Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966-1996

( 1 )

Overview

As selected by the author, Opened Ground includes the essential work from Heaney's twelve previous books of poetry, as well as new sequences drawn from two of his landmark translations, The Cure at Troy and Sweeney Astray, and several previously uncollected poems. Heaney's voice is like no other--"by turns mythological and journalistic, rural and sophisticated, reminiscent and impatient, stern and yielding, curt and expansive" (Helen Vendler, The New Yorker)--and this is a one-volume testament to the musicality ...

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Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966-1996

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Overview

As selected by the author, Opened Ground includes the essential work from Heaney's twelve previous books of poetry, as well as new sequences drawn from two of his landmark translations, The Cure at Troy and Sweeney Astray, and several previously uncollected poems. Heaney's voice is like no other--"by turns mythological and journalistic, rural and sophisticated, reminiscent and impatient, stern and yielding, curt and expansive" (Helen Vendler, The New Yorker)--and this is a one-volume testament to the musicality and precision of that voice. The book closes with Heaney's Nobel Lecture: "Crediting Poetry."

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"[This collection] eloquently confirms his status as the most skillful and profound poet writing in English today."--Edward Mendelson, The New York Times Book Review

"Perhaps the best descriptions of Seamus Heaney's extraordinarily rich and varied oeuvre come from the poet's own work. Mr. Heaney has created a remarkable series of poems that stay 'true to the impact of external reality' while at the same time remaining 'sensitive to the inner laws of the poet's being.'"--Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"Having just reread most of his poems, I find myself more, not less, interested, and convinced that I have only begun to plumb their bracing depths . . . The poems stay in the mind, which is the one essential feature of major poetry."--Jay Parini, The Nation

"Heaney's commitment to the independence of his art, to the pursuit of shape and richness and abundant ambiguity, is also a profound commitment to the quality of public life . . . In a dark time, Heaney . . . has turned borders and dividing lines into rich frontiers."--Fintan O'Toole, The New York Review of Books

Edward Mendelson
The ground opened by his pen...is dense with the bodies of the ancient and recent dead, and the emptiness left by his digging is filled with glowing visionary memories....a collection with a satisfying heft and more than enough variety of subject and style...
The New York Times Book Review
Michiko Kakutani
...[A] remarkable series of poems that stay 'true to the impact of external reality' ...[and remain] 'sensitive to the inner laws of the poet's being'....[his] art, in Mr. Heaney's own words....'commemorates the endurance of the private in the face of history and public grief.'
The New York Times
Library Journal
If you can't afford all 12 of Nobel Laureate Heaney's previous works, here is a selection spanning 30 years. Heaney stays close to the ground in his measured, meditative poems, reveling in the everyday — but since the everyday in Ireland can mean sectarian violence, there's a dark edge, too.
Irish America Magazine
[A] delight...
John Kerrigan
...[A] grand new retrospective volume....Fuller than a selected poems yet more abstemious than a collected, Opened Ground presents Heaney's dialogue with himself almost too coherently.
London Review of Books
Elizabeth Lund
Heaney...renders the truth about both the external and internal worlds, balancing the bitter with the beautiful.
The Christian Science Monitor
Michiko Kakutani
Eschewing ideology and &#39the diamond absolutes' of partisans on both sides in Northern Ireland, Mr. Heaney has created a remarkable series of poems that stay &#39true to the impact of external reality' while at the same time remaining &#39sensitive to the inner laws of the poet&#39s being&#39.
#151;The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374526788
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 10/25/1999
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 103,126
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.18 (d)

Meet the Author

Seamus Heaney (1939-2013) received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. His poems, plays, translations, and essays include Opened Ground, Electric Light, Beowulf, The Spirit Level, District and Circle, and Finders Keepers. Robert Lowell praised Heaney as the "most important Irish poet since Yeats."

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

FROM

Death of a Naturalist

[1966]


    Digging
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.
Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down
Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.
The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.
By God, the old man could handle a spade. Just like his old man.
My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner's bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.
The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I've no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it.


    Death of a Naturalist
All year the flax-dam festered in the heart
Of the townland; green and heavy-headed
Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.
Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun.
Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles
Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.
There were dragonflies, spotted butterflies,
But best of all was the warm thick slobber
Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water
In the shade of the banks. Here, every spring
I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied
Specks to range on window-sills at home,
On shelves at school, and wait and watch until
The fattening dots burst into nimble
Swimming tadpoles. Miss Walls would tell us how
The daddy frog was called a bullfrog
And how he croaked and how the mammy frog
Laid hundreds of little eggs and this was
Frogspawn. You could tell the weather by frogs too
For they were yellow in the sun and brown
In rain.
Then one hot day when fields were rank
With cowdung in the grass the angry frogs
Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through hedges
To a coarse croaking that I had not heard
Before. The air was thick with a bass chorus.
Right down the dam gross-bellied frogs were cocked
On sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails. Some hopped:
The slap and plop were obscene threats. Some sat
Poised like mint grenades, their blunt heads farting.
I sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings
Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew
That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.


    The Barn
Threshed corn lay piled like grit of ivory
Or solid as cement in two-lugged sacks.
The musky dark hoarded an armoury
Of farmyard implements, harness, plough-socks.
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
All summer when the zinc burned like an oven.
A scythe's edge, a clean spade, a pitchfork's prongs:
Slowly bright objects formed when you went in.
Then you felt cobwebs clogging up your lungs
And scuttled fast into the sunlit yard —
And into nights when bats were on the wing
Over the rafters of sleep, where bright eyes stared
From piles of grain in corners, fierce, unblinking.
The dark gulfed like a roof-space. I was chaff
To be pecked up when birds shot through the air-slits.
I lay face-down to shun the fear above.
The two-lugged sacks moved in like great blind rats.


    Blackberry-Picking
    for Philip Hobsbaum
Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked tip and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.


    Churning Day
A thick crust, coarse-grained as limestone rough-cast,
hardened gradually on top of the four crocks
that stood, large pottery bombs, in the small pantry.
After the hot brewery of gland, cud and udder,
cool porous earthenware fermented the butter milk
for churning day, when the hooped churn was scoured
with plumping kettles and the busy scrubber
echoed daintily on the seasoned wood.
It stood then, purified, on the flagged kitchen floor.
Out came the four crocks, spilled their heavy lip
of cream, their white insides, into the sterile churn.
The staff, like a great whiskey muddler fashioned
in deal wood, was plunged in, the lid fitted.
My mother took first turn, set up rhythms
that, slugged and thumped for hours. Arms ached.
Hands blistered. Cheeks and clothes were spattered
with flabby milk.
Where finally gold flecks
began to dance. They poured hot water then,
sterilized a birchwood bowl
and little corrugated butter-spades.
Their short stroke quickened, suddenly
a yellow curd was weighting the churned-up white,
heavy and rich, coagulated sunlight
that they fished, dripping, in a wide tin strainer,
heaped up like gilded gravel in the bowl.
The house would stink long after churning day,
acrid as a sulphur mine. The empty crocks
were ranged along the wall again, the butter
in soft printed slabs was piled on pantry shelves.
And in the house we moved with gravid ease,
our brains turned crystals full of clean deal churns,
the plash and gurgle of the sour-breathed milk,
the pat and slap of small spades on wet lumps.


    Follower
My father worked with a horse-plough,
His shoulders globed like a full sail strung
Between the shafts and the furrow.
The horses strained at his clicking tongue.
An expert. He would set the wing
And fit the bright steel-pointed sock.
The sod rolled over without breaking.
At the headrig, with a single pluck
Of reins, the sweating team turned round
And back into the land. His eye
Narrowed and angled at the ground,
Mapping the furrow exactly.
I stumbled in his hobnailed wake,
Fell sometimes on the polished sod;
Sometimes he rode me on his back
Dipping and rising to his plod.
I wanted to grow up and plough,
To close one eye, stiffen my arm.
All I ever did was follow
In his broad shadow round the farm.
I was a nuisance, tripping, falling,
Yapping always. But today
It is my father who keeps stumbling
Behind me, and will not go away.


    Mid-Term Break
I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o'clock our neighbours drove me home.
In the porch I met my father crying —
He had always taken funerals in his stride —
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.
The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand
And tell me they were `sorry for my trouble'.
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand
In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o'clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.
Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,
Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four-foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.
A four-foot box, a foot for every year.


    The Diviner
Cut from the green hedge a forked hazel stick
That he held tight by the arms of the V:
Circling the terrain, hunting the pluck
Of water, nervous, but professionally
Unfussed. The pluck came sharp as a sting.
The rod jerked with precise convulsions.
Spring water suddenly broadcasting
Through a green hazel its secret stations.
The bystanders would ask to have a try.
He handed them the rod without a word.
It lay dead in their grasp till, nonchalantly,
He gripped expectant wrists. The hazel stirred.


    Poem
    for Marie
Love, I shall perfect for you the child
Who diligently potters in my brain
Digging with heavy spade till sods were piled
Or puddling through muck in a deep drain.
Yearly I would sow my yard-long garden.
I'd strip a layer of sods to build the wall
That was to keep out sow and pecking hen.
Yearly, admitting these, the sods would fall.
Or in the sucking clabber I would splash
Delightedly and dam the flowing drain
But always my bastions of clay and mush
Would burst before the rising autumn rain.
Love, you shall perfect for me this child
Whose small imperfect limits would keep breaking:
Within new limits now, arrange the world
And square the circle: four walls and a ring.


    Personal Helicon
    for Micheal Longley
As a child, they could not keep me from wells
And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.
I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.
One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.
I savoured the rich crash when a bucket
Plummeted down at the end of a rope.
So deep you saw no reflection in it.
A shallow one under a dry stone ditch
Fructified like any aquarium.
When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch
A white face hovered over the bottom.
Others had echoes, gave back your own call
With a clean new music in it. And one
Was scaresome, for there, out of ferns and tall
Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.
Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,
To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.


    Antaeus
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
Girdered 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.
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Table of Contents

Author's Note

from Death of a Naturalist  (1966)

Digging
Death of a Naturalist
The Barn
Blackberry-Picking
Churning Day
Follower
Mid-Term Break
The Diviner
Poem
Personal Helicon

Antaeus  (1966)

from Door into the Dark  (1969)

The Outlaw
The Forge
Thatcher
The Peninsula
Requiem for the Croppies
Undine
The Wife's Tale
Night Drive
Relic of Memory
A Lough Neagh Sequence
The Given Note
Whinlands
The Plantation
Bann Clay
Bogland

from Wintering Out  (1972)

Fodder
Bog Oak
Anahorish
Servant Boy
Land
Gifts of Rain
Toome
Broagh
Oracle
The Backward Look
A New Song
The Other Side
Tinder (from A Northern Hoard)
The Tollund Man

Nerthus
Wedding Day
Mother of the Groom
Summer Home
Serenades
Shore Woman
Limbo
Bye-Child
Good-night
Fireside
Westering

from Stations  (1975)

Nesting-Gound
July
England's Difficulty
Visitant
Trial Runs
The Wanderer
Cloistered
The Stations of the West
Incertus

from North  (1975)

Mossbawn: Two Poems in Dedication
1. Sunlight
2. The Seed Cutters
Funeral Rites
North
Viking Dublin: Trial Pieces
Bone Dreams
Bog Queen
The Grauballe Man
Punishment
Strange Fruit
Kinship
Act of Union
Hercules and Antaeus
from Whatever You Say Say Nothing
Singing School
1. The Ministry of Fear
2. A Constable Calls
3. Orange Drums, Tyrone, 1966
4. Summer 1969
5. Fosterage
6. Exposure

from Field Work  (1979)

Oysters
Triptych
After a Killing
Sibyl
At the Water's Edge
0The Toome Road
A Drink of Water
The Strand at Lough Beg
Casualty
Badgers
The Singer's House
The Guttural Muse
Glanmore Sonnets
An Afterwards
The Otter
The Skunk
A Dream of Jealousy
Field Work
Song
Leavings
The Harvest Bow
In Memoriam Francis Ledwidge
Ugolino

from Sweeney Astray  (1983)

Sweeney in Flight

The Names of the Hare  (1981)

from Station Island  (1984)

The Underground
Sloe Gin
Chekhov on Sakhalin
Sandstone Keepsake
from Shelf Life
Granite Chip
Old Smoothing Iron
Stone from Delphi
Making Strange
The Birthplace
Changes
A Bat on the Road
A Hazel Stick for Catherine Ann
A Kite for Michael and Christopher
The Railway Children
Widgeon
Sheelagh na Gig
'Aye' (from The Loaning)
The King of the Ditchbacks
Station Island
from Sweeney Redivivus
The First Gloss
Sweeney Redivivus
In the Beech
The First Kingdom
The First Flight
Drifting Off
The Cleric
The Hermit
The Master
The Scribes
Holly
An Artist
The Old Icons
In Illo Tempore
On the Road

Villanelle for an Anniversary (1986)

from The Haw Lantern  (1987)

Alphabets
Terminus
From the Frontier of Writing
The Haw Lantern
From the Republic of Conscience
Hailstones
The Stone Verdict
The Spoonbait
Clearances
The Milk Factory
The Wishing Tree
Grotus and Conventina
Wolfe Tone
From the Canton of Expectation
The Mud Vision
The Disappearing Island
The Riddle

from The Cure at Troy  (1990)

Voices from Lemnos

from Seeing Things  (1991)

The Golden Bough
Markings
Man and Boy
Seeing Things
An August Night
Field of Vision
The Pitchfork
The Settle Bed
from Glanmore Revisited
A Pillowed Head
A Royal Prospect
Wheels within Wheels
Fosterling
from Squarings
Lightenings
Settings
Crossings
Squarings

A Transgression (1994)

from The Spirit Level (1996)

The Rain Stick
Mint
A Sofa in the Forties
Keeping Going
Two Lorries
Damson
Weighing In
St. Kevin and the Blackbird
from The Flight Path
Mycenae Lookout
The Gravel Walks
Whitby-sur-Moyola
'Poet's Chair'
The Swing
Two Stick Drawings
A Call
The Errand
A Dog Was Crying Tonight in Wicklow Also
The Strand
The Walk
At the Wellhead
At Banagher
Tollund
Postscript

Crediting Poetry (1995)

Crediting Poetry

Index of Titles
Index of First Lines

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