This morning I read on my NY Times News Update that Seamus Heaney died today.
I didn't ever meet him. Never knew him or his kin. But I felt he was a friend the first time I opened up a book of his poetry and dove in.
Philip had purchased the volume long ago on a journey to Ireland. I loved that the paperback had a faded pricetag with pounds instead of dollars. It was a bit beat up, I would hold it and think of the miles it had traveled, and the moments of joy it gave Philip as he adventured. And me as I adventured, mothering and farming.
A few years ago I loaned that book to someone, to share the wealth, and then promptly forgot the who. I searched up and down the house for the slim, paperback volume, as on occasion I had deep need to read about digging potatoes and crashing waves and blackberries. I never did locate the book, but would find plenty of poetry websites online to help.
What is it about poetry? Why does someone else's words grab me by the heart, cause my breath to catch? How could he know how I felt about blackberries and things that don't last?
I will share a couple of my favorites with you. And by the way, I have missed you guys! I think I am about ready to get back to blogging, so be prepared!
But for the moment, let's remember Seamus. Slainte. Thank you for sharing your craft with us. Oh, how your words have moved me.
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.
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.
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.
Lovers on Aran
The timeless waves, bright, sifting, broken glass,
Came dazzling around, into the rocks,
Came glinting, sifting from the Americas
To posess Aran.
Or did Aran rush to throw wide arms of rock around a tide
That yielded with an ebb, with a soft crash?
Did sea define the land or land the sea?
Each drew new meaning from the waves' collision.
Sea broke on land to full identity.
Seamus Heaney April 13, 1939-August 30, 2013