Personal Helicon

March 9, 2007 at 8:22 pm 2 comments

Seamus Heaney

Listen (to Mystery Cat read)

Listen (to Heaney read)

for Michael Longley

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.

Mystery Cat writes,

“I was just trawling through old posts to while away a lazy Sunday morning, when I noticed there’s no Heaney on the site! I recorded Personal Helicon out of memory and then found this link, along with a (presumably much better) reading by the poet. Unfortunately the Heaney reading won’t play on my computer, so I’m attaching my version too.

The poem is one I remember from many years ago and it’s always stayed with me. In terms of style and content, it’s a pretty typical poem. The first four stanzas are a lovely example of how the simplest words can be expertly used to evoke vivid imagery in the mind of the reader. Yet, what really stands out for me is the way the last stanza effortlessly transforms the poem from a personal reminiscene into a surprisingly eloquent statement of the poet’s muse. The abrupt change of tone in this last stanza and its effect on the peom are really quite stunning. Lovely little work from a master.”


‘Heaney’s work often deals with the local — that is, his surroundings and everything inclusive of them. Inevitably this means Ireland, and particularly Northern Ireland. Hints of sectarian violence, which began just as his writing career did, can be found in many of his poems, even works that on the surface appear to deal with something else. Despite his many travels much of his work appears to be set in rural Londonderry, the county of his childhood. Like the Troubles themselves, Heaney’s work is deeply associated with the lessons of history, sometimes even prehistory. Many of his works concern his own family history and focus on characters in his own family: they can be read as elegies for those family members. He has acknowledged this trend.

The Anglo-Saxon influences in his work are also noteworthy, his university study of the language having had a profound effect on his work. It also led to a small revival of interest in the verse forms of Anglo-Saxon poetry amongst a number of poets influenced by Heaney. He has also written critically well-regarded essays and two plays. His essays, among other things, have been credited with beginning the critical re-examination of Thomas Hardy. His anthologies (edited with friend Ted Hughes), The Rattle Bag, and The School Bag, are used extensively in schools in the U.K. and elsewhere. Heaney’s collection District and Circle won the 2006 T. S. Eliot Prize.’ – wiki

His Nobel Lecture (1995), titled ‘Crediting Poetry’.

Some more of Heaney’s readings at the Poetry Archive.



Entry filed under: Black Mamba, English, Mystery Cat, Seamus Heaney.

God’s Grandeur She Walks in Beauty

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. raqqash  |  March 17, 2007 at 9:57 pm

    I love heaney, he’s simply fantastic. He knows how to ring clear and true, with simple words and effective images, available to touch every soul. Thanks a lot

  • 2. Pura Grimlie  |  July 7, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    Good information. Now that is what I really like. Hope everyone is having a wonderful day!


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