The secondhand bookstall man was not on campus today as he usually is because it has been raining consistently for days. I was naughty, anyhow, and went to the shiny, new bookstore instead. I wonder if it is an Australian thing – the phenomenon of the ever shrinking poetry section. It is almost a touch saddening.
What makes it really and truly almost saddening is the fact that the volumes of poetry that do remain on the shelves are, for the most part, ‘collections’ of poetry chosen by an editor (as fitting or tailored to a particular topic). Surely the more gracious (and optimistic) thing to do, would be to stock a volume of each included poet’s work (instead stocking one cobbled collection of different works by different poets)? One of the most handsomely lovely things about a new book of poetry is the prospect of gradually getting to know the poet – their outlook, mood and style. This is all lost in edited ‘collected’ works. Am I being conservative? Perhaps.
Anyhow, I was saved the minor trauma of the shrinking poetry section today, as I’ve been meaning to read Seamus Heaney for some time and being quite popular – there he was on the shelf. And how lovely he is.
This poem is entitled ‘Canopy’ and it is included in Seamus’ Human Chain (2010), published by Faber and Faber, London. One of the things I found particularly delightful about this poem is the thought of the poet himself, standing alone watching and waiting for the fairy lights to come on, thinking these quiet young-green whispering thoughts.
It was the month of May.
Trees in Harvard Yard
Were turning a young green.
There was whispering everywhere.
David Ward had installed
Voice-boxes in the branches,
Speakers wrapped in sacking
Looking like old wasps’ nests
Or bat-fruit in the gloaming –
Shadow Adam’s apples
That made sibilant ebb and flow,
Hush and backwash and echo.
It was like a recording
Of antiphonal responses
In the congregation of leaves.
Or a wood that talked in its sleep.
Reeds on a riverbank
Going over and over their secret.
People were cocking their ears,
Stepping on to the grass,
Stopping and holding hands.
Earth was replaying its tapes,
Words being given new airs:
Dante’s whispering wood –
The wood of the suicides –
Had been magicked to lover’s lane.
If a twig had been broken off there
It would have curled itself like a finger
Around the fingers that broke it
And then refused to let go
As if it were mistletoe
Taking tightening hold.
Or so I thought as the fairy
Lights in the boughs came on.