Every other Sunday we’ll be bringing you great poetry in a relaunched Dabbler Verse feature (alternating with Mahlerman’s Lazy Sunday music posts). For this first post we welcome the wonderful blogger Stephen Pentz to The Dabbler…
Sometimes the fact that a certain person is simply there in the world — as a presence, an example, an inspiration — is a matter of great significance. We often take their presence for granted. And then they are gone. But Seamus Heaney will never be gone from the world, will he?
And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.
Seamus Heaney – from The Spirit Level (Faber and Faber 1996)
‘Postscript‘ is paired in my mind with an earlier poem of Heaney’s, ‘The Peninsula’. I think that I am fond of the two poems because they remind me of a long-ago autumn day — clear, windy, and charmed — spent driving along the west coast of the Isle of Skye.
It was one of those unwonted days (we all have them) when you realize at the time that you will never forget what passes. This realization is accompanied (for me, at least) by a poignant pang. At what? You know: the relentless and remorseless march of time and all that…But enough. The day will never disappear.
When you have nothing more to say, just drive
For a day all round the peninsula.
The sky is tall as over a runway,
The land without marks, so you will not arrive
But pass through, though always skirting landfall.
At dusk, horizons drink down sea and hill,
The ploughed field swallows the whitewashed gable
And you’re in the dark again. Now recall
The glazed foreshore and silhouetted log,
That rock where breakers shredded into rags,
The leggy birds stilted on their own legs,
Islands riding themselves out into the fog,
And drive back home, still with nothing to say
Except that now you will uncode all landscapes
By this: things founded clean on their own shapes,
Water and ground in their extremity.
Seamus Heaney – from Door into the Dark (Faber and Faber 1969)
The idea that certain landscapes seen on certain days end up staying with us, and thereafter serve as a sort of reference point throughout our lives, is one that Derek Mahon has considered as well. The following poem was first published in 1968. Thus, it is not unlikely that Mahon and Heaney were separately writing along similar lines within a year or so of each other.
Thinking of Inis Oirr in Cambridge, Mass.
A dream of limestone in sea-light
Where gulls have placed their perfect prints.
Reflection in that final sky
Shames vision into simple sight;
Into pure sense, experience.
Atlantic leagues away tonight,
Conceived beyond such innocence,
I clutch the memory still, and I
Have measured everything with it since.
Derek Mahon – from Collected Poems (1999).
(The poem first appeared in Mahon’s Night-Crossing (1968) under the title “Recalling Aran.” Inis Oirr (anglicized as “Inisheer”) is one of the Aran Islands.)
Stephen Pentz curates poems and pictures at the First Known When Lost blog.