Digging Without Heaney

 

Between his finger, palm and thumb

The trowel rests; snug as a gun.

 

Beside my barrow, a sleek swallowing sound

When the spade sinks into gravel-less ground;

The archaeologist, digging down

 

'Till his straining shoulders, seaweed level,

Throw high the forgotten land, a thousand years away.

Stooping in rhythm with the waving sea.

Where he was digging

 

His father dug and his son will follow

Against the boot, a heritage in mind.

We cut out the blue grey cold, buried the bright edge deep

To scatter ancient bark, pink in the dark

Organic coolness of scrobicularie clay.

 

Old gods watched the time unravelling

Into tin and bag, eaten by unfamiliar air.

 

Other people’s grandfathers cut turf in this bay

They left a checker board of bog behind,

Where now I carry samples and a measure,

Marked sloppily with raining ink

And an auger, taller than the sea standing houses

Who watch the storm ravens scavenge their oppressor 
Under Davy Jones’ disguise,
For the old turf. Digging.

The hot smell of sulphur, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through past horizons awakening in my hand.
But I’ve not the strength of turn to follow them;

Between my finger, palm and thumb
A squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

Seamus Heaney, Digging – 1964

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

‘Til 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. 

Not Ozymandias

 

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: Two dozen trunkless legs of pine

Stand in the sea… Near them, underground,

Half sunk, my visage lay, whose smooth

And curling tine and call of old command,

Tell that its sculptor well the tides had read

Which yet survive, washing the lifeless things,

The prints of those who watched me and were fed

From sedge and alder, heather, seed and reed.

“My name is not immortal, though a King”

He said. “Look on the layers of my land,

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Still children paddle, with feet small and bare,

As the un-level sands, hold time at bay.

 

 

Shelley – Ozymandias – 1817

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert...Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:

'My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'

Nothing beside remains.

Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

The Bounty of Borth

 

I imagine the face of the first king, intelligent and dark, like some old poet who would quote Aneurin or Dic Jones… full of unsubtle weather, considered and quiet, impassive with a wild longing suggestive of that final consummate strength which survives even the disintegration of an ostracod shell.

W.B. Yeats – The Bounty of Sweden - 1925

 

I study the face of the old king, intelligent and friendly, like some country gentleman who can quote Homer and Catullus…full of subtle beauty, emotional and precise, impassive with a still intensity suggesting that final consummate strength which rounds the spiral of a shell.

After Hopkins' Ash-Boughs

Not all eyes see, when wondering about the world
No milk nor honey sweetens a tongue that sighs so deep
Without poetry in it, as a weed whose seeds defy.
Say, it is the dandelion, weathered in April, undeterred
Its spirit fast within a fist once held, as if asleep
Its dreaming, prayers upon the boughs of heaven; fly.
Touching home they harbour in it; how their watches keep
Our promises of time, a delicate essay
Snow bright, trailing through fingers, a fringe to May
Whose sun will be now gold as their hearts did a summer, reap
Ashen, in a child's cry.

Performed at The Hopkin's Festival, Kildare, Ireland. July 2016

Gerald Manley-Hopkins, The Ash-Bough 1918

NOT of all my eyes see, wandering on the world,

Is anything a milk to the mind so, so sighs deep

Poetry to it, as a tree whose boughs break in the sky.

Say it is ashboughs: whether on a December day and furled

Fast ór they in clammyish lashtender combs creep

Apart wide and new-nestle at heaven most high.

They touch heaven, tabour on it; how their talons sweep

The smouldering enormous winter welkin! May

Mells blue and snowwhite through them, a fringe and fray

Of greenery: it is old earth’s groping towards the steep

 Heaven whom she childs us by.

The Ice Fall

 

It was not as white as flour when it did melt,

The first flood, on that chill black day

When the world did shatter and slide

And shouted out to waken me.

 

The ice that made my mountain range

Fell crumbling into a warmer stay.

By the blessed sky!

I had no hope I should ever see dry land again.

Gwerful Mechain – 1460 to 1502 - The Snowfall

 

White flour, earth-flesh, a cold fleece on the mountain,

Small snow of the chill black day;

Snow like a platter, bitter cold plumage0

,A softness sent to entrammel me.

White snow on the cold hill above 

Has blinded me and soaked my clothes so

By the Blessed God!

I had no hope I should ever get to my house.

Kavanagh – Before the Future

 

Oh we had a future

A future

 

A media’s imagination making our streets

Not your streets –

The personality of a Brexit Britain

Partitioned into photographs to adorn a private page.

 

Give the virtual eyes we all peer through in confidence

An agency, a tribe;

Fog it with fear

Into a mire

And think it a future.

 

The lovers we were to greet,

Now nobodys on the other side of a divide.

 

Bring me irony in a jar,

The innocence of a willing mind

Voting itself into a homeless kingdom.

Give me the paper

That is not money

For this knowing is a state of ignorance

With which I am not friends.

 

Is there a stretcher I can lie on

In a hallway by Frongoch Road?

Let God call for me in a horsedrawn cart

 

This midsummer where the madness

Over Europe tears at the

Lack of bumblebees along a dry canal

 

Oh, we had a future.

Patrick Kavanagh, I Had a Future, 1964

 

O I had a future

A future.

 

Gods of the imagination bring back to life 

The personality of those streets,

Not any streets

But the streets of nineteen forty.

 

Give the quarter-seeing eyes I looked out of 

The animal-remembering mind

The fog through which I walked towards

The mirage

That was my future.

 

The women I was to meet 

They were nowhere within sight.

 

And then the pathos of the blind soul,

How without knowing stands in its own kingdom.

Bring me a small detail

How I felt about money,

Not frantic as later,

There was the future.

 

Show me the stretcher-bed I slept on

In a room on Drumcondra Road,

Let John Betjeman call for me in a car. 

 

It is summer and the eerie beat 

Of madness in Europe trembles the 

Wings of the butterflies along the canal.

O I had a future. 

Macalla/After-Echoes...

... are poems that are written to reflect those which have gone before. They are after another's form, echoing lines and imagery without parody or disguise. They honour a literary legacy, standing firm within a heritage, remembering into a new direction.

Parting with Emily

 

My love died twice before this end;

It yet remains to see

If immortality unveils

A truth to set me free.

 

So huge, so hopeless to believe,

As mortals we rebel,

Loving is all we know of heaven

And all we need of hell.

Emily Dickinson, Parting, 1924

My life closed twice before its close;
It yet remains to see
If Immortality unveil
A third event to me.


So huge, so hopeless to conceive,
As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven,
And all we need of hell.

To Dr.A

To hold, to teach, to grow - and then to part,

Is the glad tale of many a parent's heart.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Circa 1800

To meet, to know, to love--and then to part,
Is the sad tale of many a human heart. 

The Floods

 

The rain it rained without a stay

In the hills above us, in the hills;

And eventually the flood broke 'way

Whose strength came from the sky.

The trees they opened like lily flowers

As the storm did roar aloud –

Banked high were the lowlands, lowlands,

Lowlands by the raging sea.

 

The last wood left is sere and small,

Though once were tall as the distant hills

They carried bats and the blackbirds’ call,

They sheltered travelers from warmer shores

And their roots drank deep, from water clean and cool.

Then came the salt and brackish pools,

And what was strong did rot and spill,

Falling long in the lowlands, lowlands,

Lowlands unto the sea.

 

Of the many floods, they were not afraid,

Nor of the bog behind them, nor the crying hills

Who saw beyond the fences man had made

And called with an increasing plea.

The waters did not reckon twice

For any work of man’s device

But tore it down to the lowland hundred,

Lowland to the waiting sea.

The floods did sweep corruption clean –

By the hills, the blessing of the hills.

Kipling – The Floods – 1922

 

The rain it rains without a stay

  In the hills above us, in the hills;

And presently the floods break way

  Whose strength is in the hills.

The trees they suck from every cloud,

The valley brooks they roar aloud--

Bank-high for the lowlands, lowlands,

  Lowlands under the hills!

 

The first wood down is sere and small,

  From the hills--the brishings off the hills;

And then come by the bats and all

  We cut last year in the hills;

And then the roots we tried to cleave

But found too tough and had to leave--

Plotting down the lowlands, lowlands,

  Lowlands under the hills!

 

The eye shall look, the ear shall hark

  To the hills, the doings in the hills!

And rivers mating in the dark

  With tokens from the hills.

Now what is weak will surely go,

And what is strong must prove it so--

Stand Fast in the lowlands, lowlands,

  Lowlands under the hills!

 

The floods they shall not be afraid--

  Nor the hills above 'em, nor the hills--

Of any fence which man has made

  Betwixt him and the hills.

The waters shall not reckon twice

  For any work of man's device,

  But bid it down to the lowlands, lowlands,

     Lowlands under the hills!

 

The floods shall sweep corruption clean--

  By the hills, the blessing of the hills--

That more the meadows may be green

  New-mended from the hills.

The crops and cattle shall increase,

Nor little children shall not cease.

Go--plough the lowlands, lowlands,

  Lowlands under the hills!

No. 419

 

Fair things are slow to fade away,

Bear witness you, that yesterday

From out of Plant Rhys Ddwfn’s arms

Strode a farmer made of waves; and they say

 

That here the torpid pollen wheat

Of forgotten fields bore a grain as sweet

As that which gilds still the flanks of Wales,

Sunned with a summer of milder heat.

 

So may this legend for awhile,

If carried by you, bring a smile

Though dead in its Bronze Age bed

To rise again on a colder isle.

Lord Alfred  Tennyson – C.Ricks no 419

Fair things are slow to fade away,
Bear witness you, that yesterday
From out the Ghost of Pindar in you
Rolled an Olympian; and they say

That here the torpid mummy wheat 
Of Egypt bore a grain as sweet
As that which gilds the glebe of England,
Sunned with a summer of milder heat.

So may this legend for awhile,
If greeted by your classic smile,
Though dead in its Trinacrian Enna,
Blossom again on a colder isle.

Seaside

 

And the sea opened its bag

On the land. We didn’t ask

To die, cried the trees

Rooting still. The old stumps

 

Drown, divesting themselves

Of trinkets. The men walk to

A horizon where sand sharks

Wait, dark sails, passing.

R.S.Thomas – Seaside - 1972

 

And the sea opens its bag

On the sand. I didn’t ask

To be born, screams the child,

Paddling.  The grown girl

 

Smiles, helping herself

To its trinkets. The men leer.

On the horizon the shark’s

Fin passes, a dark sail.

Edge

It is at the edges
that time
thins.
Time which had been
a tide, turning,
as a gull on the breeze
with no intention
but to fly. A
drowning begins,
apparently,
as if
it was not
already here,
a deluge myth
speaking,
it claims, of
now. Time flattens in
a glittering story,
competing to happen,
not seeing the fish
waving in land’s
retreat.

Kay Ryan, The Edges of Time, 2010

It is at the edges
that time
thins.
Time which had been
dense and viscous
as amber suspending
intentions like bees
unseizes them. A
humming begins,
apparently
coming
from stacks of
put-off things or
just in back. A
racket
of claims now,
as time flattens. A
glittering fan of things
competing to happen,
brilliant and urgent
as fish when seas
retreat.

Song: From Sea to Shore

The waves embrace you, my lover
And the roving stars, bless,
Guiding with a garden
Of light and tenderness.

All these are my brethren,
They arose: I fare on.
We shall not see their like again
Beneath the fading sun.

Oh bathe me with an aeon’s love:
That we, the time-accursed,
May not mock the sand or fleeting hours
Or bid man do his worst.

For the stories will remember us,
And the grave will forget,
As the sea in all her wisdom
Will let the storms still haunt us yet.

George Mackay Brown, Song: Rognvald to Ermengarde

The winds embrace you, my lover
And the quiet stars bless,
Noons touch you with ardour
And dawns with tenderness.

All these are my brothers,
They abide: I fare on.
I shall not see your like again
Beneath the enduring sun.

O mould with me a timeless love:
That we, the time-accursed,
May mock the sad and fleeting hours
And bid death do his worst.

But the hours embrace you, my lover
And the grave seasons bless,
The years touch you with wisdom
And death with gentleness.

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