We just saw the passing of the poet Seamus Heaney. When the news came it struck me as odd and eerie. I don’t read poetry all that often, or as often as I should let’s say, but I’d just been reading Heaney’s collection ‘The Spirit Level’ and was fixed on his poem, ‘Saint Kevin and The Blackbird’ —I found it intriguing, resonant, as resonant as the chaos of birdsong outside my window most mornings lately. I’d read Heaney’s poem over more than once sensing there more yet to absorb in it. Then I heard the poet had died. Thinking about him with maybe a mind to some sort of tribute I came across this video of the poet reading his poem. He introduces it as a meditation based on the notion of “doing the right thing for the reward of doing the right thing” about “self belief and chosen values, opted for and stood by” —such a prayer that the body makes —entirely.
Ånyway, here’s to the forgetting.
SAINT KEVIN AND THE BLACKBIRD
And then there was St Kevin and the blackbird.
The saint is kneeling, arms stretched out, inside
His cell, but the cell is narrow, so
One turned-up palm is out the window, stiff
As a crossbeam, when a blackbird lands
and Lays in it and settles down to nest.
Kevin feels the warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked
Neat head and claws and, finding himself linked
Into the network of eternal life,
Is moved to pity: now he must hold his hand
Like a branch out in the sun and rain for weeks
Until the young are hatched and fledged and flown.
And since the whole thing’s imagined anyhow,
Imagine being Kevin. Which is he?
Self-forgetful or in agony all the time
From the neck on out down through his hurting forearms?
Are his fingers sleeping? Does he still feel his knees?
Or has the shut-eyed blank of underearth
Crept up through him? Is there distance in his head?
Alone and mirrored clear in Love’s deep river,
‘To labour and not to seek reward,’ he prays,
A prayer his body makes entirely
For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird
And on the riverbank forgotten the river’s name.
~ Seamus Heaney