from Glanmore Sonnets (Seamus Heaney)

July 14, 2009


Vowels ploughed into other: opened ground.
The mildest February for twenty years
Is mist bands over furrows, a deep no sound
Vulnerable to distant gargling tractors.
Our road is steaming, the turned-up acres breathe.
Now the good life could be to cross a field
And art a paradigm of earth new from the lathe
Of ploughs. My lea is deeply tilled.
Old ploughsocks gorge the subsoil of each sense
And I am quickened with a redolence
Of farmland as a dark unblown rose.
Wait then…Breasting the mist, in sowers’ aprons,
My ghosts come striding into their spring stations.
The dream grain whirls like freakish Easter snows.


I dreamt we slept in a moss in Donegal
On turf banks under blankets, with our faces
Exposed all night in a wetting drizzle,
Pallid as the dripping sapling birches.
Lorenzo and Jessica in a cold climate.
Diarmuid and Grainne waiting to be found.
Darkly asperged and censed, we were laid out
Like breathing effigies on a raised ground.
And in that dream I dreamt—how like you this?—
Our first night years ago in that hotel
When you came with your deliberate kiss
To raise us towards the lovely and painful
Covenants of flesh; our separateness;
The respite in our dewy dreaming faces.


The “Glanmore Sonnets” are a cycle of ten odes (Heaney called them “marriage poems”) that are every one of them marvelous. They first appeared in a little book called Field Work. Here are the first and last from that cycle. If you care to read the rest, you can find the full text here. On moving to Glanmore, Heaney once told an interviewer: “I wanted the kids to have that sort of wild animal live that I had. They were like little rodents through the hedges…I wanted that eye-level-life with the backs of ditches, the ferns and the smell of cow dung, and I suppose I didn’t want to lose that in myself.”

Like Wordsworth, Heaney was drawn to hallowed places, and their sentience. Glanmore is the estate in County Wicklow where he took his family in 1972 to escape the troubles of Ulster, as well as (perhaps) some of his own inner struggles. In Glanmore Heaney hoped, as the first line of the poem seems to indicate, to open new ground in his own writing.

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