Door into the Dark: Poems

Door into the Dark: Poems

by Seamus Heaney

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Door into the Dark, Seamus Heaney's second collection of poems, first appeared in 1969. Already his widely celebrated gifts of precision, thoughtfulness, and musicality were everywhere apparent.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466864085
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 02/04/2014
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 56
File size: 139 KB

About 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."

Read an Excerpt

Door into the Dark

By Seamus Heaney

Faber and Faber, Inc.

Copyright © 1969 Seamus Heaney
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-6408-5



    Must you know it again?
    Dull pounding through hay,
    The uneasy whinny.

    A sponge lip drawn off each separate tooth.
    Opalescent haunch,
    Muscle and hoof
    Bundled under the roof.


    Green froth that lathered each end
    Of the shining bit
    Is a cobweb of grass-dust.
    The sweaty twist of the bellyband
    Has stiffened, cold in the hand,
    And pads of the blinkers
    Bulge through the ticking.
    Reins, chains and traces
    Droop in a tangle.

    His hot reek is lost.
    The place is old in his must.

    He cleared in a hurry
    Clad only in shods
    Leaving this stable unmade.


    With a billhook
    Whose head was hand-forged and heavy
    I was hacking a stalk
    Thick as a telegraph pole.
    My sleeves were rolled
    And the air fanned cool past my arms
    As I swung and buried the blade,
    Then laboured to work it unstuck.

    The next stroke
    Found a man's head under the hook.
    Before I woke
    I heard the steel stop
    In the bone of the brow.

    The Outlaw

    Kelly's kept an unlicensed bull, well away
    From the road: you risked a fine but had to pay

    The normal fee if cows were serviced there.
    Once I dragged a nervous Friesian on a tether

    Down a lane of alder, shaggy with catkin,
    Down to the shed the bull was kept in.

    I gave Old Kelly the clammy silver, though why
    I could not guess. He grunted a curt 'Go by.

    Get up on that gate.' And from my lofty station
    I watched the business-like conception.

    The door, unbolted, whacked back against the wall.
    The illegal sire fumbled from his stall

    Unhurried as an old steam-engine shunting.
    He circled, snored and nosed. No hectic panting,

    Just the unfussy ease of a good tradesman;
    Then an awkward, unexpected jump, and,

    His knobbled forelegs straddling her flank,
    He slammed life home, impassive as a tank,

    Dropping off like a tipped-up load of sand.
    'She'll do,' said Kelly and tapped his ash-plant

    Across her hindquarters. 'If not, bring her back.'
    I walked ahead of her, the rope now slack,

    While Kelly whooped and prodded his outlaw
    Who, in his own time, resumed the dark, the straw.

    The Salmon Fisher to the Salmon

    The ridged lip set upstream, you flail
    Inland again, your exile in the sea
    Unconditionally cancelled by the pull
    Of your home water's gravity.

    And I stand in the centre, casting.
    The river cramming under me reflects
    Slung gaff and net and a white wrist flicking
    Flies well-dressed with tint and fleck.

    Walton thought garden worms, perfumed
    By oil crushed from dark ivy berries
    The lure that took you best, but here you come
    To grief through hunger in your eyes.

    Ripples arrowing beyond me,
    The current strumming water up my leg,
    Involved in water's choreography
    I go, like you, by gleam and drag

    And will strike when you strike, to kill.
    We're both annihilated on the fly.
    You can't resist a gullet full of steel.
    I will turn home, fish-smelling, scaly.

    The Forge

    All I know is a door into the dark.
    Outside, old axles and iron hoops rusting;
    Inside, the hammered anvil's short-pitched ring,
    The unpredictable fantail of sparks
    Or hiss when a new shoe toughens in water.
    The anvil must be somewhere in the centre,
    Horned as a unicorn, at one end square,
    Set there immovable: an altar
    Where he expends himself in shape and music.
    Sometimes, leather-aproned, hairs in his nose,
    He leans out on the jamb, recalls a clatter
    Of hoofs where traffic is flashing in rows;
    Then grunts and goes in, with a slam and flick
    To beat real iron out, to work the bellows.


    Bespoke for weeks, he turned up some morning
    Unexpectedly, his bicycle slung
    With a light ladder and a bag of knives.
    He eyed the old rigging, poked at the eaves,

    Opened and handled sheaves of lashed wheat-straw.
    Next, the bundled rods: hazel and willow
    Were flicked for weight, twisted in case they'd snap.
    It seemed he spent the morning warming up:

    Then fixed the ladder, laid out well-honed blades
    And snipped at straw and sharpened ends of rods
    That, bent in two, made a white-pronged staple
    For pinning down his world, handful by handful.

    Couchant for days on sods above the rafters,
    He shaved and flushed the butts, stitched all together
    Into a sloped honeycomb, a stubble patch,
    And left them gaping at his Midas touch.

    The Peninsula

    When you have nothing more to say, just drive
    For a day all round the peninsula.
    The sky is tall as over a runway,
    The land without marks so you will not arrive

    But pass through, though always skirting landfall.
    At dusk, horizons drink down sea and hill,
    The ploughed field swallows the whitewashed gable
    And you're in the dark again. Now recall

    The glazed foreshore and silhouetted log,
    That rock where breakers shredded into rags,
    The leggy birds stilted on their own legs,
    Islands riding themselves out into the fog

    And drive back home, still with nothing to say
    Except that now you will uncode all landscapes
    By this: things founded clean on their own shapes,
    Water and ground in their extremity.

    In Gallarus Oratory

    You can still feel the community pack
    This place: it's like going into a turfstack,
    A core of old dark walled up with stone
    A yard thick. When you're in it alone,
    You might have dropped, a reduced creature,
    To the heart of the globe. No worshipper
    Would leap up to his God off this floor.

    Founded there like heroes in a barrow,
    They sought themselves in the eye of their King
    Under the black weight of their own breathing.
    And how he smiled on them as out they came,
    The sea a censer and the grass a flame.

    Girls Bathing, Galway, 1965

    The swell foams where they float and crawl,
    A catherine-wheel of arm and hand;
    Each head bobs curtly as a football.
    The yelps are faint here on the strand.

    No milk-limbed Venus ever rose
    Miraculous on this western shore.
    A pirate queen in battle clothes
    Is our sterner myth. The breakers pour

    Themselves into themselves, the years
    Shuttle through space invisibly.
    Where crests unfurl like creamy beer
    The queen's clothes melt into the sea

    And generations sighing in
    The salt suds where the wave has crashed
    Labour in fear of flesh and sin
    For the time has been accomplished

    As through the shallows in swimsuits,
    Bare-legged, smooth-shouldered and long-backed,
    They wade ashore with skips and shouts.
    So Venus comes, matter-of-fact.

    Requiem for the Croppies

    The pockets of our greatcoats full of barley –
    No kitchens on the run, no striking camp –
    We moved quick and sudden in our own country.
    The priest lay behind ditches with the tramp.
    A people, hardly marching – on the hike –
    We found new tactics happening each day:
    We'd cut through reins and rider with the pike
    And stampede cattle into infantry,
    Then retreat through hedges where cavalry must be thrown.
    Until, on Vinegar Hill, the fatal conclave.
    Terraced thousands died, shaking scythes at cannon.
    The hillside blushed, soaked in our broken wave.
    They buried us without shroud or coffin
    And in August the barley grew up out of the grave.

    Rite of Spring

    So winter closed its fist
    And got it stuck in the pump.
    The plunger froze up a lump

    In its throat, ice founding itself
    Upon iron. The handle
    Paralysed at an angle.

    Then the twisting of wheat straw
    Into ropes, lapping them tight
    Round stem and snout, then a light

    That sent the pump up in flame.
    It cooled, we lifted her latch,
    Her entrance was wet, and she came.


    He slashed the briars, shovelled up grey silt
    To give me right of way in my own drains
    And I ran quick for him, cleaned out my rust.

    He halted, saw me finally disrobed,
    Running clear, with apparent unconcern.
    Then he walked by me. I rippled and I churned

    Where ditches intersected near the river
    Until he dug a spade deep in my flank
    And took me to him. I swallowed his trench

    Gratefully, dispersing myself for love
    Down in his roots, climbing his brassy grain –
    But once he knew my welcome, I alone

    Could give him subtle increase and reflection.
    He explored me so completely, each limb
    Lost its cold freedom. Human, warmed to him.

    The Wife's Tale

    When I had spread it all on linen cloth
    Under the hedge, I called them over.
    The hum and gulp of the thresher ran down
    And the big belt slewed to a standstill, straw
    Hanging undelivered in the jaws.
    There was such quiet that I heard their boots
    Crunching the stubble twenty yards away.

    He lay down and said 'Give these fellows theirs,
    I'm in no hurry,' plucking grass in handfuls
    And tossing it in the air. 'That looks well.'
    (He nodded at my white cloth on the grass.)
    'I declare a woman could lay out a field
    Though boys like us have little call for cloths.'
    He winked, then watched me as I poured a cup
    And buttered the thick slices that he likes.
    'It's threshing better than I thought, and mind
    It's good clean seed. Away over there and look.'
    Always this inspection has to be made
    Even when I don't know what to look for.

    But I ran my hand in the half-filled bags
    Hooked to the slots. It was hard as shot,
    Innumerable and cool. The bags gaped
    Where the chutes ran back to the stilled drum
    And forks were stuck at angles in the ground
    As javelins might mark lost battlefields.
    I moved between them back across the stubble.

    They lay in the ring of their own crusts and dregs
    Smoking and saying nothing. 'There's good yield,
    Isn't there?' – as proud as if he were the land itself –
    'Enough for crushing and for sowing both.'
    And that was it. I'd come and he had shown me
    So I belonged no further to the work.
    I gathered cups and folded up the cloth
    And went. But they still kept their ease
    Spread out, unbuttoned, grateful, under the trees.


    As I work at the pump, the wind heavy
    With spits of rain is fraying
    The rope of water I'm pumping.
    It pays itself out like air's afterbirth
    At each gulp of the plunger.

    I am tired of the feeding of stock.
    Each evening I labour this handle
    Half an hour at a time, the cows
    Guzzling at bowls in the byre.
    Before I have topped up the level
    They lower it down.

    They've trailed in again by the ready-made gate
    He stuck into the fence: a jingling bedhead
    Wired up between posts. It's on its last legs.
    It does not jingle for joy any more.

    I am tired of walking about with this plunger
    Inside me. God, he plays like a young calf
    Gone wild on a rope.
    Lying or standing won't settle these capers,
    This gulp in my well.

    O when I am a gate for myself
    Let such wind fray my waters
    As scarfs my skirt through my thighs,
    Stuffs air down my throat.

    Cana Revisited

    No round-shouldered pitchers here, no stewards
    To supervise consumption or supplies
    And water locked behind the taps implies
    No expectation of miraculous words.

    But in the bone-hooped womb, rising like yeast,
    Virtue intact is waiting to be shown,
    The consecration wondrous (being their own)
    As when the water reddened at the feast.

    Elegy for a Still-born Child


    Your mother walks light as an empty creel
    Unlearning the intimate nudge and pull

    Your trussed-up weight of seed-flesh and bone-curd
    Had insisted on. That evicted world

    Contracts round its history, its scar.
    Doomsday struck when your collapsed sphere

    Extinguished itself in our atmosphere,
    Your mother heavy with the lightness in her.


    For six months you stayed cartographer,
    Charting my friend from husband towards father.

    He guessed a globe behind your steady mound.
    Then the pole fell, shooting star, into the ground.


    On lonely journeys I think of it all,
    Birth of death, exhumation for burial,

    A wreath of small clothes, a memorial pram,
    And parents reaching for a phantom limb.

    I drive by remote control on this bare road
    Under a drizzling sky, a circling rook,

    Past mountain fields, full to the brim with cloud,
    White waves riding home on a wintry lough.

    Victorian Guitar
    For David Hammond
Inscribed 'Belonged to Louisa Catherine Coe before her marriage to John Charles Smith, March 1852.'

nbsp;   I expected the lettering to carry
    The date of the gift, a kind of christening:
    This is more like the plate on a coffin.

    Louisa Catherine Smith could not be light.
    Far more than a maiden name
    Was cancelled by him on the first night.

    I believe he cannot have known your touch
    Like this instrument – for clearly
    John Charles did not hold with fingering –

    Which is obviously a lady's:
    The sound-box trim as a girl in stays,
    The neck right for the smallest span.

    Did you even keep track of it as a wife?
    Do you know the man who has it now
    Is giving it the time of its life?

    Night Drive

    The smells of ordinariness
    Were new on the night drive through France:
    Rain and hay and woods on the air
    Made warm draughts in the open car.

    Signposts whitened relentlessly.
    Montreuil, Abbéville, Beauvais
    Were promised, promised, came and went,
    Each place granting its name's fulfilment.

    A combine groaning its way late
    Bled seeds across its work-light.
    A forest fire smouldered out.
    One by one small cafés shut.

    I thought of you continuously
    A thousand miles south where Italy
    Laid its loin to France on the darkened sphere.
    Your ordinariness was renewed there.

    At Ardboe Point

    Right along the lough shore
    A smoke of flies
    Drifts thick in the sunset.

    They come shattering daintily
    Against the windscreen,
    The grill and bonnet whisper

    At their million collisions:
    It is to drive through
    A hail of fine chaff.

    Yet we leave no clear wake
    For they open and close on us
    As the air opens and closes.

    Tonight when we put out our light
    To kiss between sheets
    Their just audible siren will go

    Outside the window,
    Their invisible veil
    Weakening the moonlight still further,

    And the walls will carry a rash
    Of them, a green pollen.
    They'll have infiltrated our clothes by morning.

    If you put one under a lens
    You'd be looking at a pumping body
    With such outsize beaters for wings

    That this visitation would seem
    More drastic than Pharaoh's.
    I'm told they're mosquitoes

    But I'd need forests and swamps
    To believe it
    For these are our innocent, shuttling

    Choirs, dying through
    Their own live empyrean, troublesome only
    As the last veil on a dancer.

    Relic of Memory

    The lough waters
    Can petrify wood:
    Old oars and posts
    Over the years
    Harden their grain,
    Incarcerate ghosts

    Of sap and season.
    The shallows lap
    And give and take:
    Constant ablutions,
    Such drowning love
    Stun a stake

    To stalagmite.
    Dead lava,
    The cooling star,
    Coal and diamond
    Or sudden birth
    Of burnt meteor

    Are too simple,
    Without the lure
    That relic stored –
    A piece of stone
    On the shelf at school,
    Oatmeal coloured.

    A Lough Neagh Sequence
    For the fishermen

        1 Up the Shore


    The lough will claim a victim every year.
    It has virtue that hardens wood to stone.
    There is a town sunk beneath its water.
    It is the scar left by the Isle of Man.


    At Toomebridge where it sluices towards the sea
    They've set new gates and tanks against the flow.
    From time to time they break the eels' journey
    And lift five hundred stones in one go.


    But up the shore in Antrim and Tyrone
    There is a sense of fair play in the game.
    The fishermen confront them one by one
    And sail miles out and never learn to swim.


    'We'll be the quicker going down,' they say.
    And when you argue there are no storms here,
    That one hour floating's sure to land them safely –
    'The lough will claim a victim every year.'


Excerpted from Door into the Dark by Seamus Heaney. Copyright © 1969 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.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
The Outlaw,
The Salmon Fisher to the Salmon,
The Forge,
The Peninsula,
In Gallarus Oratory,
Girls Bathing, Galway, 1965,
Requiem for the Croppies,
Rite of Spring,
The Wife's Tale,
Cana Revisited,
Elegy for a Still-born Child,
Victorian Guitar,
Night Drive,
At Ardboe Point,
Relic of Memory,
A Lough Neagh Sequence,
1. Up the Shore,
2. Beyond Sargasso,
3. Bait,
4. Setting,
5. Lifting,
6. The Return,
7. Vision,
The Given Note,
The Plantation,
Bann Clay,
By the Same Author,

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Door into the Dark 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nods and pads back to camp.