‘unless we help him.’ So
They did, the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed back
Out of the marvelous as he had known it.

Seamus Heaney, Lightenings viii