Seamus Heaney, from “Squarings”

Robinson Jeffers: 10 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 wordandsilence.com and checking out any of my books. Tonight I read ten essential poems from the American poet Robinson Jeffers (1187-1962). Selections of Jeffers’s poetry are legion: many of them can be found here. The five-volume Collected Poems of Robinson Jeffers, edited by Tim Hunt and published by Stanford University Press, can be found here. You can read more about his life at the Poetry Foundation and Wikipedia. A larger selection of his poetry, which I recorded in 2020-2021, can be found here. The poems I read are: The Excesses of God Point Joe Hooded Night New Mexican Mountain Nova from Hungerfield De Rerum Virtute Vulture “I am seventy-four years old and suddenly all my strength” Inscription for a Gravestone The episode ends with a 1941 Library of Congress recording of Jeffers reading his poem, “Natural Music.” Any comments, or suggestions for readings I should make in later episodes, can be emailed to humanvoiceswakeus1@gmail.com. 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 humanvoiceswakeus1@gmail.com, and I will remove the episode immediately. — Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/humanvoiceswakeus/support
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Seamus Heaney: 13 Poems from "Seeing Things" Human Voices Wake Us

Seamus Heaney: On "Seeing Things" Human Voices Wake Us

The center of Seeing Things—and perhaps the very center of his poetry, and maybe even his greatest achievement—is the sequence called “Squarings,” which consists of forty-eight twelve-line poems. He never wrote about nature, history, myth, other poets, or his own rural upbringing so well. This week I will post my favorite poems from each of the sequence’s four parts.  

XL

I was four but I turned four hundred maybe,
Encountering the ancient dampish feel
Of a clay floor. May four thousand even.

Anyhow, there it was. Milk poured for cats
In a rank puddle-place, splash-darkened mould
Around the terracotta water-crock.

Ground of being. Body’s deep obedience
To all its shifting tenses. A half-door
Opening directly into starlight.

Out of that earth house I inherited
A stack of singular, cold memory-weights
To load me, hand and foot, in the scale of things.

 

XLII

Heather and kesh and turf stacks reappear
Summer by summer still, grasshoppers and all,
The same yet rarer: fields of the nearly blessed

Where gaunt ones in their shirt-sleeves stooped and dug
Or stood alone at dusk surveying bog-banks –
Apparitions now, yet active still

And territorial, still sure of their ground,
Still interested, not knowing how far
The country of the shades has been pushed back,

How long the lark has stopped outside these fields
And only seems unstoppable to them
Caught like a far hill in a freak of sunshine.

 

XLV

For certain ones what was written may come true:
They shall live on in the distance
At the mouths of rivers.

For our ones, no. They will re-enter
Dryness that was heaven on earth to them,
Happy to eat the scones baked out of clay.

For some, perhaps, the delta’s reed beds
And cold bright-footed seabirds always wheeling.
For our ones, snuff

And hob-soot and the heat off ashes.
And a judge who comes between them and the sun
In a pillar of radiant house dust.

 

XLVI

Mountain air from the mountain up behind;
Out front, the end-of-summer, stone-walled fields;
And in a slated house the fiddle going

Like a flat stone skimmed at sunset
Or the irrevocable slipstream of flat earth
Still fleeing behind space.

Was music once a proof of God’s existence?
As long as it admits things beyond measure,
That supposition stands.

So let the ear attend like a farmhouse window
In placid light, where the extravagant
Passed once under full sail into the longed-for.

 

XLVIII

Strange how things in the offing, once they’re sensed,
Convert to things foreknown;
And how what’s come upon is manifest

Only in light of what has been gone through.
Seventh heaven may be
The whole truth of a sixth sense come to pass.

At any rate, when light breaks over me
The way it did on the road beyond Coleraine
Where wind got saltier, the sky more hurried

And silver lamé shivered on the Bann
Out in mid-channel between the painted poles,
That day I’ll be in step with what escaped me.