Poetry Turnstile: Seamus Heaney




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,

Speech-gutterings, desultory


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,


Gathering, quietening,

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.






Filed under Poetry turnstile

3 responses to “Poetry Turnstile: Seamus Heaney

  1. that was beautiful, B.

    ‘things not to be said
    things for keeping, that can keep the small-hours gaze
    open and steady…
    that we’ve been true to.
    a thing allowed.’

  2. I had to internet-search your quotation – the lovely Mr Heaney again! Such gentle but clever quietude. Reminds me a little of the late Francis Jammes. I gave away my only volume of Jammes’ poetry, however, and I almost miss him when it comes to the change of seasons. He has such gentle, perambulating observations when it comes to the change of seasons.

  3. Pingback: Why do schools teach young adults to appreciate poetry as they might chew sawdust? | Fieldnotes & Footnotes

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