Death of a Naturalist, by Seamus Heaney

Second verse of third poem (“The Barn”):

The floor was mouse-grey, smooth, chilly concrete.
There were no windows, just two narrow shafts
Of gilded motes, crossing, from air-holes slit
High in each gable. The one door meant no draughts

I met Seamus Heaney only once, a chance encounter in a pub (the Foggy Dew in Temple Bar in Dublin, some time around 1989); he offered to buy me a drink on the basis of having known my parents in his Belfast days, but I was too shy to accept. I wish I had. I would have learned something from even ten minutes’ conversation with him. I also once sat opposite his wife Marie at a dinner, but did not pluck up the courage to say much to her.

He came from Bellaghy, 30 km up the River Bann from my own ancestors in Aghadowey, and this first collection is very much about growing up there and growing into his role as a poet. I knew a few of them from school days: the opening “Digging”, where he sees his vocation as poetry rather than agriculture:

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

The heart-wrenching “Mid-Term Break”, about the death of his younger brother in a car accident:

No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.
A four foot box, a foot for every year.

The rather regrettable “Docker”:

Mosaic imperatives bang home like rivets;
God is a foreman with certain definite views

Reading the full collection is well worth it. There’s a real underlying narrative, of a shift from his family heritage on the farm and boyhood fascinations with the land, to adulthood and poetry, There are some lovely natural images, such as “Waterfall”:

Simultaneous acceleration
And sudden braking; water goes over
Like villains dropped screaming to justice.

And romance in a sequence beginning with “Twice Shy”:

Her scarf à la Bardot,
In suede flats for the walk,
She came with me one evening
For air and friendly talk.
We crossed the quiet river,
Took the embankment walk.

And at the end, another moment of self-dedication in “Personal Helicon”:

I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.

I don’t read a lot of poetry, and I should read more.

The last poetry I read was The Sun is Open, by Gail McConnell. I’m delighted that she left a comment on my Goodreads review a couple of days ago.

This was my top unread book acquired last year. Next on that pile is Tales from Planet Earth, by Arthur C. Clarke.