Glanmore Revisited (Seamus Heaney)

July 20, 2009

I. Scrabble
in memoriam Tom Delaney, archaeologist

Bare flags. Pump water. Winter-evening cold.
Our backs might never warm up but our faces
Burned from the hearth-blaze and the hot whiskeys.
It felt remembered even then, an old
Rightness half-imagined or foretold.
As green sticks hissed and spat into the ashes
And whatever rampaged out there couldn’t reach us,
Firelit, shuttered, slated and stone-walled.

Year after year, our game of Scrabble: love
Taken for granted like any other word
That was chanced on and allowed within the rules.
So “scrabble” let it be. Intransitive.
Meaning to scratch or rake at something hard.
Which is what he hears. Our scraping, clinking tools.

II. The Cot

Scythe and axe and hedge-clippers, the shriek
Of the gate the children used to swing on,
Poker, scuttle, tongs, a gravel rake —
The old activity starts up again
But starts up differently. We’re on our own
Years later in the same “locus amoenus,”
Tenants no longer, but in full possession
Of an emptied house and whatever keeps between us.

Which must be more than keepsakes, even though
The child’s cot’s back in place where Catherine
Woke in the dawn and answered “doodle doo”
To the rooster in the farm across the road —
And it is the same cot I myself slept in
When the whole world was a farm that eked and crowed.

III. Scene Shifts

Only days after a friend had cut his name
Into the ash, our kids stripped off the bark—
The first time I was realy angry at them.
I was flailing round the house like a man berserk
And maybe overdoing it, although
The business had moved me at the time;
It brought back those blood-brother scenes where two
Braves nick wrists and cross them for a sign.

Where it shoen like bone exposed is healed up now.
The bark’s thick-eared and welted with a scar—
Like the hero’s in a recognition scene
In which old nurse sees old would, then clasps brow
(Astonished at what all this starts to mean)
and tears surprise the veteran of the war.

4. 1973

The corrugated iron growled like thunder
When March came in; then as the year turned warmer
And invalids and bulbs came up from under,
I hibernated on behind the dormer,
Staring through shaken branches at the hill,
Dissociated, like an ailing farmer
Chloroformed against thigns seasonal
In a reek of cigarette smoke and dropped ash.

Lent came in next, also like a lion
Sinewy and wild for discipline,
A fasted will marauding through the body;
And I taunted it with scents of nicotine
As I lit one off another, and felt rash,
And stirred in the deep litter of the study.

5. Lustral Sonnet

Breaking and entering: from early on,
Words that thrilled me far more than they scared me—
And still did, when I came into my own
Masquerade as a man of property.
Even then, my first impulse was never
To double-bar a door or lock a gate;
And fitted blinds and curtains drawn over
Seemed far too self-protective and uptight.

But I scared myself when I re-entered here,
My own first breaker-in, with an instruction
To saw up the old bed-frame, since the stair
Was much too narrow for it. A bad action,
So Greek with consequence, so dangerous,
Only pure words and deeds secure the house.

6. Bedside Reading

The whole place airier. Big summer trees
Stirring at eye level when we waken
And little shoots of ivy creeping in
Unless they’ve been trained out—like memories
You’ve trained so long now they can show their face
And keep their distance. White-mouthed depression
Swims out from its shadow like a dolphin
With wet, unreadable, unfurtive eyes.

I swim in Homer. In Book Twenty-three.
At last Odysseus and Penelope
Waken together. One bedpost of the bed
Is the living trunk of an old olive tree
And is their secret. As ours could have been ivy,
Evergree, atremble and unsaid.

7. The Skylight

You were the one for skylights. I opposed
Cutting into the seasoned tongue-and-groove
Of pitch pine. I liked it low and closed,
Its claustrophobic, nest-up-in-the-roof
Effect. I liked the snuff-dry feeling,
The perfect, trunk-lid fit of the old ceiling.
Under there, it was all hutch and hatch.
The blue slates kept the heat like midnight thatch.

But when the slates came off, extravagant
Sky entered and held surprise wide open.
For days I felt like an inhabitant
Of that house where the man sick of the palsy
Was lowered through the roof, had his sins forgiven,
Was healed, took up his bed and walked away.

*

I can’t resist sending this fitting conclusion to last week’s “Glanmore Sonnets” excerpt. “Glanmore Revisited” appears in a slim volume called Seeing Things which I’ve been working through the past few weeks. Heaney, especially in his later poems, is attempting to write a poetry of illumination, a poetry in which wonder and surprise are held “wide open.” The language grows generous, celebratory. It should be read out of doors, in the open air.

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