I returned to a long strand, the hammered curve of a bay,    and found only the secular powers of the Atlantic thundering.
I faced the unmagical invitations of Iceland, the pathetic colonies of Greenland, and suddenly
those fabulous raiders, those lying in Orkney and Dublin    measured against their long swords rusting,
those in the solid belly of stone ships, those hacked and glinting in the gravel of thawed streams
were ocean-deafened voices warning me, lifted again in violence and epiphany. The longship’s swimming tongue
was buoyant with hindsight— it said Thor’s hammer swung to geography and trade, thick-witted couplings and revenges,
the hatreds and behind-backs of the althing, lies and women,    exhaustions nominated peace,    memory incubating the spilled blood.
It said, ‘Lie down in the word-hoard, burrow    the coil and gleam of your furrowed brain.
Compose in darkness.    Expect aurora borealis    in the long foray but no cascade of light.
Keep your eye clear as the bleb of the icicle, trust the feel of what nubbed treasure    your hands have known.’

Seamus Heaney, photographed in 1989 by North Irish photographer Bobbie Hanvey. Heaney is apparently one of Hanvey’s most photographed subjects, with more than 1,000 portraits taken.

In this photograph, Heaney is standing in a field of peat turves in Bellaghy, in County Londonderry, where he lived at the time. He is wearing his father’s coat, hat, and using his father’s walking stick.

RIP Seamus Heaney

from The Tollund Man in Springtime

“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.

Recently voted Ireland’s best loved poem of the past 100 years, commonly titled ‘When all the others were away at Mass’ is a poem in which the poet, Seamus Heaney, evokes the memory of his mother in a way only Heaney could. Not since Shakespeare has there been a more perfect sonnet. #MothersDay #Poetry #SeamusHeaney #IrishLit #APoemForIreland

Seamus Heaney's Beowulf, Or, Why Anglo-Saxon Poetry and Not Anyone Elses'?

I just recently finished reading Seamus Heaney’s magnificent translation of Beowulf (in case you can’t tell, I highly recommend it), and as I read, I was continually bothered by this question: Why Beowulf? There are plenty of suitable ancient/pre-Medieval poems out there. You may have read some of them. But for some reason, the one which every student EVER has been forced to read at some point is Beowulf. This is not a put down on Beowulf, mind you. It’s just unusual.

Why do English departments around the world have a particular bias towards Anglo-Saxon literature, and this one in particular? Maybe because it’s rare. There is only one copy of it, and it resides at the British Library. All other copies disappeared, and the one we have almost burned in a library fire. So is that it? Is it because it’s so rare and valuable that we keep making children read about the fighting prowess of Beowulf and the War-Geats?

According to Heaney’s introduction, reading Beowulf in school goes back to the tradition at British schools such as Oxford and Cambridge of having students translate the poem from the original Anglo-Saxon into English. This gives the reader a firmer grasp and appreciation for the language of the time and the poetic form of the story. Which leads me back to my original question: Why Beowulf?

I turn to Heaney himself to answer the question: “…the poem,” he says in the Introduction, “possesses a mythic potency. Like Shield Sheafson [the mythic founder of the Danish line of kings]…it arrives from somewhere beyond the known bourne of our experience, and having fulfilled its purpose (again like Shield), it passes once more into the beyond” (ix).

I guess that settles it.

Seamus Heaney Memorial Reading

Don’t miss Workshop poetry faculty members James Galvin, Mark Levine, Richard Kenney, Michele Glazer, and IWP resident and Irish poet Martin Dyar pay tribute to the late Irish poet Tuesday October 8 at the Phillips Hall auditorium from 8-10 pm.

I seen this man last night pouring whiskey over the grave of Seamus Heaney, I’m not sure if its a tradition. I was gutted I didn’t have my flash gun or my camera to get a shot, but I grabbed the next best thing, my phone. I also witnessed another person pouring whiskey just after the burial beside the grave and didn’t get the shot in time… I witnessed something cool anyway!! #seamusheaney #bellaghy #poet


Today I share with you a poem I fell in love with in 12th grade English. I don’t know if I fell in love with it because of the delectable imagery or because, at a fundamental Christian school, my teacher didn’t appreciate, or approve of my analysis that the first half of the poem had a sexually lustful undertone. Nor did she think it was valid.


Blackberry-Picking by Seamus Heaney

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.