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Best Famous Seamus Heaney Poems

Here is a collection of the all-time best famous Seamus Heaney poems. This is a select list of the best famous Seamus Heaney poetry. Reading, writing, and enjoying famous Seamus Heaney poetry (as well as classical and contemporary poems) is a great past time. These top poems are the best examples of Seamus Heaney poems.

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by Seamus Heaney | |

Limbo

 Fishermen at Ballyshannon
Netted an infant last night
Along with the salmon.
An illegitimate spawning, A small one thrown back To the waters.
But I'm sure As she stood in the shallows Ducking him tenderly Till the frozen knobs of her wrists Were dead as the gravel, He was a minnow with hooks Tearing her open.
She waded in under The sign of the cross.
He was hauled in with the fish.
Now limbo will be A cold glitter of souls Through some far briny zone.
Even Christ's palms, unhealed, Smart and cannot fish there.


by Seamus Heaney | |

Rite of Spring

 So winter closed its fist
And got it stuck in the pump.
The plunger froze up a lump In its throat, ice founding itself Upon iron.
The handle Paralysed at an angle.
Then the twisting of wheat straw into ropes, lapping them tight Round stem and snout, then a light That sent the pump up in a flame It cooled, we lifted her latch, Her entrance was wet, and she came.


by Seamus Heaney | |

Strange Fruit

 Here is the girl's head like an exhumed gourd.
Oval-faced, prune-skinned, prune-stones for teeth.
They unswaddled the wet fern of her hair And made an exhibition of its coil, Let the air at her leathery beauty.
Pash of tallow, perishable treasure: Her broken nose is dark as a turf clod, Her eyeholes blank as pools in the old workings.
Diodorus Siculus confessed His gradual ease with the likes of this: Murdered, forgotten, nameless, terrible Beheaded girl, outstaring axe And beatification, outstaring What had begun to feel like reverence.


More great poems below...

by Seamus Heaney | |

Requiem for the Croppies

 The pockets of our greatcoats full of barley.
.
.
No kitchens on the run, no striking camp.
.
.
We moved quick and sudden in our own country.
The priest lay behind ditches with the tramp.
A people hardly marching.
.
.
on the hike.
.
.
We found new tactics happening each day: We'd cut through reins and rider with the pike And stampede cattle into infantry, Then retreat through hedges where cavalry must be thrown.
Until.
.
.
on Vinegar Hill.
.
.
the final conclave.
Terraced thousands died, shaking scythes at cannon.
The hillside blushed, soaked in our broken wave.
They buried us without shroud or coffin And in August.
.
.
the barley grew up out of our grave.


by Seamus Heaney | |

Mid-Term Break

 I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o'clock our neighbors drove me home.
In the porch I met my father crying-- He had always taken funerals in his stride-- And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.
The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram When I came in, and I was embarrassed By old men standing up to shake my hand And tell me they were "sorry for my trouble," Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest, Away at school, as my mother held my hand In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o'clock the ambulance arrived With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.
Next morning I went up into the room.
Snowdrops And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him For the first time in six weeks.
Paler now, Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple, He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.
A four foot box, a foot for every year.


by Seamus Heaney | |

Digging

 Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pin rest; snug as a gun.
Under my window, a clean rasping sound When the spade sinks into gravelly ground: My father, digging.
I look down Till 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.


by Seamus Heaney | |

Blackberry-Picking

 Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for Picking.
Then red ones inked up and that hunger Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills We trekked and picked until the cans were full Until the tinkling bottom had been covered With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned Like a plate of eyes.
Our hands were peppered With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur, A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too.
Once off the bush The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying.
It wasn't fair That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.


by Seamus Heaney | |

Follower

 My father worked with a horse-plough,
His shoulders globed like a full sail strung
Between the shafts and the furrow.
The horse strained at his clicking tongue.
An expert.
He would set the wing And fit the bright steel-pointed sock.
The sod rolled over without breaking.
At the headrig, with a single pluck Of reins, the sweating team turned round And back into the land.
His eye Narrowed and angled at the ground, Mapping the furrow exactly.
I stumbled in his hob-nailed wake, Fell sometimes on the polished sod; Sometimes he rode me on his back Dipping and rising to his plod.
I wanted to grow up and plough, To close one eye, stiffen my arm.
All I ever did was follow In his broad shadow round the farm.
I was a nuisance, tripping, falling, Yapping always.
But today It is my father who keeps stumbling Behind me, and will not go away.


by Seamus Heaney | |

Death Of A Naturalist

 All year the flax-dam festered in the heart
Of the townland; green and heavy headed
Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.
Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun.
Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.
There were dragon-flies, spotted butterflies, But best of all was the warm thick slobber Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water In the shade of the banks.
Here, every spring I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied Specks to range on window-sills at home, On shelves at school, and wait and watch until The fattening dots burst into nimble- Swimming tadpoles.
Miss Walls would tell us how The daddy frog was called a bullfrog And how he croaked and how the mammy frog Laid hundreds of little eggs and this was Frogspawn.
You could tell the weather by frogs too For they were yellow in the sun and brown In rain.
Then one hot day when fields were rank With cowdung in the grass the angry frogs Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through hedges To a coarse croaking that I had not heard Before.
The air was thick with a bass chorus.
Right down the dam gross-bellied frogs were cocked On sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails.
Some hopped: The slap and plop were obscene threats.
Some sat Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting.
I sickened, turned, and ran.
The great slime kings Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.


by Seamus Heaney | |

The Early Purges

 I was six when I first saw kittens drown.
Dan Taggart pitched them, 'the scraggy wee shits', Into a bucket; a frail metal sound, Soft paws scraping like mad.
But their tiny din Was soon soused.
They were slung on the snout Of the pump and the water pumped in.
'Sure, isn't it better for them now?' Dan said.
Like wet gloves they bobbed and shone till he sluiced Them out on the dunghill, glossy and dead.
Suddenly frightened, for days I sadly hung Round the yard, watching the three sogged remains Turn mealy and crisp as old summer dung Until I forgot them.
But the fear came back When Dan trapped big rats, snared rabbits, shot crows Or, with a sickening tug, pulled old hens' necks.
Still, living displaces false sentiments And now, when shrill pups are prodded to drown I just shrug, 'Bloody pups'.
It makes sense: 'Prevention of cruelty' talk cuts ice in town Where they consider death unnatural But on well-run farms pests have to be kept down.


by Seamus Heaney | |

The Grauballe Man

 As if he had been poured
in tar, he lies
on a pillow of turf
and seems to weep

the black river of himself.
The grain of his wrists is like bog oak, the ball of his heel like a basalt egg.
His instep has shrunk cold as a swan’s foot or a wet swamp root.
His hips are the ridge and purse of a mussel, his spine an eel arrested under a glisten of mud.
The head lifts, the chin is a visor raised above the vent of his slashed throat that has tanned and toughened.
The cured wound opens inwards to a dark elderberry place.
Who will say ‘corpse’ to his vivid cast? Who will say ‘body’ to his opaque repose? And his rusted hair, a mat unlikely as a foetus’s.
I first saw his twisted face in a photograph, a head and shoulder out of the peat, bruised like a forceps baby, but now he lies perfected in my memory, down to the red horn of his nails, hung in the scales with beauty and atrocity: with the Dying Gaul too strictly compassed on his shield, with the actual weight of each hooded victim, slashed and dumped.


by Seamus Heaney | |

The Perch

 Perch on their water perch hung in the clear Bann River
Near the clay bank in alder dapple and waver,

Perch they called ‘grunts’, little flood-slubs, runty and ready,
I saw and I see in the river’s glorified body

That is passable through, but they’re bluntly holding the 
pass,
Under the water-roof, over the bottom, adoze

On the current, against it, all muscle and slur
In the finland of perch, the fenland of alder, on air

That is water, on carpets of Bann stream, on hold
In the everything flows and steady go of the world.


by Seamus Heaney | |

The Tollund Man

 I

Some day I will go to Aarhus
To see his peat-brown head,
The mild pods of his eye-lids,
His pointed skin cap.
In the flat country near by Where they dug him out, His last gruel of winter seeds Caked in his stomach, Naked except for The cap, noose and girdle, I will stand a long time.
Bridegroom to the goddess, She tightened her torc on him And opened her fen, Those dark juices working Him to a saint's kept body, Trove of the turfcutters' Honeycombed workings.
Now his stained face Reposes at Aarhus.
II I could risk blasphemy, Consecrate the cauldron bog Our holy ground and pray Him to make germinate The scattered, ambushed Flesh of labourers, Stockinged corpses Laid out in the farmyards, Tell-tale skin and teeth Flecking the sleepers Of four young brothers, trailed For miles along the lines.
III Something of his sad freedom As he rode the tumbril Should come to me, driving, Saying the names Tollund, Grauballe, Nebelgard, Watching the pointing hands Of country people, Not knowing their tongue.
Out here in Jutland In the old man-killing parishes I will feel lost, Unhappy and at home.


by Seamus Heaney | |

Act of Union

 I

To-night, a first movement, a pulse,
As if the rain in bogland gathered head
To slip and flood: a bog-burst,
A gash breaking open the ferny bed.
Your back is a firm line of eastern coast And arms and legs are thrown Beyond your gradual hills.
I caress The heaving province where our past has grown.
I am the tall kingdom over your shoulder That you would neither cajole nor ignore.
Conquest is a lie.
I grow older Conceding your half-independant shore Within whose borders now my legacy Culminates inexorably.
II And I am still imperially Male, leaving you with pain, The rending process in the colony, The battering ram, the boom burst from within.
The act sprouted an obsinate fifth column Whose stance is growing unilateral.
His heart beneath your heart is a wardrum Mustering force.
His parasitical And ignmorant little fists already Beat at your borders and I know they're cocked At me across the water.
No treaty I foresee will salve completely your tracked And stretchmarked body, the big pain That leaves you raw, like opened ground, again


by Seamus Heaney | |

Personal Helicon

 As a child, they could not keep me from wells
And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.
I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.
One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.
I savoured the rich crash when a bucket Plummeted down at the end of a rope.
So deep you saw no reflection in it.
A shallow one under a dry stone ditch Fructified like any aquarium.
When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch A white face hovered over the bottom.
Others had echoes, gave back your own call With a clean new music in it.
And one Was scaresome, for there, out of ferns and tall Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.
Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime, To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring Is beneath all adult dignity.
I rhyme To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.


by Seamus Heaney | |

Twice Shy

 Her scarf a la Bardot, 
In suede flats for the walk, 
She came with me one evening
For air and friendly talk.
We crossed the quiet river, Took the embankment walk.
Traffic holding its breath, Sky a tense diaphragm: Dusk hung like a backcloth That shook where a swan swam, Tremulous as a hawk Hanging deadly, calm.
A vacuum of need Collapsed each hunting heart But tremulously we held As hawk and prey apart, Preserved classic decorum, Deployed our talk with art.
Our Juvenilia Had taught us both to wait, Not to publish feeling And regret it all too late - Mushroom loves already Had puffed and burst in hate.
So, chary and excited, As a thrush linked on a hawk, We thrilled to the March twilight With nervous childish talk: Still waters running deep Along the embankment walk.


by Seamus Heaney | |

Anahorish

 My "place of clear water,"
the first hill in the world
where springs washed into
the shiny grass

and darkened cobbles
in the bed of the lane.
Anahorish, soft gradient of consonant, vowel-meadow, after-image of lamps swung through the yards on winter evenings.
With pails and barrows those mound-dwellers go waist-deep in mist to break the light ice at wells and dunghills.


by Seamus Heaney | |

Bogland

 for T.
P.
Flanagan We have no prairies To slice a big sun at evening-- Everywhere the eye concedes to Encrouching horizon, Is wooed into the cyclops' eye Of a tarn.
Our unfenced country Is bog that keeps crusting Between the sights of the sun.
They've taken the skeleton Of the Great Irish Elk Out of the peat, set it up An astounding crate full of air.
Butter sunk under More than a hundred years Was recovered salty and white.
The ground itself is kind, black butter Melting and opening underfoot, Missing its last definition By millions of years.
They'll never dig coal here, Only the waterlogged trunks Of great firs, soft as pulp.
Our pioneers keep striking Inwards and downwards, Every layer they strip Seems camped on before.
The bogholes might be Atlantic seepage.
The wet centre is bottomless.


by Seamus Heaney | |

Testimony

 'We were killing pigs when the 
Yanks arrived.
A Tuesday morning, sunlight and gutter-blood Outside the slaughter house.
>From the main road They would have heard the screaming, Then heard it stop and had a view of us In our gloves and aprons coming down the hill.
Two lines of them, guns on their shoulders, marching.
Armoured cars and tanks and open jeeps.
Sunburnt hands and arms.
Unarmed, in step, Hosting for Normandy.
Not that we knew then Where they were headed, standing there like youngsters As they tossed us gum and tubes of coloured sweets'


by Seamus Heaney | |

Lovers on Aran

 The timeless waves, bright, sifting, broken glass,
Came dazzling around, into the rocks,
Came glinting, sifting from the Americas

To posess Aran.
Or did Aran rush to throw wide arms of rock around a tide That yielded with an ebb, with a soft crash? Did sea define the land or land the sea? Each drew new meaning from the waves' collision.
Sea broke on land to full identity.


by Seamus Heaney | |

Song

 A rowan like a lipsticked girl.
Between the by-road and the main road Alder trees at a wet and dripping distance Stand off among the rushes.
There are the mud-flowers of dialect And the immortelles of perfect pitch And that moment when the bird sings very close To the music of what happens.


by Seamus Heaney | |

Postscript

 And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you'll park or capture it More thoroughly.
You are neither here nor there, A hurry through which known and strange things pass As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways And catch the heart off guard and blow it open


by Seamus Heaney | |

The Harvest Bow

 As you plaited the harvest bow
You implicated the mellowed silence in you
In wheat that does not rust
But brightens as it tightens twist by twist
Into a knowable corona,
A throwaway love-knot of straw.
Hands that aged round ashplants and cane sticks And lapped the spurs on a lifetime of game cocks Harked to their gift and worked with fine intent Until your fingers moved somnambulant: I tell and finger it like braille, Gleaning the unsaid off the palpable, And if I spy into its golden loops I see us walk between the railway slopes Into an evening of long grass and midges, Blue smoke straight up, old beds and ploughs in hedges, An auction notice on an outhouse wall-- You with a harvest bow in your lapel, Me with the fishing rod, already homesick For the big lift of these evenings, as your stick Whacking the tips off weeds and bushes Beats out of time, and beats, but flushes Nothing: that original townland Still tongue-tied in the straw tied by your hand.
The end of art is peace Could be the motto of this frail device That I have pinned up on our deal dresser-- Like a drawn snare Slipped lately by the spirit of the corn Yet burnished by its passage, and still warm.


by Seamus Heaney | |

From The Frontier Of Writing

 The tightness and the nilness round that space 
when the car stops in the road, the troops inspect 
its make and number and, as one bends his face 

towards your window, you catch sight of more 
on a hill beyond, eyeing with intent 
down cradled guns that hold you under cover 

and everything is pure interrogation 
until a rifle motions and you move 
with guarded unconcerned acceleration— 

a little emptier, a little spent 
as always by that quiver in the self, 
subjugated, yes, and obedient.
So you drive on to the frontier of writing where it happens again.
The guns on tripods; the sergeant with his on-off mike repeating data about you, waiting for the squawk of clearance; the marksman training down out of the sun upon you like a hawk.
And suddenly you're through, arraigned yet freed, as if you'd passed from behind a waterfall on the black current of a tarmac road past armor-plated vehicles, out between the posted soldiers flowing and receding like tree shadows into the polished windscreen.


by Seamus Heaney | |

The Otter

 When you plunged
The light of Tuscany wavered
And swung through the pool
From top to bottom.
I loved your wet head and smashing crawl, Your fine swimmer's back and shoulders Surfacing and surfacing again This year and every year since.
I sat dry-throated on the warm stones.
You were beyond me.
The mellowed clarities, the grape-deep air Thinned and disappointed.
Thank God for the slow loadening, When I hold you now We are close and deep As the atmosphere on water.
My two hands are plumbed water.
You are my palpable, lithe Otter of memory In the pool of the moment, Turning to swim on your back, Each silent, thigh-shaking kick Re-tilting the light, Heaving the cool at your neck.
And suddenly you're out, Back again, intent as ever, Heavy and frisky in your freshened pelt, Printing the stones.