For a real treat, click the link* to hear the poem read aloud by the Mr. Heaney himself.
by Seamus Heaney
As a child, they could not keep me from wells
And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.
I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.
One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.
I savoured the rich crash when a bucket
Plummeted down at the end of a rope.
So deep you saw no reflection in it.
A shallow one under a dry stone ditch
Fructified like any aquarium.
When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch
A white face hovered over the bottom.
Others had echoes, gave back your own call
With a clean new music in it. And one
Was scaresome, for there, out of ferns and tall
Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.
Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,
To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.
This poem always makes me want to talk to other writers. Helicon is the mountain where the Muses made their home. Mr. Heaney speaks of finding his inspiration by probing the deep, dank places in the same way that he, as a child, explored the inky depths of forgotten wells. Sometimes, peering down into the darkness, he discovers his own reflection. Sometimes his voice comes back to him with a “clean new music” in it—that is the part that gets me. My own muse seldom lurks in the dark places (though I think my best book is the one in which certain experiences of loss and suffering informed my understanding of how Martha, as a mother, could experience terrible loss and not be crushed by it); for me, the “clean new music” rings from the eager faces of my children, my husband’s wry grin, the toes of a newborn, the cloud-shadows on our green hills.
Where is your personal Helicon?
*About the Internet Poetry Archive: “The University of North Carolina Press joins the UNC Office of Information Technology in publishing the Internet Poetry Archive. The archive makes available over a worldwide computer network selected poems from a number of contemporary poets. The goal of the project is to make poetry accessible to new audiences (at little or no cost) and to give teachers and students of poetry new ways of presenting and studying these poets and their texts.”
One of the treasures made available at this site is a recording and transcript of Seamus Heaney’s 1995 Nobel Lecture, “Crediting Poetry.” An excerpt:
To begin with, I wanted that truth to life to possess a concrete reliability, and rejoiced most when the poem seemed most direct, an upfront representation of the world it stood in for or stood up for or stood its ground against. Even as a schoolboy, I loved John Keats’s ode “To Autumn” for being an ark of the covenant between language and sensation; as an adolescent, I loved Gerard Manley Hopkins for the intensity of his exclamations which were also equations for a rapture and an ache I didn’t fully know I knew until I read him; I loved Robert Frost for his farmer’s accuracy and his wily down-to-earthness; and Chaucer too for much the same reasons. Later on I would find a different kind of accuracy, a moral down-to-earthness to which I responded deeply and always will, in the war poetry of Wilfred Owen, a poetry where a New Testament sensibility suffers and absorbs the shock of the new century’s barbarism. Then later again, in the pure consequence of Elizabeth Bishop’s style, in the sheer obduracy of Robert Lowell’s and in the barefaced confrontation of Patrick Kavanagh’s, I encountered further reasons for believing in poetry’s ability – and responsibility – to say what happens, to “pity the planet,” to be “not concerned with Poetry.”
More Poetry Friday contributions:
Big A little a
Fuse #8 Productions
The Simple and the Ordinary
bookshelves of doom
Jen Robinson’s Books Page—a poem by Emily of New Moon!
A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy
Once upon a time there was a girl who wanted to write
So Glad I’m Here
Blog from the Windowsill—I really enjoyed this review of two books about poetic form.
Did I miss anyone?
Poetry Friday: Moving
Commonplace Book: Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Poetry As Insurgent Art