Our apologies for the irregular service over the last few days; both Martin and myself have been rather busy with the Real World.
(Poem #883) 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.
[Notes] "Personal Helicon" first appeared in "Eleven Poems", published in 1965. The poem is dedicated to Michael Longley, a contemporary of Heaney's at Philip Hobsbaum's poetry workshop in Belfast. Mt. Helicon in Greece is said to be the home of the Muses, nine sister goddesses in Greek mythology presiding over song and poetry and the arts and sciences. [Commentary] Seamus Heaney has always been fascinated with the earth, with the quality of earthiness. His poems are invariably dense and muddy, clumps of murky adjectives and plodding nouns pulling the reader into a world full of 'the smells / Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss'. Even his titles reflect this preoccupation, from "Bogland" (the very first poem in his very first collection), to his justly celebrated (if somewhat unsettling) masterpiece, "Death of a Naturalist". Unfortunately, this predilection is not a very fashionable one - indeed, I can't help but shudder at some of the imagery in "Naturalist" - which is perhaps why Heaney chose to expand on it in today's poem. As the title makes clear, this is a poem about poetic inspiration: Heaney's Muse is a gritty, plodding, deliberate creature, more Caliban than Ariel. A perfectly legitimate choice (if it can be called a choice at all), and one which sets his poetry apart, and gives it distinction. [Links] [broken link] http://www.ibiblio.org/ipa/heaney/heaney.bio.html is a biography which delves quite deeply into Heaney's themes and poetic development; here's an extract which talks about today's poem: "Heaney is here presenting his own source of inspiration, the 'dark drop' into personal and cultural memory, made present by the depths of the wells of his childhood. Now, as a man, he is too mature to scramble about on hands and knees, looking into the deep places of the earth, but he has his poetry. This serves as his glimpse into places where 'there is no reflection', but only the sound of a rhyme, like a bucket, setting 'the darkness echoing'. " -- [broken link] http://www.ibiblio.org/ipa/heaney/heaney.bio.html Surprisingly for a poet of his stature, Heaney has featured only once on the Minstrels. The lovely "Song" can be read at poem #61, along with the EB bio, critical assessment, and some external links. thomas.