Seamus Heaney Quotes

We've searched our database for all the quotes and captions related to Seamus Heaney. Here they are! All 100 of them:

If you have the words, there's always a chance that you'll find the way.
Seamus Heaney (Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney)
It is always better to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning. For every one of us, living in this world means waiting for our end. Let whoever can win glory before death. When a warrior is gone, that will be his best and only bulwark.
Seamus Heaney (Beowulf)
Walk on air against your better judgement.
Seamus Heaney
History says, Don’t hope On this side of the grave, But then, once in a lifetime The longed-for tidal wave Of justice can rise up, And hope and history rhyme
Seamus Heaney
Behaviour that's admired is the path to power among people everywhere.
Seamus Heaney (Beowulf)
There is a comfort in the strength of love; 'Twill make a thing endurable, which else Would overset the brain, or break the heart. -Michael: A Pastoral Poem
William Wordsworth (William Wordsworth: Poems Selected by Seamus Heaney)
Anyone with gumption and a sharp mind will take the measure of two things: what's said and what's done.
Seamus Heaney (Beowulf)
I can't think of a case where poems changed the world, but what they do is they change people's understanding of what's going on in the world.
Seamus Heaney
All I know is a door into the dark
Seamus Heaney
The end of art is peace.
Seamus Heaney
Between my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.
Seamus Heaney (Opened Ground)
Human beings suffer, They torture one another, They get hurt and get hard. No poem or play or song Can fully right a wrong Inflicted and endured. The innocent in gaols Beat on their bars together. A hunger-striker's father Stands in the graveyard dumb. The police widow in veils Faints at the funeral home. History says, don't hope On this side of the grave. But then, once in a lifetime The longed-for tidal wave Of justice can rise up, And hope and history rhyme. So hope for a great sea-change On the far side of revenge. Believe that further shore Is reachable from here. Believe in miracle And cures and healing wells. Call miracle self-healing: The utter, self-revealing Double-take of feeling. If there's fire on the mountain Or lightning and storm And a god speaks from the sky That means someone is hearing The outcry and the birth-cry Of new life at its term.
Seamus Heaney
If self is a location, so is love: Bearings taken, markings, cardinal points, Options, obstinacies, dug heels, and distance, Here and there and now and then, a stance.
Seamus Heaney (District and Circle)
I rhyme To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.
Seamus Heaney (Death of a Naturalist)
I shall gain glory or die.
Seamus Heaney (Beowulf)
Since when," he asked, "Are the first line and last line of any poem Where the poem begins and ends?
Seamus Heaney
The way we are living, timorous or bold, will have been our life.
Seamus Heaney
Strange, it is a huge nothing that we fear.
Seamus Heaney (Death of a Naturalist)
So hope for a great sea-change On the far side of revenge. Believe that further shore Is reachable from here. Believe in miracles And cures and healing wells.
Seamus Heaney
That was their way, their heathenish hope; deep in their hearts they remembered hell.
Seamus Heaney (Beowulf)
Sink every impulse like a bolt. Secure The bastion of sensation. Do not waver Into language. Do not waver in it.
Seamus Heaney
Be advised my passport's green. No glass of ours was ever raised to toast the Queen.
Seamus Heaney
The main thing is to write for the joy of it. Cultivate a work-lust that imagines its haven like your hands at night dreaming the sun in the sunspot of a breast. You are fasted now, light-headed, dangerous. Take off from here.
Seamus Heaney (Station Island)
There is risk and truth to yourselves and the world before you.
Seamus Heaney
Fate goes ever as fate must.
Seamus Heaney (Beowulf)
The aim of poetry and the poet is finally to be of service, to ply the effort of the individual into the larger work of the community as a whole.
Seamus Heaney
In off the moors, down through the mist beams, god-cursed Grendel came greedily loping.
Seamus Heaney (Beowulf)
And a young prince must be prudent like that, giving freely while his father lives so that afterwards, in age when fighting starts steadfast companions will stand by him and hold the line.
Seamus Heaney (Beowulf)
Now it’s high watermark and floodtide in the heart and time to go. The sea-nymphs in the spray will be the chorus now. What’s left to say? Suspect too much sweet-talk but never close your mind. It was a fortunate wind that blew me here. I leave half-ready to believe that a crippled trust might walk and the half-true rhyme is love.
Seamus Heaney (The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles' Philoctetes)
I suppose I'm saying that defiance is actually part of the lyric job
Seamus Heaney
It is difficult at times to repress the thought that history is about as instructive as an abattoir; that Tacitus was right and that peace is merely the desolation left behind after the decisive operations of merciless power.
Seamus Heaney (Crediting Poetry: The Nobel Lecture)
Believe that further shore Is reachable from here. Believe in miracle And cures and healing wells.
Seamus Heaney
A four foot box, a foot for every year.
Seamus Heaney (Death of a Naturalist)
More than loud acclaim, I love Books, silence, thought, my alcove. Pangur Bán Poem by Anon Irish Monk, Translated by Seamus Heaney
Seamus Heaney
Meanwhile, the sword began to wilt into gory icicles, to slather and thaw. It was a wonderful thing, the way it all melted as ice melts when the Father eases the fetters off the frost and unravels the water-ropes. He who wields power over time and tide: He is the true Lord.
Seamus Heaney (Beowulf)
How perilous is it to choose not to love the life we’re shown?
Seamus Heaney (Opened Ground)
Believe that a further shore is reachable from here.
Seamus Heaney (The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles' Philoctetes)
If you have the words, there’s always a chance that you’ll find the way.
Seamus Heaney
The dotted line my father's ashplant made On Sandymount Strand Is something else the tide won't wash away.
Seamus Heaney
The 'voice of sanity' is getting hoarse.
Seamus Heaney (North)
By God, the old man could handle a spade. Just like his old man.
Seamus Heaney
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. -Blackberry picking
Seamus Heaney
Over the waves, with the wind behind her and foam at her neck, she flew like a bird until her curved prow had covered the distance...
Seamus Heaney (Beowulf)
words...To lure the tribal shoals to epigram / And order.
Seamus Heaney
I want away to the house of death, to my father under the low, clay roof.
Seamus Heaney (District and Circle)
Rain comes down through the alders, Its low conductive voices Mutter about let-downs and erosions And yet each drop recalls The diamond absolutes.
Seamus Heaney (North)
You carried your own burden and very soon your symptoms of creeping privilege disappeared.
Seamus Heaney (Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966-1996)
We want what the woman wanted in the prison queue in Leningrad, standing there with cold and whispering for fear, enduring the terror of Stalin's regime and asking the poet Anna Akhmatova if she could describe it all, if her art was equal to it.
Seamus Heaney (Crediting Poetry: The Nobel Lecture)
Then I thought of the tribe whose dances never fail / For they keep dancing till they sight the deer.
Seamus Heaney (Station Island)
History says, Don't hope/On this side of the grave/But then, once in a lifetime/The longest-for tidal wave of justice can rise up/And hope and history rhyme./So hope for a great sea change/On the far side of revenge/Believe in miracles....
Seamus Heaney
We were small and thought we knew nothing Worth knowing. We thought words travelled the wires In the shiny pouches of raindrops, Each one seeded full with the light Of the sky, the gleam of the lines, and ourselves So infinitesimally scaled We could stream through the eye of a needle.
Seamus Heaney (Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966-1996)
People so staunch and true, they're fixated, Shining with self-regard like polished stones. And their whole life spent admiring themselves For their own long-suffering. Licking their wounds And flashing them around like decorations. I hate it, I always hated it, and I am A part of it myself.
Seamus Heaney (The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles' Philoctetes)
I cannot be weaned/Off the earth's long contour, her river-veins.
Seamus Heaney
He sits, strong and blunt as a Celtic cross, Clearly used to silence and an armchair: Tonight the wife and children will be quiet At slammed door and smoker's cough in the hall.
Seamus Heaney
peace is merely the desolation left behind after the decisive operations of merciless power.
Seamus Heaney (Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966-1996)
Be the necklace-fire of stars, The cauterizing lightning. Bewilder us with good.
Seamus Heaney (The Burial at Thebes: A Version of Sophocles' Antigone)
To work, her dumb lunge says, is to move a certain mass ...through a certain distance, is to pull your weight and feel exact and equal to it. Feel dragged upon. And buoyant.
Seamus Heaney (Station Island)
Is there life before death? That’s chalked up In Ballymurphy. Competence with pain, Coherent miseries, a bite and a sup, We hug our little destiny again.
Seamus Heaney (North)
The hall towered, gold-shingled and gabled, and the guest slept in it until the black raven with raucous glee announced heaven's joy, and a hurry of brightness overran the shadows.
Seamus Heaney (Beowulf)
Let whoever can win glory before death.
Seamus Heaney (Beowulf)
Wyrd oft nered unfaegne, eorl, ponne his ellen deah. Often, for undaunted courage, fate spares the man it has not already marked.
Seamus Heaney (Beowulf)
My body was braille for the creeping influences.
Seamus Heaney
For every one of us, living in this world means waiting for our end.
Seamus Heaney (Beowulf - A Verse Translation Nce + Shakespeare/ Hamlet 2e Nce + Austen/ Northanger Abbey Nce)
Sometimes at pagan shrines they vowed offerings to idols, swore oaths that the killer of souls might come to their aid and save the people. That was their way, their heathenish hope; deep in their hearts they remembered hell.
Seamus Heaney (Beowulf)
At a certain age, the light that you live in is inhabited by the shades…I’m very conscious that people dear to me are alive in my imagination…These people are with me. It’s just a stage of your life when the death of people doesn’t banish them out of your consciousness, They’re part of the light in your head.
Seamus Heaney
Only the very stupid or the very deprived can any longer help knowing that the documents of civilization have been written in blood and tears, blood and tears no less real for being very remote.
Seamus Heaney (Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966-1996)
You lose more of yourself than you redeem doing the decent thing. Keep at a tangent When they make the circle wide, it's time to swim Out on your own and fill the element with signatures on your own frequency.
Seamus Heaney (Station Island)
The main thing is to write for the joy of it. Cultivate a work-lust that imagines its haven like your hands at night dreaming the sun in the sunspot of a breast.
Seamus Heaney (Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966-1996)
Islanders too are for sculpting.
Seamus Heaney (Death of a Naturalist)
All of us would like to have been born Infallible, but since we knew we weren't, It's better to attend to those who speak In honesty and good faith, and learn from them.
Seamus Heaney (The Burial at Thebes: A Version of Sophocles' Antigone)
Whether it be a matter of personal relations within a marriage or political initiatives within a peace process, there is no sure-fire do-it-yourself kit.
Seamus Heaney
I trust contrariness. ... I simply rebelled at being commanded.
Seamus Heaney
Nobody, Nobody can be sure they're always right. The ones who are fullest of themselves that way Are the emptiest vessels.
Seamus Heaney (The Burial at Thebes: A Version of Sophocles' Antigone)
Bebeorh þé ðone bealo-níð, Béowulf léofa, secg betsta, ond þé þæt sélre gecéos, éce rǽdas; ofer-hýda ne gým, mǽre cempa! Nú is þines mægnes blǽd áne hwíle; eft sóna bið þæt þec ádl oððe ecg eafoþes getwǽfeð, oððe fýres feng oððe flódes wylm oððe gripe méces oððe gáres fliht oððe atol yldo, oððe éagena bearhtm forsiteð ond forsworceð; semninga bið, þæt ðec, dryht-guma, déað oferswýðeð. O flower of warriors, beware of that trap. Choose, dear Béowulf, the better part, eternal rewards. Do not give way to pride. For a brief while your strength is in bloom but it fades quickly; and soon there will follow illness or the sword to lay you low, or a sudden fire or a surge of water or jabbing blade or javelin from the air or repellent age. Your piercing eye will dim and darken; and death will arrive, dear warrior, to sweep you away.
Seamus Heaney (Beowulf)
As writers and readers, as sinners and citizens, our realism and our aesthetic sense make us wary of crediting the positive note. The very gunfire braces us and the atrocious confers a worth upon the effort which it calls forth to confront it.
Seamus Heaney (Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966-1996)
A ring-whorled prow rode in the harbour, ice-clad, outbound, a craft for a prince. They stretched their beloved lord in his boat, laid out by the mast, amidships, the great ring-giver. Far fetched treasures were piled upon him, and precious gear. I have never heard before of a ship so well furbished with battle tackle, bladed weapons and coats of mail. The massed treasure was loaded on top of him: it would travel far on out into the ocean's sway. They decked his body no less bountifully with offerings than those first ones did who cast him away when he was a child and launched him alone over the waves. And they set a gold standard up high above his head and let him drift to wind and tide, bewailing him and mourning their loss. No man can tell, no wise man in hall or weathered veteran knows for certain who salvaged that load.
Seamus Heaney (Beowulf)
This is the vowel of earth dreaming its root in flowers and snow, mutation of weathers and seasons, a windfall composing the floor it rots into. I grew out of all this like a weeping willow inclined to the appetites of gravity.
Seamus Heaney (North)
Happy the man...with a natural gift for practising the right one [art] from the start-- poetry, say, or fishing; whose nights are dreamless; whose deep-sunk panoramas rise and pass like daylight through the rod's eye or the nib's eye.
Seamus Heaney (The Haw Lantern)
Which would be better, what sticks or what falls through? Or does the choice itself create the value?
Seamus Heaney (Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966-1996)
History says, Don't hope On this side of the grave, But then, once in a lifetime The longed-for tidal wave Of justice can rise up And hope and history rhyme.
Seamus Heaney (The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles' Philoctetes)
And here is love like a tinsmith's scoop sunk past its glean in the meal-bin. --"Sunlight
Seamus Heaney (North)
A telos crisis is defined by the fact that people in it don’t know what their purpose is. When this happens, they become fragile. Nietzsche says that he who has a “why” to live for can endure any “how.” If you know what your purpose is, you can handle the setbacks. But when you don’t know what your purpose is, any setback can lead to total collapse. As Seamus Heaney put it, “You are neither here nor there, / A hurry through which known and strange things pass.
David Brooks (The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life)
I see." Gamache lowered his voice, though all could still hear the words. "When I was Chief Superintendent, I had a framed poster in my office. On it were the last words of a favorite poet, Seamus Heaney. Noli timere. It's Latin. Do you know what it means?" He looked around the room. "Neither did I," he admitted when no one spoke. "I had to look it up. It means 'Be Not Afraid.' His eyes returned to the unhappy young agent. "In this job you'll have to do things that scare you. You might be afraid, but you must be brave. When I ask you to do something, you must trust there's a good reason. And I need to trust that you will do it. D'accord?
Louise Penny (A Better Man (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #15))
I step through origins like a dog turning its memories of wilderness on the kitchen mat: the bog floor shakes, water cheeps and lisps as I walk down rushes and heather. I love this turf-face, it's black incisions, the cooped secrets of process and ritual: -"Kinship
Seamus Heaney (North)
Don’t have the veins bulging in your biro.
Seamus Heaney
It is said that once upon a time St. Kevin was kneeling with his arms stretched out in the form of a cross in Glendalough. . . As Kevin knelt and prayed, a blackbird mistook his outstretched hand for some kind of roost and swooped down upon it, laid a clutch of eggs in it and proceeded to nest in it as if it were the branch of a tree. Then, overcome with pity and constrained by his faith to love all creatures great and small, Kevin stayed immobile for hours and days and nights and weeks, holding out his hand until the eggs hatched and the fledging grew wings, true to life if subversive of common sense, at the intersection of natural process and the glimpsed ideal, at one and the same time a signpost and a reminder. Manifesting that order of poetry where we can at last grow up to that which we stored up as we grew.
Seamus Heaney (Crediting Poetry: The Nobel Lecture)
The form of the poem, in other words, is crucial to poetry’s power to do the thing which always is and always will be to poetry’s credit: the power to persuade that vulnerable part of our consciousness of its rightness in spite of the evidence of wrongness all around it, the power to remind us that we are hunters and gatherers of values, that our very solitudes and distresses are creditable, in so far as they, too, are an earnest of our veritable human being.
Seamus Heaney (Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966-1996)
It has taken almost half my life away from Ireland for me to truly feel what home really is, and it is not what I was expecting. In the end it was not a place, or a past, or any sort of single, dazzling epiphany. It was all the little things. Cold butter spread thick on sweet wheaten bread or hot, subsiding potatoes; the scent of wet, black soil; a bushy spine of grass on a one-track road; wide iron gates leading to high beech corridors; the chalky smell of a cow's wet muzzle, and, most of all, in Seamus Heaney's words, the sound of rivers in the trees.
Trish Deseine (Home: Recipes from Ireland)
A landscape fossilized, It's stone-wall patternings Repeated before our eyes In the stone walls of Mayo. Before I turned to go He talked about persistence, A congruence of lives, How, stubbed and cleared of stones, His home accrued growth rings Of iron, flint and bronze - "Belderg
Seamus Heaney (North)
Postscript And some time make the time to drive out west Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore, In September or October, when the wind And the light are working off each other So that the ocean on one side is wild With foam and glitter, and inland among stones The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans, Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white, Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads Tucked or cresting or busy underwater. Useless to think you’ll park and capture it More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there, A hurry through which known and strange things pass As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.
Seamus Heaney
Human beings suffer. They torture one another They get hurt and they get hard. No poem or play or song Can fully right a wrong Inflicted and endured. History says, Don't hope On this side of the grave, But then, once in a lifetime The longed-for tidal wave Of justice can rise up And hope and history rhyme. So hope for a great sea-change On the far side of revenge. Believe that a farther shore Is reachable from here. Believe in miracles And cures and healing wells. Call miracle self-healing, The utter self-revealing Double-take of feeling. If there's fire on the mountain And lightening and storm And a god speaks from the sky That means someone is hearing The outcry and the birth-cry Of new life at its term. It means once in a lifetime That justice can rise up And hope and history rhyme.
Seamus Heaney (The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles' Philoctetes)
The ruinous deeds of the ravaging foe (Beowulf) The best-known long text in Old English is the epic poem Beowulf. Beowulf himself is a classic hero, who comes from afar. He has defeated the mortal enemy of the area - the monster Grendel - and has thus made the territory safe for its people. The people and the setting are both Germanic. The poem recalls a shared heroic past, somewhere in the general consciousness of the audience who would hear it. It starts with a mention of 'olden days', looking back, as many stories do, to an indefinite past ('once upon a time'), in which fact blends with fiction to make the tale. But the hero is a mortal man, and images of foreboding and doom prepare the way for a tragic outcome. He will be betrayed, and civil war will follow. Contrasts between splendour and destruction, success and failure, honour and betrayal, emerge in a story which contains a great many of the elements of future literature. Power, and the battles to achieve and hold on to power, are a main theme of literature in every culture - as is the theme of transience and mortality. ................ Beowulf can be read in many ways: as myth; as territorial history of the Baltic kingdoms in which it is set; as forward-looking reassurance. Questions of history, time and humanity are at the heart of it: it moves between past, present, and hope for the future, and shows its origins in oral tradition. It is full of human speech and sonorous images, and of the need to resolve and bring to fruition a proper human order, against the enemy - whatever it be - here symbolised by a monster and a dragon, among literature's earliest 'outsiders'. ....... Beowulf has always attracted readers, and perhaps never more than in the 1990s when at least two major poets, the Scot Edwin Morgan and the Irishman Seamus Heaney, retranslated it into modern English. Heaney's version became a worldwide bestseller, and won many awards, taking one of the earliest texts of English literature to a vast new audience.
Ronald Carter (The Routledge History of Literature in English: Britain and Ireland)
And you, Tacitus, observe how I make my grove on an old crannog piled by the fearful dead: a desolate peace. Our mother ground in sour with the blood of her faithful, they lie gargling in her sacred heart as the legions stare from the ramparts. Come back to this 'island of the ocean' where nothing will suffice. Read the inhumed faces of casualty and victim; report us fairly, how we slaughter for the common good and shave the heads of the notorious, how the goddess swallows our love and terror. - Kinship
Seamus Heaney (North)
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 (Opened Ground)
Did you ever hear tell,' said Jimmy Farrell, 'of the skulls they have in the city of Dublin? White skulls and black skulls and yellow skulls, and some with full teeth, and some haven't only but one,' and compounded history in the pan of 'an old Dane, maybe, was drowned in the Flood.' My words lick around cobbled quays, go hunting lightly as pampooties over the skull-capped ground. -Viking Dublin: Trial Pieces
Seamus Heaney (North)
Archibald MacLeish affirmed that ‘A poem should be equal to / not true’. As a defiant statement of poetry’s gift for telling truth but telling it slant, this is both cogent and corrective. Yet there are times when a deeper need enters, when we want the poem to be not only pleasurably right but compellingly wise, not only a surprising variation played upon the world, but a retuning of the world itself. We want the surprise to be transitive, like the impatient thump which unexpectedly restores the picture to the television set, or the electric shock which sets the fibrillating heart back to its proper rhythm. We want what the woman wanted in the prison queue in Leningrad, standing there blue with cold and whispering for fear, enduring the terror of Stalin’s regime and asking the poet Anna Akhmatova if she could describe it all, if her art could be equal to it.
Seamus Heaney (Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966-1996)
Mid-Term Break I sat all morning in the college sick bay Counting bells knelling classes to a close. At two o'clock our neighbours drove me home. In the porch I met my father crying— He had always taken funerals in his stride— And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow. The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram When I came in, and I was embarrassed By old men standing up to shake my hand And tell me they were 'sorry for my trouble'. Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest, Away at school, as my mother held my hand In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs. At ten o'clock the ambulance arrived With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses. Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him For the first time in six weeks. Paler now, Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple, He lay in the four-foot box as in his cot. No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear. A four-foot box, a foot for every year.
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
It is a great wonder How Almighty God in his magnificence Favors our race with rank and scope And the gift of wisdom; His sway is wide. Sometimes He allows the mind of a man Of distinguished birth to follow its bent, Grants him fulfillment and felicity on earth And forts to command in his own country. He permits him to lord it in many lands Until the man in his unthinkingness Forgets that it will ever end for him. He indulges his desires; illness and old age Mean nothing to him; his mind is untroubled By envy or malice or thought of enemies With their hate-honed swords. The whole world Conforms to his will, he is kept from the worst Until an element of overweening Enters him and takes hold While the soul’s guard, its sentry, drowses, Grown too distracted. A killer stalks him, An archer who draws a deadly bow. And then the man is hit in the heart, The arrow flies beneath his defenses, The devious promptings of the demon start. His old possessions seem paltry to him now. He covets and resents; dishonors custom And bestows no gold; and because of good things That the Heavenly powers gave him in the past He ignores the shape of things to come. Then finally the end arrives When the body he was lent collapses and falls Prey to its death; ancestral possessions And the goods he hoarded and inherited by another Who lets them go with a liberal hand. “O flower of warriors, beware of that trap. Choose, dear Beowulf, the better part, Eternal rewards. Do not give way to pride. For a brief while your strength is in bloom But it fades quickly; and soon there will follow Illness or the sword to lay you low, Or a sudden fire or surge of water Or jabbing blade or javelin from the air Or repellent age. Your piercing eye Will dim and darken; and death will arrive, Dear warrior, to sweep you away.
Seamus Heaney
I was six when I first saw kittens drown. Dan Taggart pitched them, ‘the scraggy wee shits’, Into a bucket; a frail metal sound, Soft paws scraping like mad. But their tiny din Was soon soused. They were slung on the snout Of the pump and the water pumped in. ‘Sure isn’t it better for them now?’ Dan said. Like wet gloves they bobbed and shone till he sluiced Them out on the dunghill, glossy and dead. Suddenly frightened, for days I sadly hung Round the yard, watching the three sogged remains Turn mealy and crisp as old summer dung Until I forgot them. But the fear came back When Dan trapped big rats, snared rabbits, shot crows Or, with a sickening tug, pulled old hens’ necks. Still, living displaces false sentiments And now, when shrill pups are prodded to drown, I just shrug, ‘Bloody pups’. It makes sense: ‘Prevention of cruelty’ talk cuts ice in town Where they consider death unnatural, But on well-run farms pests have to be kept down.
Seamus Heaney (Death of a Naturalist)