Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney’s The Burial at Thebes, a translation of Sophocles’ Antigone, is out in paperback from Faber.

Three Poems

Seamus Heaney, 5 May 2005

Rilke: The Apple Orchard

Come just after the sun has gone down, watch This deepening of green in the evening sward: Is it not as if we’d long since garnered And stored within ourselves a something which

From feeling and from feeling recollected, From new hope and half-forgotten joys And from an inner dark infused with these, Issues in thoughts as ripe as windfalls scattered

Under trees...

Three Poems in Memory of Charles Monteith 9 February 1921 – 9 May 1995

Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon and Tom Paulin, 21 September 1995


Tom Paulin

Or Charlus as McGahern would call youwhen we stacked up stories with Heaney– all fun a great geg pure pleasureI’d think of this village near Donegal town– Mountcharlus they say in those partsnot Mountcharleswhich was how one editor at Faberused to sign every letter he sent(was it Dunn who wonderedhad you somehow acquired a peerage?)then I’d try hard to...

Poem: ‘An Invocation’

Seamus Heaney, 6 August 1992


Incline to me, MacDiarmid, out of Shetland, Stone-eyed from stone-gazing, sobered up And thrawn. Not the old vigilante

Of the chimney corner, having us on, Setting us off, the drinkers’ drinker; no, Incline as the sage of wind that flouts the rockface,

As gull stalled in the seabreeze, gatekeeper Of open gates behind the brows of birds – Not to hear me take back smart remarks


Poem: ‘A Retrospect’

Seamus Heaney, 7 February 1991


The whole country apparently afloat: Every road bridging or skirting water, The land islanded, the field drains still as moats.

A bulrush sentried the lough shore: I had to Wade barefoot over spongy, ice-cold marsh (Soft bottom with bog-water seeping through

The netted weeds) to get near where it stood Perennially anomalous and dry, Like chalk or velvet rooting in the mud.

Everything ran...

Poem: ‘Casting and Gathering’

Seamus Heaney, 27 September 1990

for Ted Hughes

Years and years ago, these sounds took sides:

On the left bank a green silk tapered cast Went whispering through the air, saying hush And lush, entirely free, no matter whether It swished above the hayfield or the river.

On the right bank, like a speeded-up corncrake, A sharp ratcheting kept on and on Cutting across the stillness as another Fisherman gathered line-lengths off...

Six Poems

Seamus Heaney, 26 October 1989

When you sat, far-eyed and cold, in the basalt throne Of ‘the wishing chair’ at Giant’s Causeway, The small of your back made sense of the firmament.

Like a papoose at sap-time strapped to a maple-tree, You gathered force out of the world-tree’s hardness. If you stretched your hand forth, things might turn to stone.

But you were only goose-fleshed skin and bone, The...

Poem: ‘Crossings’

Seamus Heaney, 20 April 1989

Travelling south at dawn, going full out Through high-up stone-wall country, the rocks still cold, Rainwater gleaming here and there ahead,

I took a turn and met the fox stock still, Face to face in the middle of the road. Wildness tore through me as he dipped and wheeled

In a level-running tawny breakaway. O neat head, fabled brush and astonished eye My blue Volkswagen flared into with...

Poem: ‘A Royal Prospect’

Seamus Heaney, 2 March 1989

On the day of their excursion up the Thames To Hampden Court, they were nearly sunstruck. She with her neck bared in a page-boy cut, He all dreamy anyhow, wild for her But pretending to be a thousand miles away, Studying the boat’s wake in the water. And here are the photographs. Head to one side, In her sleeveless blouse, one bare shoulder high And one arm loose, a bird with a drooped...

Anglo-Irish Occasions

Seamus Heaney, 5 May 1988

When the prospect of this evening’s honours was first mooted I was aware that T.S. Eliot had praised W.B. Yeats for not allowing himself to become a mere coathanger upon which the world draped its honours, but could assuage myself by thinking that Eliot had never witnessed the Merton Professor of English perform his capework as resourcefully and generously as he has just done.

Sounding Auden

Seamus Heaney, 4 June 1987

I want to explore the relation between the kind of poetic authority which W.H. Auden sought and achieved and what might be described as his poetic music. By ‘poetic authority’ I mean the rights and weight which accrue to a voice, not only because of a sustained history of truth-telling, but by virtue also of its tonality, the sway it gains over the deep ear and, through that, over other parts of our mind and nature. By ‘poetic music’ I mean the more or less describable effects of language and form by which a certain tonality is effected and maintained. I shall listen in to some passages of Auden’s work and try to describe what is to be heard there; I shall also try to follow some of the echoes which the passages set up and ask how these echoes contribute to the poetry’s scope or suggest its limitations.

It is often late, by chance, and with sudden delight, that we find those poets who later become vital to us. I knew Sorley MacLean by reputation before I felt his authority. His renovation of a poetic tradition, his cross-fertilisation of love and politics, of metaphysical technique and traditional Gaelic modes, of dan direach and personal destiny – I knew about all this at second hand; it was part of that store of useful literary information that accumulates at the back of the literary mind like respected, unread books on the bookshelf. But then, in the early Seventies, two things occurred which made the spark jump: I read Iain Crichton Smith’s translations, Poems to Eimhir, and I heard MacLean himself read his own poems in the original Gaelic.’

Poem: ‘Diptych’

Seamus Heaney, 3 July 1986


She taught me what her uncle once taught her: How easily the biggest coal block split If you got the grain and hammer angled right.

The sound of that relaxed alluring blow, Its co-opted and obliterated echo, Taught me to hit, taught me to loosen,

Taught me between the hammer and the block To face the music. Teach me now to listen, To strike it rich behind the linear black.


I thought of...

Two Poems

Seamus Heaney, 1 November 1984



My cheek was hit and hit: sudden hailstones pelted and bounced on the road.

When it cleared again something whipped and knowledgeable had withdrawn

and left me there with my chances. I made a small hard ball of burning water running from my hand

just as I make this now out of the melt of the real thing smarting into its absence.


To be reckoned with, all the same, those brats...

Three Poems

Seamus Heaney, 20 October 1983


If the twine unravels to the very end the stuff gathering under my fingernails is being picked off whitewash at the bedside.

And the stuff gathering in my ear is their sex-pruned and unfurtherable moss-talk, incubated under lamplight,

which will have to be unlearned even though from there on everything is going to be learning.

So the twine unwinds and loosely widens backward through...

Poem: ‘The Birthplace’

Seamus Heaney, 7 October 1982


The deal table where he wrote, so small and plain, the single bed a dream of discipline. And a flagged kitchen downstairs, its mote-slants of thick light: the unperturbed, reliable ghost-life he carried, with no need to invent. And high trees around the house, breathed upon day and night by winds as slow as a cart coming late from market or the stir a fiddle could make in his reluctant...

Osip and Nadezhda Mandelstam

Seamus Heaney, 20 August 1981

The first sentence of Nadezhda Mandelstam’s Hope against Hope is one of the most memorable openings in all literature: ‘After slapping Alexei Tolstoi in the face, M. immediately returned to Moscow. From there he rang Akmatova every day, begging her to come.’ That was in 1934, and in his indispensable Mandelstam, Clarence Brown outlined the circumstances which led to this smack, whose sharp report not only unloosed the avalanche in which the poet Osip Mandelstam perished but also prepared the volcanic action which would begin thirty years later when his widow Nadezhda Mandelstam sat down to write her memoirs.

Poem: ‘The Loaning’

Seamus Heaney, 5 February 1981

As I went down the loaning to the fields the wind shifting in the hedge was like an old one’s whistling speech. I knew then I was in the limbo of lost words.

They had flown there from outhouses and crossroads, from under rotten carts and churchyard walls. I saw them streaming out of birch-white throats to nest a while in those old places, then on a day close as a stranger’s breath...

Poem: ‘Changes’

Seamus Heaney, 18 September 1980

As you came with me in silence to the pump in the long grass

Two Voices

Seamus Heaney, 20 March 1980

There is a certain pleasure in listening to people we know rehearsing their prejudices and enjoying our assent to their own enjoyment of themselves. A.D. Hope takes for granted that kind of assent: he comes on in this book as the character we have known in the past, the contrary traditionalist renewing the vows of his poetic faith and pronouncing against old heresies. His position may sound embattled but we know that it is eminent. His aggravations have become his quirks, so that, for example, when he speaks of ‘the mindless sludge of surrealist verse’, we feel it to be less an expression of anger and revulsion than a reminder that in his time he was a bit of an enfant terrible.

Two Poems

Seamus Heaney, 25 October 1979

A Deer in Glanmore

for B.C.

About a mile above and beyond our place, in a house with a leaking roof and cracked dormer windows Brigid came to live with her mother and sisters.

For months after that she slept in a crowded bed under the branch-whipped slates, bewildered night after night by starts of womanhood, and a dream troubled her head

of a ship’s passenger lounge where empty bottles...

Heaney was not in any simple sense a ‘Virgilian’ poet, but the sixth book of Virgil’s Aeneid mattered more to his later writing than any other single text.

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A Big Life: Seamus Heaney

Michael Hofmann, 4 June 2015

Robert Lowell​ has a poem called ‘Picture in The Literary Life, a Scrapbook’ which begins: A mag photo, I before I was I, or my books – a listener … A cheekbone...

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Be Nice to Mice: Henryson

Colin Burrow, 8 October 2009

Robert Henryson is the most likeable late medieval author after Chaucer. He wrote with a directness, a lightly carried learning and a lack of sentimentality hard to match anywhere in the British...

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Roaming the stations of the world: Seamus Heaney

Patrick McGuinness, 3 January 2002

In a shrewd and sympathetic essay on Dylan Thomas published in The Redress of Poetry, Seamus Heaney found a memorable set of metaphors for Thomas’s poetic procedures: he ‘plunged into...

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Hasped and Hooped and Hirpling: Beowulf

Terry Eagleton, 11 November 1999

Writing in 1887 of the proposal to establish an Anglo-Saxon-based school of English at Oxford, the moral philosopher Thomas Case protested that ‘an English School will grow up, nourishing...

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Hand and Foot: Seamus Heaney

John Kerrigan, 27 May 1999

When Seamus Heaney left Belfast in 1972, to work as a freelance writer in the relative safety of the Republic, Northern Ireland was a war zone. Internment and Bloody Sunday had recruited so many...

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James Wood, 20 June 1996

Seamus Heaney has always doubted poetry – not as a philosopher might doubt reality, but as a rich man might doubt money. He feels not scepticism, but guilt. He thanks poetry for existing...

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Dazzling Philosophy

Michael Hofmann, 15 August 1991

Seeing things, Seamus Heaney’s ninth volume of new poems, is aimed squarely at transcendence. The title has a humble and practical William Carlos Williams ring to it, but that is...

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David Trotter, 23 June 1988

In an interview given in 1979, Seamus Heaney endorsed a fellow writer’s lament that ‘you feel bloody well guilty about writing.’ To judge by this new collection of critical...

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Ian Hamilton, 1 October 1987

‘About the only enmity I have is towards pride.’ Seamus Heaney said this in an interview, and since we know him to be the most over-interviewed of living poets, perhaps he...

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Sweaney Peregraine

Paul Muldoon, 1 November 1984

The title-sequence of Seamus Heaney’s sixth collection finds him on Station Island, Lough Derg, more commonly known as St Patrick’s Purgatory. It’s the setting for a pilgrimage...

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Ireland at Swim

Denis Donoghue, 21 April 1983

The Crane Bag is a magazine, published twice a year: each issue deals with one theme. In Irish legend, the crane bag contained the alphabet of knowledge. The bag belonged to Manannan, god of the...

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Social Arrangements

John Bayley, 30 December 1982

‘New’ poetry can mean two things. When Ezra Pound said ‘make it new’ he was willing the advent of Modernism, the birth of a consciousness transformed by the...

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Prize Poems

Donald Davie, 1 July 1982

The Arvon Foundation’s 1980 Anthology contains four splendid poems: Stephen Watts’s ‘Praise Poem for North Uist’, and Keith Bosley’s ‘Corolla’; Aidan...

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English Fame and Irish Writers

Brian Moore, 20 November 1980

In Ireland it often seems that the great world is too little with us – that all issues are reduced to the level of the parish pump. Yet, as Patrick Kavanagh warned, Irish writers turn...

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The Mouth, the Meal and the Book

Christopher Ricks, 8 November 1979

Those of us who have never swallowed an oyster have presumably never lived life to the full. The Augustan poet was not merely mocking the heroic when he said that the man must have had a palate...

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