Jump to content
Poetry Magnum Opus

Death of a Naturalist


Recommended Posts




Seamus Heaney (1939 – 2013)


All year the flax-dam festered in the heart

Of the townland; green and heavy headed

Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.

Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun.

Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles

Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.


And you walked among us and said nothing,

with your public stare,

and your private thoughts of getting home to Belfast

whee you were nothing but a stranger.


We have no prairies

To slice a big sun at evening--

Everywhere the eye concedes to

Encrouching horizon,


Is wooed into the cyclops' eye

Of a tarn. Our unfenced country

Is bog that keeps crusting

Between the sights of the sun.


They've taken the skeleton

Of the Great Irish Elk

Out of the peat, set it up

An astounding crate full of air.


Butter sunk under

More than a hundred years

Was recovered salty and white.

The ground itself is kind, black butter


Melting and opening underfoot,

Missing its last definition

By millions of years.

They'll never dig coal here,


You were true and tied to the North,

the isolated hills and glens,

where one day your Protestant neighbours

might come and murder you in your beds.


He would drink by himself

And raise a weathered thumb

Towards the high shelf,

Calling another rum

And blackcurrant, without

Having to raise his voice,

Or order a quick stout

By a lifting of the eyes

And a discreet dumb-show

Of pulling off the top;

At closing time would go

In waders and peaked cap

Into the showery dark,

A dole-kept breadwinner

But a natural for work.

I loved his whole manner,

Sure-footed but too sly,

His deadpan sidling tact,

His fisherman's quick eye

And turned observant back.



To him, my other life.

Sometimes on the high stool,

Too busy with his knife

At a tobacco plug

And not meeting my eye,

In the pause after a slug

He mentioned poetry.

We would be on our own

And, always politic

And shy of condescension,

I would manage by some trick

To switch the talk to eels

Or lore of the horse and cart

Or the Provisionals.


But my tentative art

His turned back watches too:

He was blown to bits

Out drinking in a curfew

Others obeyed, three nights

After they shot dead

The thirteen men in Derry.

PARAS THIRTEEN, the walls said,

BOGSIDE NIL. That Wednesday

Everyone held

His breath and trembled.




It was a day of cold

Raw silence, wind-blown

Surplice and soutane:

Rained-on, flower-laden

Coffin after coffin

Seemed to float from the door

Of the packed cathedral

Like blossoms on slow water.

The common funeral

Unrolled its swaddling band,

Lapping, tightening

Till we were braced and bound

Like brothers in a ring.


But he would not be held

At home by his own crowd

Whatever threats were phoned,

Whatever black flags waved.

I see him as he turned

In that bombed offending place,

Remorse fused with terror

In his still knowable face,

His cornered outfaced stare

Blinding in the flash.


He had gone miles away

For he drank like a fish

Nightly, naturally

Swimming towards the lure

Of warm lit-up places,

The blurred mesh and murmur

Drifting among glasses

In the gregarious smoke.

How culpable was he

That last night when he broke

Our tribe's complicity?

'Now, you're supposed to be

An educated man, '

I hear him say. 'Puzzle me

The right answer to that one.'


And that was the way it was;

I remember, and there were no second chances

and we all had our ears cocked

for the sound of the second shoe


falling, or not falling

on the floor. The lads

would rush in with guns

and either shoot or apologize

to one-legged men.




To-night, a first movement, a pulse,

As if the rain in bogland gathered head

To slip and flood: a bog-burst,

A gash breaking open the ferny bed.

Your back is a firm line of eastern coast

And arms and legs are thrown

Beyond your gradual hills. I caress

The heaving province where our past has grown.

I am the tall kingdom over your shoulder

That you would neither cajole nor ignore.

Conquest is a lie. I grow older

Conceding your half-independant shore

Within whose borders now my legacy

Culminates inexorably.




And I am still imperially

Male, leaving you with pain,

The rending process in the colony,

The battering ram, the boom burst from within.

The act sprouted an obsinate fifth column

Whose stance is growing unilateral.

His heart beneath your heart is a wardrum

Mustering force. His parasitical

And ignorant little fists already

Beat at your borders and I know they're cocked

At me across the water. No treaty

I foresee will salve completely your tracked

And stretchmarked body, the big pain

That leaves you raw, like opened ground, again.


The same old thing, the same old thing,

how many times do we have to tell you

until the patience runs out and leaves only air?

That’s when the guns come out, and the bombs,

and clumsy murder known as war.


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.



And I look down,

with a nation inclining their heads behind me,

for we truly mourn your loss,

O Seamus a chara!

Like the great fíli Yeats before you,

you held up a mirror to our land and people

to show the world,

and to show ourrselves.

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 months later...
  • 4 weeks later...
  • 3 years later...
Terry L shuff

This is truely astounding,  I will read this tribute slowly and learn to really understand.  admittedly it will take time.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • tonyv unpinned this topic

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Guidelines.