Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Duke Altum's Poem of the Week #32

Last week found me in Nashville on business, so I was not able to put up a poem... this is the one I meant to put up. Partially in celebration of the opportunity I had a few weeks' back to see him read live, and partially because his work is always worth visiting and reflecting upon, I give you another great poem from Seamus Heaney.

This one is from his second poetry collection, Door into the Dark, and as you can see it is the poem that provided the book's title. In classic Heaney style, it is a powerful childhood reminscence that carries along with it deeper and more universal meanings/themes. That line, "All I know is a door into the dark," has intrigued me from the first moment I read it (long before I knew what it referred to). I had to good fortune of hearing him read this very poem at the recent evening, which of course, coupled with his fascinating explanation of certain lines, gave it an even stronger resonance with me. The road over which the blacksmith gazes from the door jamb, recalling a traffic sounding with "a clatter of hoofs," was the same road on which, Heaney explained, his younger brother was struck by a car and killed just a few years later (an event explored in the heartbreaking poem "Mid-Term Break" from his debut collection).


The Forge

All I know is a door into the dark.
Outside, old axles and iron hoops rusting;
Inside, the hammered anvil's short pitched ring,
The unpredictable fantail of sparks
Or hiss when the new shoe toughens in water.
The anvil must be somewhere in the centre,
Horned as a unicorn, at one end square,
Set there immoveable: an altar
Where he expends himself in shape and music,
Sometimes, leather-aproned, hairs in his nose,
He leans out on the jamb, recalls a clatter
of hoofs where traffic is flashing in rows;
Then grunts and goes in, with a slam and flick
To beat real iron out, to work the bellows.

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