A Poem by Seamus Heaney



Had I not been awake I would have missed it,

A wind that rose and whirled until the roof

Pattered with quick leaves off the sycamore


And got me up, the whole of me a-patter,

Alive and ticking like an electric fence:

Had I not been awake I would have missed it


It came and went so unexpectedly

And almost it seemed dangerously,

Hurtling like an animal at the house,


A courier blast that there and then

Lapsed ordinary. But not ever

Afterwards. And not now.



“Had I not been awake I would have missed it,” the first poem in Heaney’s new book, Human Chain, appeared, with the minerally “Slack” in Little Star #1.

In The Telegraph, Nick Laird identified this poem as establishing an affinity between wind and instability and death which runs through the book and noted that “the house that the animal returns to in the opening poem recalls the house of death that Heaney’s father has gone to in ‘The Blackbird of Glanmore’ from District and Circle (2006), with its ‘low clay roof.’” For other valuable recent reviews see Colm Toibin in The Guardian and Sean O’Brien in The Independent.

And don’t miss Heaney’s recent translation of The Testiment of Cresseid and Seven Fables by Robert Henryson.  Read Jonathan Bate’s comprehensive review in The Telegraph.

There are lots of readings by Heaney available on line, but here’s a nice bunch at the Poetry Archive. Seamus Heaney’s voice is one of the treasures of contemporary literature.

Seamus Heaney‘s new book, Human Chain, will be published on September 15.  Heaney was born near Castledawson, northern Ireland, in 1939.  He has published more than a dozen books of original poems and many collections among them, six volumes of essays, and masterly verse translations from the Greek, Latin, Irish, Anglo-Saxon, medieval Scots, Polish, and Czech.  In 1983, along with the playwright Brian Friel and actor Stephen Rea, he co-founded Field Day Publishing to gather and support contemporary Irish literature.  He was Poetry Professor at Oxford from 1989 to 1995 and received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1995.  In 1985, the year of the gorgeous Station Island, the editor of Little Star and her friends from Wordsworth Bookstore in Cambridge would avidly sneak into his celebrated lectures in poetry at Harvard University, the beginning of a lifelong debt to one of our most humane and musical lyricists.