wildfillysama: Poets and What They’re Good For – 1

I spend a lot of time reading, writing, and ranting about poetry. Sometimes I even get paid for it. As a result, I have read a lot of different poets and have varied opinions on a large range of poetic styles, themes, and structures. Some of these haven’t even resulted in bloodshed.

This will be a series of “Poets and What They’re Good For” posts. The first poet I’ll look at is 20th-21st century Irish man, Seamus Heaney.

Things that Heaney likes: Ireland, Irish history, bogs, people preserved in bogs, plants, ancient animals.

Thing that Heaney dislikes: violence in Ireland, conquests, people who don’t like Ireland. Also not mad keen on Britain’s history with Ireland, to put it lightly.

Things that are cool about Heaney’s poetry: He uses simple, direct language and traditional poetry styles. He writes about human sacrifices who were preserved in Ireland’s ancient peat bogs. He writes about how he has changed as a person, and has a good sense of humour about it. He writes about ominous futures due to early violence. He can give you shivers.

Some good poems: Seamus Heaney is known for his “bog” poems, so I have put an example of two of these here: one looks at Irish history, “Bogland”, and one looks at the “The Tollund Man”, a body preserved in the bog. He is also good at expressing his decision to become a poet and how this changed his life. Two great poems that look at this are “Digging”, looking at the history of his family and how his decision to become a poet interacts with this, and “Personal Helicon”, which addresses how Heaney’s persona sees poetry writing. Enjoy!



For T.P. Flanagan

We have no prairies

To slice a big sun at evening –

Everywhere the eye concedes to

Encroaching horizon,


Is wooed into the cyclop’s eye

Of a tarn. Our unfenced country

Is bog that keeps crusting

Between the sights of the sun.


They’ve taken the skeleton

Of the Great Irish Elk

Out of the peat, set it up

An astounding crate full of air.


Butter sunk under

More than a hundred years

Was recovered salty and white.

The ground itself is kind, black butter


Melting and opening underfoot,

Missing its last definition

By millions of years.

They’ll never dig coal here,


Only the waterlogged trunks

Of great firs, soft as pulp.

Our pioneers keep striking

Inwards and downwards,


Every layer they strip

Seems camped on before.

The bogholes might be Atlantic seepage.

The wet centre is bottomless.


The Tollund Man


Some day I will go to Aarhus

To see his peat-brown head,

The mild pods of his eye-lids,

His pointed skin cap.


In the flat country near by

Where they dug him out,

His last gruel of winter seeds

Caked in his stomach,


Naked except for

The cap, noose and girdle,

I will stand a long time.

Bridegroom to the goddess,


She tightened her torc on him

And opened her fen,

Those dark juices working

Him to a saint’s kept body,


Trove of the turfcutters’

Honeycombed workings.

How his stained face

Reposes at Aarhus.


I could risk blasphemy,

Consecrate the cauldron bog

Our holy ground and pray

Him to make germinate


The scattered, ambushed

Flesh of labourers,

Stockinged corpses

Laid out in the farmyards,


Tell-tale skin and teeth

Flecking the sleepers

Of four young brothers, trailed

For miles along the lines.


Something of his sad freedom

As he rode the tumbril

Should come to me, driving,

Saying the names


Tollund, Grabaulle, Nebelgard,

Watching the pointing hands

Of country people,

Not knowing their tongue.


Out there in Jutland

In the old man-killing parishes

I will feel lost,

Unhappy and at home.



Between my finger and my thumb

The squat men rests; snug as a gun.


Under my window, a clean rasping sound

When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:

My father, digging, I look down


Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds

Bends low, comes up twenty years away

Stooping in rhythm through potato drills

Where he was digging.


The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft

Against the inside knee was levered firmly.

He rooted out tall tops, buried the bridge edge deep

To scatter new potatoes that we picked

Loving their cool hardness in our hands.


By God, the old man could handle a spade.

Just like his old man.


My grandfather cut more turf in a day

Than any other man on Toner’s bog.

Once I carried him milk in a bottle

Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up

To drink it, then fell to right away

Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods

Over his shoulder, going down and down

For the good turf. Digging.


The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap

Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge

Through living roots awaken in my head.

But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.


Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests.

I’ll dig with it.


Personal Helicon

For Michael Longley

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.


All poetry has been quoted from Seamus Heaney’s New Selected Poems 1966-1987. Hope that you enjoyed these!

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