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Twice Shy - A Poem by Seamus Heaney, Nobel Prize Winner

A Poem a Day

Poet Seamus Heaney
Posted

Editor's Note: I had the great luck to study with Irish poet Seamus Heaney at Emerson College. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. He was a gentle, talented poet, as all of my teachers were at Emerson College, where poetry was regarded as the highest form of art. Here is short poem by Heaney.

Twice Shy
-- by Seamus Heaney


Her scarf a la Bardot,
In suede flats for the walk,
She came with me one evening
For air and friendly talk.
We crossed the quiet river,
Took the embankment walk.

Traffic holding its breath,
Sky a tense diaphragm:
Dusk hung like a backcloth
That shook where a swan swam,
Tremulous as a hawk
Hanging deadly, calm.

A vacuum of need
Collapsed each hunting heart
But tremulously we held
As hawk and prey apart,
Preserved classic decorum,
Deployed our talk with art.

Our Juvenilia
Had taught us both to wait,
Not to publish feeling
And regret it all too late -
Mushroom loves already
Had puffed and burst in hate.

So, chary and excited,
As a thrush linked on a hawk,
We thrilled to the March twilight
With nervous childish talk:
Still waters running deep
Along the embankment walk.




Biography

Seamus Heaney was born in April 1939, the eldest member of a family which would eventually contain nine children. His father owned and worked a small farm of some fifty acres in County Derry in Northern Ireland, but the father's real commitment was to cattle-dealing. There was something very congenial to Patrick Heaney about the cattle-dealer's way of life to which he was introduced by the uncles who had cared for him after the early death of his own parents. The poet's mother came from a family called McCann whose connections were more with the modern world than with the traditional rural economy; her uncles and relations were employed in the local linen mill and an aunt had worked "in service" to the mill owners' family. The poet has commented on the fact that his parentage thus contains both the Ireland of the cattle-herding Gaelic past and the Ulster of the Industrial Revolution; indeed, he considers this to have been a significant tension in his background, something which corresponds to another inner tension also inherited from his parents, namely that between speech and silence. His father was notably sparing of talk and his mother notably ready to speak out, a circumstance which Seamus Heaney believes to have been fundamental to the "quarrel with himself" out of which his poetry arises.

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