Saturday, August 31, 2013

Seamus Heaney   1939 - 2013

How sad that Seamus Heaney has died at what is not a great age at all.  He would have been such a wonderful, gracious, inspiring  ninety-year-old.

Below is an extract from Branchlines. modern poets responses to Edward Thomas, edited by Lucy Newlyn and Guy Cuthbertson. I hope Guy and Lucy will be happy with my citing it.

Seamus Heaney introduces 'As The Team's Headbrass' with this passage, showing his characteristic
'every-dayness', erudition, wide-ranging sphere of reference and generosity.

Edward Thomas on the Lagans Road  
He's not in view but I can hear a step
On the grass-crowned road, the whip of daisy heads
On the toes of boots.
                                    Behind the hedge
Eamon Murphy and Teresa Brennan -
Fully clothed, strong-arming each other -
Have sensed him and gone quiet. I keep on watching
As they rise and go.
                              And now the road is empty.
Nothing but air and light between their love-nest
And the bracken hillside where I lie alone.
Utter evening, as it was in the beginning,
Until the remembered come and go of lovers
Brings on his long-legged self on the Lagans Road -
Edward Thomas in his khaki tunic
Like one of the Evans brothers out of Leitrim,
Demobbed, 'not much changed', sandy moustached and freckled
From being, they said, with Monty in the desert.

 The next work in 'District and Circle' is a prose piece 'The Lagans Road'.
'The Lagan's Road ran for about three quarters of a mile across an area of wetlands. It was one of those narrow country roads with weeds in the middle, grass verges and high hedges on either side, and all around it marsh and rushes and little shrubs and birch trees. For a minute or two every day, therefore you were in the wilderness...'
It  must have known the road he knew first and earliest, as he describes going along it on his first day at school, minded by a neighbour's daughter, and hearing the shouts of children from half- a mile away.

The river Lagan is a tidal river west of Belfast.

As the Team's Head- Brass

As the team's head-brass flashed out on the turn
The lovers disappeared into the wood.
I sat among the boughs of the fallen elm
That strewed the angle of the fallow, and
Watched the plough narrowing a yellow square
Of charlock. Every time the horses turned
Instead of treading me down, the ploughman leaned
Upon the handles to say or ask a word,
About the weather, next about the war.
Scraping the share he faced towards the wood,
And screwed along the furrow till the brass flashed
Once more.

The blizzard felled the elm whose crest
I sat in, by a woodpecker's round hole,
The ploughman said. 'When will they take it away? '
'When the war's over.' So the talk began –
One minute and an interval of ten,
A minute more and the same interval.
'Have you been out? ' 'No.' 'And don't want to, perhaps? '
'If I could only come back again, I should.
I could spare an arm, I shouldn't want to lose
A leg. If I should lose my head, why, so,
I should want nothing more...Have many gone
From here? ' 'Yes.' 'Many lost? ' 'Yes, a good few.
Only two teams work on the farm this year.
One of my mates is dead. The second day
In France they killed him. It was back in March,
The very night of the blizzard, too. Now if
He had stayed here we should have moved the tree.'
'And I should not have sat here. Everything
Would have been different. For it would have been
Another world.' 'Ay, and a better, though
If we could see all all might seem good.' Then
The lovers came out of the wood again:
The horses started and for the last time
I watched the clods crumble and topple over
After the ploughshare and the stumbling team.

Here's an extract from my novel:

Granted a day’s leave in May, too brief to travel to Steep and being disinclined to visit his parents, he planned a day-long walk into the countryside west of the camp. Once he was out of the suburbs he began to feel his old self coming back to him – his Walking Tom self, as his friends called him, striding along, looking, thinking, and solitary again. He needed it, solitude after company. Then he could enjoy company again.

He had no plan, so he followed his favourite method, taking a series of left turns  every few miles, so that he would be likely to find himself having walked a circle and discovered some  lovely, unknown and unexpected sights on the way.

By noon he was hungry and looking for somewhere to sit and eat his lunch. He might find an inn later in the day for a drink.

A stile led out of a wood to a field being ploughed. In the corner near the stile was a fallen elm tree, its branches invading the field. He sat comfortably on the trunk and looked back at the wood – on the path he had just taken were a couple who were clearly lovers. They suddenly left the track and went into the dense undergrowth. He turned away and watched the team of horses and ploughman making the remaining square of charlock shrink with each round they made. The bright brasses decorating the horses’ heads flashed as they turned into the sun at the corner and began to approach him. For one moment he imagined them treading him down.

At each round the ploughman paused briefly and spoke to Edward. It was a strange conversation – a minute’s stop, then the ten minutes it took for the team and the ploughman to come round again. First they talked about the day’s weather, then about the blizzard that had brought down the tree where he sat.

‘When will they carry it away?’ Edward asked.

‘When the war’s over.’ The war had taken a good many men from the district and a good many of them were lost.

 ‘One of my mates is dead. The second day in France they killed him. It was early in March, the blizzard night. Now if he’d stayed here we should’ve cleared this tree.’

‘Well, it would have been a different world. Everything would have been different.’

‘Ay, and a better world,’ the ploughman answered, ‘although if we could know everything it might be for the best.’

Then the man asked, seeing Edward’s uniform, if he had himself been out. He shook his head.

 ‘Nor d’you want to, I suppose?’

 The conversation between them felt suddenly constrained. Then Edward answered lightly, ‘I could cope with losing an arm, but not a leg, and if I lost my head, well, I shouldn’t want for anything.’

 The ploughing was almost finished and the ploughman bade him good-bye. Edward watched as the ploughshare twisted and clods fell inwards behind, the sliced earth shining down the deep furrow. 

Later, over a pint of mild at a crossroad’s inn, he began some notes. He had a sense of something vanishing, that he and those horses and the ploughman were not destined to stay peacefully in these English fields. Only the lovers, in one form or another, would endure. Troubled, he stopped writing for a time, his fingers tracing the line of a deep grain in the table where his notebook lay.


That same March blizzard brought down all the seven elm trees in the garden at the Gallows that had troubled Robert so much. The Abercrombies weren’t there, in Gloucestershire, any more. Lascelles was supervising a munitions factory in the north by then.


No comments:

Post a Comment