North: Poems

North: Poems

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by Seamus Heaney

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With this collection, first published in 1975, Heaney located a myth which allowed him to articulate a vision of Ireland--its people, history, and landscape--and which gave his poems direction, cohesion, and cumulative power. In North, the Irish experience is refracted through images drawn from different parts of the Northern European experience, and the

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With this collection, first published in 1975, Heaney located a myth which allowed him to articulate a vision of Ireland--its people, history, and landscape--and which gave his poems direction, cohesion, and cumulative power. In North, the Irish experience is refracted through images drawn from different parts of the Northern European experience, and the idea of the north allows the poet to contemplate the violence on his home ground in relation to memories of the Scandinavian and English invasions which have marked Irish history so indelibly.

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"[Heaney's] awareness of a wider social world . . . reaches its culmination in North (1975), a deservedly famous volume that [Helen] Vendler regards as 'one of the crucial poetic interventions of the 20th century,' ranking with Eliot's Prufrock, Wallace Stevens' Harmonium, and Frost's North of Boston in 'its key role in the history of modern poetry.'" —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

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By Seamus Heaney

Faber and Faber, Inc.

Copyright © 1996 Seamus Heaney
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-6409-2



      When I lie on the ground
    I rise flushed as a rose in the morning.
    In fights I arrange a fall on the ring
      To rub myself with sand

      That is operative
    As an elixir. I cannot be weaned
    Off the earth's long contour, her river-veins.
      Down here in my cave,

      Girded with root and rock,
    I am cradled in the dark that wombed me
    And nurtured in every artery
      Like a small hillock.

      Let each new hero come
    Seeking the golden apples and Atlas.
    He must wrestle with me before he pass
      Into that realm of fame

      Among sky-born and royal:
    He may well throw me and renew my birth
    But let him not plan, lifting me off the earth,
      My elevation, my fall.



  'They just kept turning up
    And were thought of as foreign' –
    One-eyed and benign,
    They lie about his house,
    Quernstones out of a bog.

    To lift the lid of the peat
    And find this pupil dreaming
    Of neolithic wheat!
    When he stripped off blanket bog
    The soft-piled centuries

    Fell open like a glib:
    There were the first plough-marks,
    The stone-age fields, the tomb
    Corbelled, turfed and chambered,
    Floored with dry turf-coomb.

    A landscape fossilized,
    Its stone-wall patternings
    Repeated before our eyes
    In the stone walls of Mayo.
    Before I turned to go

    He talked about persistence,
    A congruence of lives,
    How, stubbed and cleared of stones,
    His home accrued growth rings
    Of iron, flint and bronze.

    So I talked of Mossbawn,
    A bogland name. 'But moss?'
    He crossed my old home's music
    With older strains of Norse.
    I'd told how its foundation

    Was mutable as sound
    And how I could derive
    A forked root from that ground,
    Make bawn an English fort,
    A planter's walled-in mound,

    Or else find sanctuary
    And think of it as Irish,
    Persistent if outworn.
    'But the Norse ring on your tree?'
    I passed through the eye of the quern,

    Grist to an ancient mill,
    And in my mind's eye saw
    A world-tree of balanced stones,
    Querns piled like vertebrae,
    The marrow crushed to grounds.

    Funeral Rites


    I shouldered a kind of manhood,
    stepping in to lift the coffins
    of dead relations.
    They had been laid out

    in tainted rooms,
    their eyelids glistening,
    their dough-white hands
    shackled in rosary beads.

    Their puffed knuckles
    had unwrinkled, the nails
    were darkened, the wrists
    obediently sloped.

    The dulse-brown shroud,
    the quilted satin cribs:
    I knelt courteously,
    admiring it all,

    as wax melted down
    and veined the candles,
    the flames hovering
    to the women hovering

    behind me.
    And always, in a corner,
    the coffin lid,
    its nail-heads dressed

    with little gleaming crosses.
    Dear soapstone masks,
    kissing their igloo brows
    had to suffice

    before the nails were sunk
    and the black glacier
    of each funeral
    pushed away.


    Now as news comes in
    of each neighbourly murder
    we pine for ceremony,
    customary rhythms:

    the temperate footsteps
    of a cortège, winding past
    each blinded home.
    I would restore

    the great chambers of Boyne,
    prepare a sepulchre
    under the cup-marked stones.
    Out of side-streets and bye-roads

    purring family cars
    nose into line,
    the whole country tunes
    to the muffled drumming

    of ten thousand engines.
    Somnambulant women,
    left behind, move
    through emptied kitchens

    imagining our slow triumph
    towards the mounds.
    Quiet as a serpent
    in its grassy boulevard,

    the procession drags its tail
    out of the Gap of the North
    as its head already enters
    the megalithic doorway.


    When they have put the stone
    back in its mouth
    we will drive north again
    past Strang and Carling fjords,

    the cud of memory
    allayed for once, arbitration
    of the feud placated,
    imagining those under the hill

    disposed like Gunnar
    who lay beautiful
    inside his burial mound,
    though dead by violence

    and unavenged.
    Men said that he was chanting
    verses about honour
    and that four lights burned
    in corners of the chamber:
    which opened then, as he turned
    with a joyful face
    to look at the moon.


    I returned to a long strand,
    the hammered shod of a bay,
    and found only the secular
    powers of the Atlantic thundering.

    I faced the unmagical
    invitations of Iceland,
    the pathetic colonies
    of Greenland, and suddenly

    those fabulous raiders,
    those lying in Orkney and Dublin
    measured against
    their long swords rusting,

    those in the solid
    belly of stone ships,
    those hacked and glinting
    in the gravel of thawed streams

    were ocean-deafened voices
    warning me, lifted again
    in violence and epiphany.
    The longship's swimming tongue
    was buoyant with hindsight –

    it said Thor's hammer swung
    to geography and trade,
    thick-witted couplings and revenges,

    the hatreds and behindbacks
    of the althing, lies and women,
    exhaustions nominated peace,
    memory incubating the spilled blood.

    It said, 'Lie down
    in the word-hoard, burrow
    the coil and gleam
    of your furrowed brain.

    Compose in darkness.
    Expect aurora borealis
    in the long foray
    but no cascade of light.

    Keep your eye clear
    as the bleb of the icicle,
    trust the feel of what nubbed treasure
    your hands have known.'

    Viking Dublin: Trial Pieces


    It could be a jaw-bone
    or a rib or a portion cut
    from something sturdier:
    anyhow, a small outline

    was incised, a cage
    or trellis to conjure in.
    Like a child's tongue
    following the toils

    of his calligraphy,
    like an eel swallowed
    in a basket of eels,
    the line amazes itself,

    eluding the hand
    that fed it,
    a bill in flight,
    a swimming nostril.


    These are trial pieces,
    the craft's mystery
    improvised on bone:
    foliage, bestiaries,

    interlacings elaborate
    as the netted routes
    of ancestry and trade.
    That have to be

    magnified on display
    so that the nostril
    is a migrant prow
    sniffing the Liffey,

    swanning it up to the ford,
    dissembling itself
    in antler combs, bone pins,
    coins, weights, scale-pans.


    Like a long sword
    sheathed in its moisting
    burial clays,
    the keel stuck fast

    in the slip of the bank,
    its clinker-built hull
    spined and plosive
    as Dublin.

    And now we reach in
    for shards of the vertebrae,
    the ribs of hurdle,
    the mother-wet caches –

    and for this trial piece
    incised by a child,
    a longship, a buoyant
    migrant line.


    That enters my longhand,
    turns cursive, unscarfing
    a zoomorphic wake,
    a worm of thought

    I follow into the mud.
    I am Hamlet the Dane,
    skull-handler, parablist,
    smeller of rot

    in the state, infused
    with its poisons,
    pinioned by ghosts
    and affections,

    murders and pieties,
    coming to consciousness
    by jumping in graves,
    dithering, blathering.


    Come fly with me,
    come sniff the wind
    with the expertise
    of the Vikings –

    neighbourly, scoretaking
    killers, haggers
    and hagglers, gombeen-men,
    hoarders of grudges and gain.

    With a butcher's aplomb
    they spread out your lungs
    and made you warm wings
    for your shoulders.

    Old fathers, be with us.
    Old cunning assessors
    of feuds and of sites
    for ambush or town.


    'Did you ever hear tell,'
    said Jimmy Farrell,
    'of the skulls they have
    in the city of Dublin?

    White skulls and black skulls
    and yellow skulls, and some
    with full teeth, and some
    haven't only but one,'

    and compounded history
    in the pan of 'an old Dane,
    maybe, was drowned
    in the Flood.'

    My words lick around
    cobbled quays, go hunting
    lightly as pampooties
    over the skull-capped ground.

    The Digging Skeleton
    After Baudelaire


    You find anatomical plates
    Buried along these dusty quays
    Among books yellowed like mummies
    Slumbering in forgotten crates,

    Drawings touched with an odd beauty
    As if the illustrator had
    Responded gravely to the sad
    Mementoes of anatomy –

    Mysterious candid studies
    Of red slobland around the bones.
    Like this one: flayed men and skeletons
    Digging the earth like navvies.


    Sad gang of apparitions,
    Your skinned muscles like plaited sedge
    And your spines hooped towards the sunk edge
    Of the spade, my patient ones,

    Tell me, as you labour hard
    To break this unrelenting soil,
    What barns are there for you to fill?
    What farmer dragged you from the boneyard?

    Or are you emblems of the truth,
    Death's lifers, hauled from the narrow cell
    And stripped of night-shirt shrouds, to tell:
    'This is the reward of faith

    In rest eternal. Even death
    Lies. The void deceives.
    We do not fall like autumn leaves
    To sleep in peace. Some traitor breath

    Revives our clay, sends us abroad
    And by the sweat of our stripped brows
    We earn our deaths; our one repose
    When the bleeding instep finds its spade.'

    Bone Dreams


    White bone found
    on the grazing:
    the rough, porous
    language of touch

    and its yellowing, ribbed
    impression in the grass –
    a small ship-burial.
    As dead as stone,

    flint-find, nugget
    of chalk,
    I touch it again,
    I wind it in

    the sling of mind
    to pitch it at England
    and follow its drop
    to strange fields.


    a skeleton
    in the tongue's
    old dungeons.

    I push back
    through dictions,
    Elizabethan canopies.
    Norman devices,

    the erotic mayflowers
    of Provence
    and the ivied Latins
    of churchmen

    to the scop's
    twang, the iron
    flash of consonants
    cleaving the line.


    In the coffered
    riches of grammar
    and declensions
    I found ban hus,

    its fire, benches,
    wattle and rafters,
    where the soul
    fluttered a while

    in the roofspace.
    There was a small crock
    for the brain,
    and a cauldron

    of generation
    swung at the centre:
    love-den, blood-holt,


    Come back past
    philology and kennings,
    re-enter memory
    where the bone's lair

    is a love-nest
    in the grass.
    I hold my lady's head
    like a crystal

    and ossify myself
    by gazing: I am screes
    on her escarpments,
    a chalk giant

    carved upon her downs.
    Soon my hands, on the sunken
    fosse of her spine
    move towards the passes.


    And we end up
    cradling each other
    between the lips
    of an earthwork.

    As I estimate
    for pleasure
    her knuckles' paving,
    the turning stiles

    of the elbows,
    the vallum of her brow
    and the long wicket
    of collar-bone,

    I have begun to pace
    the Hadrian's Wall
    of her shoulder, dreaming
    of Maiden Castle.


    One morning in Devon
    I found a dead mole
    with the dew still beading it.
    I had thought the mole

    a big-boned coulter
    but there it was,
    small and cold
    as the thick of a chisel.

    I was told, 'Blow,
    blow back the fur on his head.
    Those little points
    were the eyes.

    And feel the shoulders.'
    I touched small distant Pennines,
    a pelt of grass and grain
    running south.

    Come to the Bower

    My hands come, touched
    By sweetbriar and tangled vetch,
    Foraging past the burst gizzards
    Of coin-hoards

    To where the dark-bowered queen,
    Whom I unpin,
    Is waiting. Out of the black maw
    Of the peat, sharpened willow

    Withdraws gently.
    I unwrap skins and see
    The pot of the skull,
    The damp tuck of each curl

    Reddish as a fox's brush,
    A mark of a gorget in the flesh
    Of her throat. And spring water
    Starts to rise around her.

    I reach past
    The riverbed's washed
    Dream of gold to the bullion
    Of her Venus bone.


Excerpted from North by Seamus Heaney. Copyright © 1996 Seamus Heaney. Excerpted by permission of Faber and Faber, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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North 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The three kits throw a mossball at one another.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Padded around.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He looks around camp with his old eyes.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She colapses on the floor.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Okay. I will be Dawnkit then. Thank you. Where are the bios? <br> <p> ~Dawnkit &star
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ran to Sandclan.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
May I join?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Rustkit tackles his brother, Darkkit, and knocks him onto Stripekit. The three kits roll around in a tangles furball.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
~ ashstorm
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
{Where's the new camp? Dx}
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Rp a horseclan kit. There is Shiningkit Goldkit and Spottedkit. Go to 'magic cat mystery' (horseclan) and then go down to the second to last result. The kits bios are there.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
May I please join? I heard you need active cats, and I'm very active...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She yawn padding out to hunt walking/bounding/kinds limping
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There blood-shot eyes watched the clan
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ill probably be joining soon
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
/&bull;\ The White Tabby staggered, "Anyone..Remember Me?" She purred weakly, her head hanging. /&bull;\
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Cloudripple dipped her head. "Thank you very much. Any help will be greatly appreciated." She rose to her paws. "Our camp is at magical cat mystery first result," she added. "Thank you for listening." The white shecat padded out of the camp.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It has two resylts!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Can I join
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a very interesting book. Enjoy!