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March 19, 2008


I remember reading this poem, years ago, one night when I could not sleep:

When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other's work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives -
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

- Seamus Haney

Perhaps you will find one you like.

Posted by Cassandra at March 19, 2008 02:51 PM

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Haney's a good lad -- it's his version of Beowulf that has the line I like in it describing a son for the king as: "a cub in the yard / a comfort sent by heaven."

It's not most accurate translation of the poem, but it is a remarkably smooth one, which manages to work in some rich imagery that usefully replaces terms that are no longer as meaningful to modern readers. The thought of the young boy rampaging around the mead hall like a bear cub always makes me smile.

Posted by: Grim at March 20, 2008 02:41 AM

But what is this -- Sylvia Plath? Gracious.

If we are naming the great poets of the 20th century, the best one is not named. What of Chesterton?

For the man dwelt in a lost land
Of boulders and broken men,
In a great grey cave far off to the south
Where a thick green forest stopped the mouth,
Giving darkness in his den.

And the man was come like a shadow,
From the shadow of Druid trees,
Where Usk, with mighty murmurings,
Past Caerleon of the fallen kings,
Goes out to ghostly seas.

Last of a race in ruin--
He spoke the speech of the Gaels;
His kin were in holy Ireland,
Or up in the crags of Wales.

But his soul stood with his mother's folk,
That were of the rain-wrapped isle,
Where Patrick and Brandan westerly
Looked out at last on a landless sea
And the sun's last smile.

His harp was carved and cunning,
As the Celtic craftsman makes,
Graven all over with twisting shapes
Like many headless snakes.

His harp was carved and cunning,
His sword prompt and sharp,
And he was gay when he held the sword,
Sad when he held the harp.

For the great Gaels of Ireland
Are the men that God made mad,
For all their wars are merry,
And all their songs are sad.

He kept the Roman order,
He made the Christian sign;
But his eyes grew often blind and bright,
And the sea that rose in the rocks at night
Rose to his head like wine.

He made the sign of the cross of God,
He knew the Roman prayer,
But he had unreason in his heart
Because of the gods that were.

Even they that walked on the high cliffs,
High as the clouds were then,
Gods of unbearable beauty,
That broke the hearts of men.

And whether in seat or saddle,
Whether with frown or smile,
Whether at feast or fight was he,
He heard the noise of a nameless sea
On an undiscovered isle.

Posted by: Grim at March 20, 2008 03:02 AM

I liked Zanadu.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at March 20, 2008 11:21 AM

Where Alph, the sacred river ran
through caverns measureless to man
down to a sunless sea

There was a time when I could quote it from memory; but that is long ago.

Posted by: Grim at March 20, 2008 11:38 AM