Station Island, Part XII

In Poetry on December 4, 2015 at 9:09 am


Like a convalescent, I took the hand

stretched down from the jetty, sensed again

an alien comfort as I stepped on ground


to find the helping hand still gripping mine,

fish-cold and bony, but whether to guide

or to be guided I could not be certain


for the tall man in step at my side

seemed blind, though he walked straight as a rush

upon his ash plant, his eyes fixed straight ahead.


Then I knew him in the flesh

out there on the tarmac among the cars,

wintered hard and sharp as a blackthorn bush.


His voice eddying with the vowels of all rivers

came back to me, though he did not speak yet,

a voice like a prosecutor’s or a singer’s,


Cunning, narcotic, mimic, definite

as a steel nib’s downstroke, quick and clean,

and suddenly he hit a litter basket


with his stick, saying, ‘Your obligation

is not discharged by any common rite.

What you do you must do on your own.


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. And don’t be so earnest,


so ready for the sackcloth and the ashes.

Let go, let fly, forget.

You’ve listened long enough. Now strike  your note.’


It was as if I had stepped free into space

alone with nothing that I had not known

already. Raindrops blew in my face


as I came to and heard the harangue and jeers

going on and on. ‘The English language

belongs to us. You are raking at dead fires,


rehearsing the old whinges at your age.

That subject  people stuff is a cod’s game,

infantile, like this peasant pilgrimage.


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,

echo-soundings, searches, probes, allurements,


elver-gleams in the dark of the whole sea.’

The shower broke in a cloudburst, the tarmac

fumed and sizzled. As he moved off quickly


the downpour loosed its screens round his straight walk.

Seamus Heaney,

Part XII of Station Island


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