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 ashplant, 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 lost 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 the poet, the Nobel laureate, the great. He died August 30, 2013. The world has felt his absence.