Seamus Heaney, “The Strand at Lough Beg” (An Elegy from the Troubles)

Ted Hughes: 12 Essential Poems Human Voices Wake Us

Please consider supporting Human Voices Wake us by clicking here. You can also support this podcast by going to and checking out any of my books. Tonight I read twelve essential poems from the British poet Ted Hughes (1930-1998). They can all be found in his Collected Poems (smaller selections of his poetry include Selected Poems 1957-1994 and A Ted Hughes Bestiary). In this episode I also read from The Letters of Ted Hughes. The poems are: Wind (from the Hawk in the Rain, 1957) Six Young Men (from the Hawk in the Rain, 1957) Crow's Song About God (from Crow, 1970-71) “I skin the skin” (from Gaudete, 1977) A Green Mother (from Cave Birds, 1978) Bride and Groom Lie Hidden for Three Days (from Cave Birds, 1978) Cock-Crows (from Remains of Elmet, 1979) Rain (from Moortown Diary, 1979) February 17th (from Moortown Diary, 1979) Four March Watercolours (from River, 1983) October Salmon (from River, 1983) Life After Death (from Birthday Letters, 1998) This is followed by a reading Hughes gave of his poem, “October Salmon.” Other episodes on Hughes include one where he discusses privacy for his family in the wake of Sylvia Plath’s posthumous fame; another where he discusses how he discovered poetry; and another, much longer episode of readings (4.5 hours) from Hughes’s poetry. Any comments, or suggestions for readings I should make in later episodes, can be emailed to I assume that the small amount of work presented in each episode constitutes fair use. Publishers, authors, or other copyright holders who would prefer to not have their work presented here can also email me at, and I will remove the episode immediately. — Support this podcast:
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Seamus Heaney, “The Strand at Lough Beg”

In Memory of Colum McCartney

All round this little island, on the strand
Far down below there, where the breakers strive
Grow the tall rushes from the oozy sand.
– Dante, Purgatorio, I, 100-3

Leaving the white glow of filling stations
And a few lonely streetlamps among fields
You climbed the hills toward Newtownhamilton
Past the Fews Forest, out beneath the stars –
Along the road, a high, bare pilgrim’s track
Where Sweeney fled before the bloodied heads,
Goat-beards and dogs’ eyes in a demon pack
Blazing out of the ground, snapping and squealing.
What blazed ahead of you? A faked road block?
The red lamp swung, the sudden brakes and stalling
Engine, voices, heads hooded and the cold-nosed gun?
Or in your driving mirror, tailing headlights
That pulled out suddenly and flagged you down
Where you weren’t known and far from what you knew:
The lowland clays and waters of Lough Beg,
Church Island’s spire, its soft treeline of yew.

There you used hear guns fired behind the house
Long before rising time, when duck shooters
Haunted the marigolds and bulrushes,
But still were scared to find spent cartridges,
Acrid, brassy, genital, ejected,
On your way across the strand to fetch the cows.
For you and yours and yours and mine fought shy,
Spoke an old language of conspirators
And could not crack the whip or seize the day:
Big-voiced scullions, herders, feelers round
Haycocks and hindquarters, talkers in byres,
Slow arbitrators of the burial ground.

Across that strand of ours the cattle graze
Up to their bellies in an early mist
And now they turn their unbewildered gaze
To where we work our way through squeaking sedge
Drowning in dew. Like a dull blade with its edge
Honed bright, Lough Beg half shines under the haze.
I turn because the sweeping of your feet
Has stopped behind me, to find you on your knees
With blood and roadside muck in your hair and eyes,
Then kneel in front of you in brimming grass
And gather up cold handfuls of the dew
To wash you, cousin. I dab you clean with moss
Fine as the drizzle out of a low cloud.
I lift you under the arms and lay you flat.
With rushes that shoot green again, I plait
Green scapulars to wear over your shroud.