Sunday, January 29, 2006

Poem #4: Exposure

It is December in Wicklow:
Alders dripping, birches
Inheriting the last light,
The ash tree cold to look at.

A comet that was lost
Should be visible at sunset,
Those million tons of light
Like a glimmer of haws and rose-hips,

And I sometimes see a falling star.
If I could come on meteorite!
Instead, I walk through damp leaves,
Husks, the spent flukes of autumn,

Imagining a hero
On some muddy compound,
His gift like a slingstone
Whirled for the desperate.

How did I end up like this?
I often think of my friends'
Beautiful prismatic counselling
And the anvil brains of some who hate me

As I sit weighing and weighing
My responsible tristia.
For what? For the ear? For the people?
For what is said behind-backs?

Rain comes down through the alders,
Its low conducive voices
Mutter about let-downs and erosions
And yet each drop recalls

The diamond absolutes.
I am neither internee nor informer;
An inner émigré, a grown long-haired
And thoughtful; a wood-kerne

Escaped from the massacre,
Taking protective colouring
From bole and bark, feeling
Every wind that blows;

Who, blowing up these sparks
For their meagre heat, have missed
The once in a lifetime portent,
The comet's pulsing rose.

- Seamus Heaney

6 Comments:

At 4:19 PM, Blogger Crawdad said...

In his speech to receive the Nobel Prize for literature, Seamus Heaney discussed writing this poem, saying:

"In such circumstances, the mind still longs to repose in what Samuel Johnson once called with superb confidence "the stability of truth", even as it recognizes the destabilizing nature of its own operations and enquiries. Without needing to be theoretically instructed, consciousness quickly realizes that it is the site of variously contending discourses. The child in the bedroom, listening simultaneously to the domestic idiom of his Irish home and the official idioms of the British broadcaster while picking up from behind both the signals of some other distress, that child was already being schooled for the complexities of his adult predicament, a future where he would have to adjudicate among promptings variously ethical, aesthetical, moral, political, metrical, sceptical, cultural, topical, typical, post-colonial and, taken all together, simply impossible. So it was that I found myself in the mid-nineteen seventies in another small house, this time in Co. Wicklow south of Dublin, with a young family of my own and a slightly less imposing radio set, listening to the rain in the trees and to the news of bombings closer to home-not only those by the Provisional IRA in Belfast but equally atrocious assaults in Dublin by loyalist paramilitaries from the north. Feeling puny in my predicaments as I read about the tragic logic of Osip Mandelstam's fate in the 1930s, feeling challenged yet steadfast in my noncombatant status when I heard, for example, that one particularly sweetnatured school friend had been interned without trial because he was suspected of having been involved in a political killing. What I was longing for was not quite stability but an active escape from the quicksand of relativism, a way of crediting poetry without anxiety or apology."

I'm not sure I understand this poem or his explanation fully, but I appreciated what I did get. And even on just the language level, I liked this poem. The more I let it steep, the more I thought it resonated...

 
At 4:09 AM, Anonymous shrinkwrap said...

Comment? Don't know what to say, maybe it is beyond me. Maybe most of us haven't lived through that kind of experience. Interesting. Interesting, too, is your choice of poetry! Keep it up!

 
At 1:09 AM, Blogger Alizarin said...

His experience does seem pretty severe, and unfortunately for the Irish (and everyone) it seems pretty easily achieved.

I liked his contrasts of the fleeting and lowly with the celestial and absolute. Surrounded by his melancholy, the contrast is both bitterly humbling and sustaining. My favorite line is the one starting with "Rain comes down through the alders..."

Although, the contrast between "beautiful prismatic counseling" and "anvil brains" is pretty intense too. Two succinct images for the way people think.

I learned that the "tristia" is a series of mournful poems by Ovid while in exile. They're in the elegiac couplet, which I tried to make fit with Heaney's meter, but I couldn't quite. It has that same solemnity. (This seemingly-learned reference brought to you by Wikipedia!)

 
At 3:32 AM, Blogger Alizarin said...

Heyyy Duso ... Come on out ...

 
At 11:20 PM, Blogger Crawdad said...

I just wanted to note that I was singing that exact same song (Duso...) the other day, thinking about how I needed to update the blog. I actually thought, who else in the world could still remember that song? Of course you would!

 
At 3:24 AM, Blogger Alizarin said...

I related the Duso story to Pseudonymous Girlfriend the other day, including one 4th-grader's false, base indictment....

 

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