The title poem of this collection, set on an Irish island, tells of a pilgrim on an inner journey that leads him back into the world that formed him, and then forward to face the crises of the present. Writing in The Washington Post Book World, Hugh Kenner called this narrative sequence "as fine a long poem as we've had in fifty years."
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|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
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About the Author
Seamus Heaney received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995.
Read an Excerpt
By Seamus Heaney
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 1985 Seamus Heaney
All rights reserved.
There we were in the vaulted tunnel running,
You in your going-away coat speeding ahead
And me, me then like a fleet god gaining
Upon you before you turned to a reed
Or some new white flower japped with crimson
As the coat flapped wild and button after button
Sprang off and fell in a trail
Between the Underground and the Albert Hall.
Honeymooning, moonlighting, late for the Proms,
Our echoes die in that corridor and now
I come as Hansel came on the moonlit stones
Retracing the path back, lifting the buttons
To end up in a draughty lamplit station
After the trains have gone, the wet track
Bared and tensed as I am, all attention
For your step following and damned if I look back.
The white towelling bathrobe
ungirdled, the hair still wet,
first coldness of the underbreast
like a ciborium in the palm.
Our bodies are the temples
of the Holy Ghost. Remember?
And the little, fitted, deep-slit drapes
on and off the holy vessels
regularly? And the chasuble
so deftly hoisted? But vest yourself
in the word you taught me
and the stuff I love: slub silk.
The clear weather of juniper
darkened into winter.
She fed gin to sloes
and sealed the glass container.
When I unscrewed it
I smelled the disturbed
tart stillness of a bush
rising through the pantry.
When I poured it
it had a cutting edge
I drink to you
in smoke-mirled, blue-black,
polished sloes, bitter
Away from It All
A cold steel fork
pried the tank water
and forked up a lobster:
articulated twigs, a rainy stone
the colour of sunk munitions.
In full view of the strand,
the sea wind spitting on the big window,
we plunged and reddened it,
then sat for hours in conclave
over the last of the claws.
It was twilight, twilight, twilight
as the questions hopped and rooted.
It was oarsmen's backs and oars
hauled against and lifting.
And more power to us, my friend,
hard at it over the dregs,
laying in in earnest
as the sea darkens
and whitens and darkens
and quotations start to rise
like rehearsed alibis:
I was stretched between contemplation
of a motionless point
and the command to participate
actively in history.
'Actively? What do you mean?'
The light at the rim of the sea
is rendered down to a fine
graduation, somewhere between
balance and inanition.
And I still cannot clear my head
of lives in their element
on the cobbled floor of that tank
and the hampered one, out of water,
fortified and bewildered.
Chekhov on Sakhalin
for Derek Mahon
So, he would pay his 'debt to medicine'.
But first he drank cognac by the ocean
With his back to all he travelled north to face.
His head was swimming free as the troikas
Of Tyumin, he looked down from the rail
Of his thirty years and saw a mile
Into himself as if he were clear water:
Lake Baikhal from the deckrail of the steamer.
That far north, Siberia was south.
Should it have been an ulcer in the mouth,
The cognac that the Moscow literati
Packed off with him to a penal colony –
Him, born, you may say, under the counter?
At least that meant he knew its worth. No cantor
In full throat by the iconostasis
Got holier joy than he got from that glass
That shone and warmed like diamonds warming
On some pert young cleavage in a salon,
Inviolable and affronting.
He felt the glass go cold in the midnight sun.
When he staggered up and smashed it on the stones
It rang as clearly as the convicts' chains
That haunted him. In the months to come
It rang on like the burden of his freedom
To try for the right tone – not tract, not thesis –
And walk away from floggings. He who thought to squeeze
His slave's blood out and waken the free man
Shadowed a convict guide through Sakhalin.
It is a kind of chalky russet
solidified gourd, sedimentary
and so reliably dense and bricky
I often clasp it and throw it from hand to hand.
It was ruddier, with an underwater
hint of contusion, when I lifted it,
wading a shingle beach on Inishowen.
Across the estuary light after light
came on silently round the perimeter
of the camp. A stone from Phlegethon,
bloodied on the bed of hell's hot river?
Evening frost and the salt water
made my hand smoke, as if I'd plucked the heart
that damned Guy de Montfort to the boiling flood –
but not really, though I remembered
his victim's heart in its casket, long venerated.
Anyhow, there I was with the wet red stone
in my hand, staring across at the watch-towers
from my free state of image and allusion,
swooped on, then dropped by trained binoculars:
a silhouette not worth bothering about,
out for the evening in scarf and waders
and not about to set times wrong or right,
stooping along, one of the venerators.
1 Granite Chip
Houndstooth stone. Aberdeen of the mind.
Saying An union in the cup I'll throw
I have hurt my hand, pressing it hard around
this bit hammered off Joyce's Martello
Tower, this flecked insoluble brilliant
I keep but feel little in common with –
a kind of stone age circumcising knife,
a Calvin edge in my complaisant pith.
Granite is jaggy, salty, punitive
and exacting. Come to me, it says
all you who labour and are burdened, I
will not refresh you. And it adds, Seize
the day. And, You can take me or leave me.
2 Old Smoothing Iron
Often I watched her lift it
from where its compact wedge
rode the back of the stove
like a tug at anchor.
To test its heat by ear
she spat in its iron face
or held it up next her cheek
to divine the stored danger.
Soft thumps on the ironing board.
Her dimpled angled elbow
and intent stoop
as she aimed the smoothing iron
like a plane into linen,
like the resentment of women.
To work, her dumb lunge says,
is to move a certain mass
through a certain distance,
is to pull your weight and feel
exact and equal to it.
Feel dragged upon. And buoyant.
3 Old Pewter
Not the age of silver, more a slither
of illiteracy under rafters:
a dented hand-me-down old smoky plate
full of blizzards, sullied and temperate.
I love unshowy pewter, my soft option
when it comes to the metals – next to solder
that weeps at the touch of a hot iron;
doleful and placid as a gloss-barked alder
reflected in the nebulous lid of a pool
where they thought I had drowned one winter day
a stone's throw from the house, when the whole
country was mist and I hid deliberately.
Glimmerings are what the soul's composed of.
Fogged-up challenges, far conscience-glitters
and hang-dog, half-truth earnests of true love.
And a whole late-flooding thaw of ancestors.
4 Iron Spike
So like a harrow pin
I hear harness creaks and the click
of stones in a ploughed-up field.
But it was the age of steam
at Eagle Pond, New Hampshire,
when this rusted spike I found there
was aimed and driven in
to fix a cog on the line.
What guarantees things keeping
if a railway can be lifted
like a long briar out of ditch growth?
I felt I had come on myself
in the grassy silent path
where I drew the iron like a thorn
or a word I had thought my own
out of a stranger's mouth.
And the sledge-head that sank it
with a last opaque report
deep into the creosoted
sleeper, where is that?
And the sweat-cured haft?
Ask the ones on the buggy,
inaudible and upright
and sped along without shadows.
5 Stone from Delphi
To be carried back to the shrine some dawn
when the sea spreads its far sun-crops to the south
and I make a morning offering again:
that I may escape the miasma of spilled blood,
govern the tongue, fear hybris, fear the god
until he speaks in my untrammelled mouth.
6 A Snowshoe
The loop of a snowshoe hangs on a wall
in my head, in a room that is drift-still:
it is like a brushed longhand character,
a hieroglyph for all the realms of whisper.
It was to follow the snow goose of a word
I left the room after an amorous blizzard
and climbed up attic stairs like a somnambulist,
furred and warm-blooded, scuffling the snow-crust.
Then I sat there writing, imagining in silence
sounds like love sounds after long abstinence,
eager and absorbed and capable
under the sign of a snowshoe on a wall.
The loop of the snowshoe, like an old-time kite,
lifts away in a wind and is lost to sight.
Now I sit blank as gradual morning brightens
its distancing, inviolate expanse.
About a mile above
and beyond our place,
in a house with a leaking roof
and cracked dormer windows
Brigid came to live
with her mother and sisters.
So for months after that
she slept in a crowded bed
under the branch-whipped slates,
bewildered night after night
by starts of womanhood,
and a dream troubled her head
of a ship's passenger lounge
where empty bottles rolled
at every slow plunge
and lift, a weeping child
kept weeping, and a strange
flowing black taxi pulled
into a bombed station.
She would waken to the smell
of baby clothes and children
who snuggled tight, and the small
dormer with no curtain
beginning to go pale.
Windfalls lay at my feet
those days, clandestine winds
stirred in our lyric wood:
restive, quick and silent
the deer of poetry stood
in pools of lucent sound
ready to scare,
as morning and afternoon
Brigid and her sisters
came jangling along, down
the steep hill for water,
and laboured up again.
Familiars! A trail
of spillings in the dust,
unsteady white enamel
buckets looming. Their ghosts,
like their names, called from the hill
to 'Hurry', hurry past,
a spill of syllables.
I knew the story then.
then to the Dublin train
with their cases and boxes,
pram and cassette machine,
and then they miss the bus,
their last Wicklow connection –
the young ones scared and cross
in the lit bus station,
the mother at a loss.
And so in desperation
they start out for the suburbs
and into the small hours.
How it sweetens and disturbs
as they make their homesick tour,
a moonlight flit, street arabs,
the mother and her daughters
walking south through the land
past neon garages,
night lights haloed on blinds,
padlocked entries, bridges
swelling over a kind
mutter of streams, then trees
start filling the sky
and the estates thin out,
lamps are spaced more widely
until a cold moonlight
shows Wicklow's mountainy
black skyline, and they sit.
They change the cassette
but now the battery's gone.
They cannot raise a note.
When the first drops of rain
spit in the dark, Brigid
gets up and says, 'Come on.'
Excerpted from Station Island by Seamus Heaney. Copyright © 1985 Seamus Heaney. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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
Away from It All,
Chekhov on Sakhalin,
1. Granite Chip,
2. Old Smoothing Iron,
3. Old Pewter,
4. Iron Spike,
5. Stone from Delphi,
6. A Snowshoe,
An Ulster Twilight,
A Bat on the Road,
A Hazel Stick for Catherine Ann,
A Kite for Michael and Christopher,
The Railway Children,
An Aisling in the Burren,
Sheelagh na Gig,
The King of the Ditchbacks,
PART TWO: STATION ISLAND,
PART THREE: SWEENEY REDIVIVUS,
The First Gloss,
In the Beech,
The First Kingdom,
The First Flight,
A Waking Dream,
In the Chestnut Tree,
The Old Icons,
In Illo Tempore,
On the Road,
Books by Seamus Heaney,
What People are Saying About This
"Seamus Heaney is one of the most admired poets writing in English to have emerged in the last 20 years, and if you open 'Station Island' almost anywhere you will soon see why. Powerful images; compelling rhythms; a distinctive palette; phrases packed tight with meaning - Mr. Heaney has all the primary gifts of a poet."The New York Times "Striking."Publishers Weekly