Heaney’s Bog Poems (Forerunners)

Underfoot Poetry

Here’s Seamus Heaney, first talking about his poems on the bog bodies of Iron Age Europe, in Dennis O’Driscoll’s Stepping Stones, and then the bog poems themselves, spanning three of his collections: Wintering Out, North, and District and Circle. Also, since I hope to do a post on the bog bodies at some point, interested readers would do well to check out the book that inspired Heaney’s interest in the subject, P. V. Glob’s The Bog People: Iron Age Man Preserved.

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Stepping StonesFrom the moment I wrote it, I felt promise in “Bogland.” Without having any clear notion of where it would lead or even whether I would go back to the subject, I realized that new co-ordinates had been established. Door jambs with an open sky behind them rather than the dark. I felt it in my muscles, nearly, when I was writing…

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Virginia Slachman: Eden Park Meditation

Underfoot Poetry

Eden Park Meditation

i
How odd that the days lengthen; the hours
braced against a brittle sun that sears
the lip of ice at the base of the black oak.
                                         The ice and the sun
are opaque and impenetrable,
a sealed world. This world. The days don’t dwindle

into twilight but linger so silently
we hardly notice the future
in these perplexed angles of
light.                         Later, at the feet

of the boxwood, night rustles anxiously, or is it
merely the wind. No, there are certain tensions.
The night wants what it is owed.

ii
Mornings, I walk the circular pond and the pond stares back.
I won’t go near enough to see
the distorted reflection staring up at me
                                                         The sky is there;

clouds shunt past, rapid as recognition, the sky a blank
eye as is the sun. I stand at the edge, I am
                                                                 a poor…

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What We’re Doing When We Think We’re Doing Nothing

I’ve always liked it that the actor Richard Burton could admit in his diaries: “I am fascinated by the idea of something but its execution bores me.” And this from the guy who played Hamlet (and whoever else) a million times. But there’s something to it for those of us who’ll never play Hamlet, or…

What’s a Genius to Do?

It’s been said of Picasso: “At the age of sixteen, he produced two paintings which were of academic perfection.... So what do you do with your life if you’re producing academically perfect works at the age of sixteen? Every step afterwards is an innovation.” Indeed, whether you like where Picasso went or not, it’s undeniable…

Powerless But Free?

The image is a familiar one: an aging man or woman who becomes more and more bewildered and angered at the usual political corruption, or the pace of technological or social change. To protect themselves they become more and more strident and inflexible, and retreat behind whatever cultural or religious certainties they can. In the…

Just Because it Works Doesn’t Mean It’s True

It’s always refreshing to hear a religious person, who is trying to convince you of the truth of their faith, suddenly realize the actually wonderful mystery of faith: they can’t actually prove it. And so instead they end up saying something like, “I can’t prove it, but it clearly works.” This is what they say…

Empathy & Ultraviolence

For all of my talk about people being seduced by culture and violence, it’s worth saying that I’ve fallen under the spell many times. From late gradeschool on, when I first discovered writing, oftentimes I tried to sum up my sense of loneliness, and later actual depression, by writing fictional accounts of school shooters. One…

Civilization Does Not Civilize

There is a remarkable moment in an interview with the writer George Steiner. That familiar question about the Nazis comes up, of how someone who listened to Bach and Beethoven by day could put people in gas chambers by night: Steiner: “[there are those who are] certain that the cultivation of the sensibility of beauty,…

We Are Not Safe and Never Will Be

There are many stories from the late 1930s of European and American intellectuals being taken on stage-managed tours of the Soviet Union, nearly all of them returning to their home countries with glowing reviews of what they had seen. An exception was the novelist Andre Gide’s account, Back from the USSR, where he claimed that…

Historical Accuracy

I’ve long noticed a general suspicion shown towards movies purporting to tell a “true story.” Even though it’s no surprise that they take license with real events, after they’re released there are always dozens of webpages treating even the smallest of these instances negatively. What are we so afraid of? On the one hand, surrounded…

The God of the Philosophers: Ethics & Free Will

One could spend a thousand lifetimes on religious questions which have no answers. Such questions are worth bringing up but not even attempting to exhaust, and so I want to briefly write about two of them: morality, and intertwined problem of free will and predestination.   Morality In all of these pages I never saw…

Orthodoxy is a Fiction

Nothing is essential, necessary or fundamental to living decently, happily, or with empathy for others. I mean this mostly in religious terms. There is no one God, one figure, one religion, one denomination, one scripture, one translation: there is no one of these that is essential, necessary, or fundamental to everyone’s life. One is as…

Choice

Growing up Catholic, the greatest hint into the changing nature of religion and law always occurred whenever I heard someone disagree with their local priest or bishop, or even the Pope. This was surprising since the followers of religious or political leaders, or merely the upholders of certain laws or traditions, all eventually try to…

Why We Hate the Poor

Riding public transit last week, a few passengers started talking about Pope Francis’s visit to the United States. Almost immediately, though, the conversation veered away from the celebrity and even piety of the event into mocking the Pope’s statements about the poor, and migrants. “I mean really,” one woman said, “if we all took in…

Prufrock & Other Observations (Forerunners)

Underfoot Poetry

Prufrock_And_Other_ObservationsA hundred years ago, in June of 1917, the small Egoist Press in Bloomsbury, London, issued a book of poems by the American expatriate, T. S. Eliot, Prufrock and Other Observations. Much like trying to read the Bible after a religious upbringing, it is almost impossible now to read especially the first four poems—“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” “Portrait of a Lady,” “Preludes,” and “Rhapsody on a Windy Night”—without reference to the veneer, reputation, and sometimes repudiation, that have attached themselves to Eliot in the century since. (And many of the remaining poems make you wonder why that reputation took hold at all.) But here are all twelve of them. What an odd bird the book was then, and how strange so much of it still seems now.


The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al…

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