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.
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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."
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Door into the Dark
By Seamus Heaney
Faber and Faber, Inc.Copyright © 1969 Seamus Heaney
All rights reserved.
Must you know it again?
Dull pounding through hay,
The uneasy whinny.
A sponge lip drawn off each separate tooth.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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,
Of sap and season.
The shallows lap
And give and take:
Such drowning love
Stun a stake
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,
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.
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Table of Contents
The Salmon Fisher to the Salmon,
In Gallarus Oratory,
Girls Bathing, Galway, 1965,
Requiem for the Croppies,
Rite of Spring,
The Wife's Tale,
Elegy for a Still-born Child,
At Ardboe Point,
Relic of Memory,
A Lough Neagh Sequence,
1. Up the Shore,
2. Beyond Sargasso,
6. The Return,
The Given Note,
By the Same Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Nods and pads back to camp.