Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Duke Altum's Poem of the Week #6

I can't believe it's taken me until the sixth week to post a poem from the man who is not only (if I had to pick one) my favorite all-time poet, but is also the one who almost single-handedly got me interested in poetry in the first place... one of the most lauded and respected poets in the world, Nobel Prize for Literature winner in 1995... and how great is it that he comes from a small farm in County Derry in northern Ireland? Of course I'm talking about the great Seamus Heaney.

Heaney's work has been for me nothing short of revelatory, and this selection is a perfect example of why that's so. This is without a doubt one of my favorite poems; I love it for its simplicity, its celebration of the stuff of earth, its near-sacramental vision. So simple, but so very profound. Heaney's Catholicism is inseparable from his poetry, yet it's never heavy-handed: he lets "God's grandeur" speak for itself as he sits by, quietly observing, and then powerfully recording the messages he receives in pure, crystalline, vivid images.

It is nothing short of wondrous to me that a poet of this magnitude would express that all that he has ever done in his writing career is merely an extension of his childhood games and explorations. To me, there is both great wisdom and great humility in such an attitude. That is exactly the attitude I would like to have towards the world, towards the gift of my own life and every day I've been given therein. I only wish I could express my own feelings about what I've observed as eloquently and powerfully as Heaney does in just about every one of his poems. Expect to see a lot more of his work on this site! The last four lines of this poem are about as inspiring to me as any lines I've ever read in my life... I don't understand why and probably never will, but they literally thrill my soul...

(Note: "Helicon" refers to Mount Helicon, which in Greek mythology was the mountain on which the Muses lived -- the Muses being the nine goddesses who were reputed to be the divine spirits of inspiration.)


Personal Helicon

As a child, they could not keep me from wells
And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.
I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.

One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.
I savoured the rich crash when a bucket
Plummeted down at the end of a rope.
So deep you saw no reflection in it.

A shallow one under a dry stone ditch
Fructified like any aquarium.
When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch
A white face hovered over the bottom.

Others had echoes, gave back your own call
With a clean new music in it. And one
Was scaresome, for there, out of ferns and tall
Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.

Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,
To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.

1 comment:

Mutt Ploughman said...

Another great poem, Duke. How'd you wait this long to put Heaney up here? Duke's been a huge Seamus Heaney fan for a while, sharing this with Billy Clinton (that's about all the shared ground there is, by the way). This poem in particular resonates pretty hard with Duke, and I remember him sharing this with me a while back on a web site in which you can hear Heaney read it (audio file) in his brogue, which certainly makes a difference, as it does with most poems. As Duke mentioned, Seamus Heaney seems to use 'remembered things', as I've heard him put it, in his poetry to represent the ongoing, self-perpetuating poet's task of exploring the world and its Maker, processing it, and uncovering the designs and truth woven in and through every created thing. That last line of this poem is a fabulous one, isn't it? You can practically HEAR the echoes. That's what you want in a poem. A resonance, a kind of lingering music, that keeps on ringing out even when you're no longer looking at the words. I suck at writing well about poetry, and God forbid I try to write poems (youthful attempts produced howlers, much UNLIKE Duke, by the way), but this is what this sort of thing does for me.