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Villanelle for an Anniversary -- Seamus Heaney

Guest poem submitted by VG:
(Poem #1515) Villanelle for an Anniversary
 A spirit moved. John Harvard walked the yard,
 The atom lay unsplit, the west unwon,
 The books stood open and the gates unbarred.

 The maps dreamt on like moondust. Nothing stirred.
 The future was a verb in hibernation.
 A spirit moved, John Harvard walked the yard.

 Before the classic style, before the clapboard,
 All through the small hours of an origin,
 The books stood open and the gate unbarred.

 Night passage of a migratory bird.
 Wingflap. Gownflap. Like a homing pigeon
 A spirit moved, John Harvard walked the yard.

 Was that his soul (look) sped to its reward
 By grace or works? A shooting star? An omen?
 The books stood open and the gate unbarred.

 Begin again where frosts and tests were hard.
 Find yourself or founder. Here, imagine
 A spirit moves, John Harvard walks the yard,
 The books stand open and the gates unbarred.
-- Seamus Heaney
I love villanelles, and this one is no exception. Apparently written to
commemorate Harvard University's 350th birthday, it has a very special
secretiveness about it, as though someone is whispering it quietly in one's
ear. I don't think the villanelle form is as well used as in some other
villanelles on your site (in particular 'Miranda' by W. H. Auden and 'Do Not
Go Gentle' by Dylan Thomas) but every time I read this poem, it makes me
want to go and carpe the diem. But it's not so much the central idea of the
poem as the little details that endear it to me. All alone in the night, no
one else awake, listening to the almost silence of a bird flying overhead...
why does it seem like heresy that Seamus Heaney read this poem aloud to a
large gathering of people at Harvard's 350th anniversary?

VG

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Anonymous said...

13th dec 2011:crimson poetry;
begin again where frosts & tests are hard.
find yourself or founder.here.imagine.a spirit
moves.john harvard walks the yard.the books stand opened the gates unbarred.

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Anonymous said...

This poem set to music for harvards 375th

Angelo said...

I love all the details, and at least the first two thirds of the poem works marvelously when taken literally (John Harvard actually walking the yard), but, especially with that being the case, it is particularly troublesome that John Harvard didn't actually found Harvard.

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Rest In Eternal Peace, Seamus Heaney.

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