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Tuesday, July 12, 2011


(Celtic crosses in a graveyard)

The lessons about life you learn in the family often take place in unremarkable moments. In his eight elegiac sonnets about his mother, the poet Seamus Heaney recalls how she taught him how to listen.


In memoriam M. K. H., 1911-1984


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.

Her lessons helped him heed the sounds as he stood by his mother’s deathbed.


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.


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, by 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.

~ Seamus Heaney, born 1939, Irish poet and translator, and winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature

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