Sunday, November 22, 2009

Poem of the Week: "The Underground," by Seamus Heaney

It's amazing we've made it this far in our Poem of the Week posts without getting to Seamus Heaney. Heaney is one of my favorite poets, and probably the first poet whose work I read obsessively. I love Heaney's use of language to evoke mood. His poems are achingly beautiful in their depictions of his homeland, Ireland, and in their studies of the people and forces acting upon it. He's interested in how the historical past continues to affect the present, a favorite theme of mine.

I picked Heaney this week because of Notre Dame. Yesterday, I went to the last Notre Dame home football game (surprise, surprise, they lost), one of the few places in the world where having red hair isn't necessarily unique. It's weird to me that a school named after a famous Paris cathedral is so Irish-obsessed, but since I've always secretly wished I was Irish, I'm kind of okay with it. So, like any young poet who loves poems about bogs, hearing the word "Irish" made me think: SEAMUS HEANEY!

So here you go, a Seamus Heaney poem. This isn't necessarily one of my favorite Heaney poems, but I think the way it evokes a specific scene and mood is really cool. Also, the last two lines are fantastic. And if you like this poem, rest assured that there will definitely be more Heaney ahead.

The Underground, by Seamus Heaney

There we were in the vaulted tunnel running,
You in your going-away coat speeding ahead
And 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, mooning around, 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
Barred and tensed as I am, all attention
For your step following and damned if I look back.

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