The end of art is peace.
(Excerpt 7 and 8)
by Seamus Heaney
In the last minutes he said more to her
Almost than in all their life together.
‘You’ll be in New Row on Monday night
And I’ll come up for you and you’ll be glad
When I walk in the door . . . Isn’t that right?’
His head was bent down to her propped-up head.
She could not hear but we were overjoyed.
He called her good and girl. Then she was dead,
The searching for a pulsebeat was abandoned
And we all knew one thing by being there.
The space we stood around had been emptied
Into us to keep, it penetrated
Clearances that suddenly stood open.
High cries were felled and a pure change happened.
My mother was born in October, Seamus Heaney’s mother died in October. However, I tend to think of my Mother’s death more in this month than when she actually died in July. I think it was because her death was so sudden, shocking in some ways, just hours after I had dropped her off at her house after Church on a Sunday afternoon. I don’t think I truly processed her death until October when we laid her ashes to rest next to her Mother and Father in Lakewood Cemetery. I have written before that this blog and my involvement with poetry is directly attributable to my relationship with my Mother and the way we shared poetry as a unique language between us. My poetry wouldn’t exist without my Mother. And I hate to admit, but my writing, both quality and quantity has steadily decreased in the intervening years, almost as if I feel I don’t need to put things to paper anymore for what was my most avid critic and fan.
Heaney’s sonnet sequence Clearances; 8 separate sonnets, are about the loss of his mother and their relationship. I choose to share the ending, not the beginning of the sequence, but if you want to read the entire sequence here’s a link: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/57042/clearances .
I wrote many poems for my Mother, about my Mother, both when she was alive and afterwards. I can relate to his motivations in Clearances. What’s fascinating about these poems is what they don’t say. The poems are like reading inside jokes of the Heaney family, a private language, that only him and his immediate family will understand but at the same time its completely accessible because its about the mundane simplicity of life, which is really what life is about for the most part. What I enjoy about Heaney’s use of the sonnet structure is the power he wields over it. He doesn’t try to conform his ideas to an extraneous straight jacket of rhyming expectations, yet understands the structure gives it weight and bearing. He uses the sonnet structure to simplify, highlight and ultimately elevate his words. Heaney along with Robert Lowell, John Berryman and others evolved the sonnet in their own unique ways to take it where it belongs in the present, less fettered by expectations and free to wander in their and their readers imaginations.
I thought of walking round and round a space
Utterly empty, utterly a source
Where the decked chestnut tree had lost its place
In our front hedge above the wallflowers.
The white chips jumped and jumped and skited high.
I heard the hatchet’s differentiated
Accurate cut, the crack, the sigh
And collapse of what luxuriated
Through the shocked tips and wreckage of it all.
Deep-planted and long gone, my coeval
Chestnut from a jam jar in a hole,
Its heft and hush become a bright nowhere,
A soul ramifying and forever
Silent, beyond silence listened for.
2 thoughts on “Isn’t That Right?”
Wow. Those two Heaney poems pack a grief-punch. “The space we stood around had been emptied into us to keep” yes, feels like that.
Thank you for a wonderful quote, and the reminder that I need to read more Heaney, more closely.