For Friends interested in Seamus Heaney’s Bog Poems

Check out this interview at the Paris Review. It’s not specifically about the bog poems until somewhere in the middle, and afterward it meanders away to other subjects, but it’s fascinating all the way through. There’s an unusual range of questions (from the excellent, “Do you feel the poet has an obligation at a politically difficult time?” to the awful, “if you could be an animal, what would it be?”).

Also, beg, steal, or borrow to get the District and Circle collection, just for “The Tollund Man in Springtime” sonnets. Here are two to whet your appetite:

‘The soul exceeds its circumstances.’ Yes.
History not to be granted the last word
Or the first claim … In the end I gathered
From the display-case peat my staying powers,
Told my webbed wrists to be like silver birches,
My old uncallused hands to be young sward,
The spade-cut skin to heal, and got restored
By telling myself this. Late as it was,
The early bird still sang, the meadow hay
Still buttercupped and daisied, sky was new.
I smelled the air, exhaust fumes, silage reek,
Heard from my heather bed the thickened traffic
Swarm at a roundabout five fields away
And transatlantic flights stacked in the blue.


Cattle out in rain, their knowledgeable
Solid standing and readiness to wait,
These I learned from. My study was the wet,
My head as washy as a head of kale,
Shedding water like the flanks and tail
Of every dumb beast sunk above the cloot
In trampled gaps, bringing their heavyweight
Silence to bear on nosed-at sludge and puddle.
Of another world, unlearnable, and so
To be lived by, whatever it was I knew
Came back to me. Newfound contrariness.
In check-out lines, at cash-points, in those queues
Of wired, far-faced smilers, I stood off,
Bulrush, head in air, far from its lough.


What does it mean for an Irish person to tell his webbed wrists to be like silver birches, I wonder?  Or to tell yourself to heal?


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