Ecce Seamus Heaney reading lines from Paradise Lost.
Seamus Heaney reads “Death of a Naturalist.”
Glanmore Sonnet X
I dreamt we slept in a moss in Donegal
On turf banks under blankets, with our faces
Exposed all night in a wetting drizzle,
Pallid as the dripping sapling birches.
Lorenzo and Jessica in a cold climates.
Diarmuid and Grainne waiting to be found.
Darkly asperged and censed, we were laid out
Like breathing effigies on a raised ground.
And in that dream I dreamt — how like you this? —
Our first night years ago in that hotel
When you came with your deliberate kiss
To raises us towards the lovely and painful
Convenants of flesh; our seperateness;
The respite in our dewy dreaming faces.
(From Field Work)
Humpday Power Quote: Beowulf (Heaney trans.)
So learn from this and understand true values.
I who tell you this have wintered into wisdom.
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 the 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 to 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 defences, the devious promptings
of the demon start. His old possessions seem paltry to him now.
He covets and resents, dishonours 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 passions and
the goods he has hoarded are 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 repellant age. Your piercing eye will dim and
darken, and death will arrive, dear warrior, to sweep you away.
— Beowulf, Seamus Heaney translation
Seamus Heaney, “In the Attic”
Like Jim Hawkins aloft in the crosstrees
Of Hispaniola, nothing underneath
But still green water and clean bottom sand,
The ship aground, the canted mast far out
Above a seafloor where striped fish pass in shoals—
And when they’ve passed, the face of Israel Hands
That rose in the shrouds before Jim shot him dead
Appears to rise again… “But he was dead enough,”
The story says, “being both shot and drowned.”
A birch tree planted twenty years ago
Comes between the Irish Sea and me
At the attic skylight, a man marooned
In his own loft, a boy
Shipshaped in the crow’s nest of a life,
Airbrushed to and fro, wind-drunk, braced
By all that’s thrumming up from keel to masthead,
Rubbing his eyes to believe them and this most
Buoyant, billowy, topgallant birch
Ghost-footing what was then the terra firma
Of hallway linoleum, Grandfather now appears
Above me just back from the matinee,
His voice awaver like the draft-prone screen
They’d set up in the Club Rooms earlier.
“And Isaac Hands,” he asks, “was Isaac in it?
His memory of the name awaver, too,
His mistake perpetual, once and for all,
Like the single splash when Israel’s body fell.
As I age and blank on names,
As my uncertainty on stairs
Is more and more the light-headedness
Of a cabin boy’s first time on the rigging,
As the memorable bottoms out
Into the irretrievable,
It’s not that I can’t imagine still
That slight untoward rupture and world-tilt
As a wind freshened and the anchor weighed.
From Human Chain. © Faber & Faber, 2010.