Thursday, July 22, 2010

North

I'm reading Selected Poems 1966-1987 by Seamus Heaney now, and really loving it. In particular, I've loved his selections from North, most of which are cold, salty, and focused on the bogland. His most famous of these poems is Bog Queen, but I'm fondest of "Strange Fruit" and "The Grauballe Man." The titular poem, reproduced below, touches the foreign and the local (at least for Heaney) in the most wonderful way. I can't wait to get my hands on the entire book.


North
by Seamus Heaney

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.’

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