Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"When The Wind And The Light Are Working Off Each Other"

For the past few days, autumn squalls have been quickly moving through from the west.  Puget Sound has alternated between bright-blue and white-capped and milky-grey and white-capped.  At times, yellow shafts of sunlight angle down through the ragged, travelling clouds.  I was reminded of the following poem by Seamus Heaney.


And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you'll park and capture it
More thoroughly.  You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

Seamus Heaney, The Spirit Level (Faber and Faber 1996).

                                     Rockwell Kent, "Seascape" (c. 1933)


Chris Matarazzo said...

Heaney is wonderful for phrases like "earthed lightning." It seems to me a lot of modern poets try to verb their nouns like that in such superficial ways, in imitation of Heaney, but he is a master of the device.

I love your blog, by the way. It's a great daily reminder that the humdrum world is still a place for poetry.

Fred said...


This is something I miss, living in desert country--the sea, or even a large lake (used to live in Chicago).

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Matarazzo: thank you very much for visiting, and for your kind words about the blog. I'm pleased that you enjoy it. I am always gratified (and humbled) to discover that someone has found their way here, and, moreover, has found something that they like.

Yes, "earthed lightning" is very nice, isn't it? And I agree that others can't carry that sort of thing off in the manner Heaney does.

Thank you again.

Stephen Pentz said...

Fred: I know what you mean. I spent my first 11 years in Minnesota, but since then I have been next to either the Pacific or Puget Sound. I'm not sure that I could ever get used to living away from water now. I agree that a large lake will do as well: I visited Minnesota last year and spent some time along the north shore of Lake Superior. It was like being beside a sea -- iron ore freighters and all.

As ever, thanks for dropping by, and for your thoughts.

Murgatroyd said...

Thank you for sharing a favourite poet of mine. Your choice of image is, as always, a well matched delight.
Just as we were settling into Autumn here in the UK the weather has surprised us all by becoming unseasonably hot. I find myself lamenting this sudden loss of Autumn and a chance to prepare for the Winter ahead of us. Your post has made me feel cool on such a hot day. Thank you!

Stephen Pentz said...

Murgatroyd: I'm pleased to have you drop by again, and I'm happy that you like the poem and painting. Yes, I've been reading about your heat wave. In contrast, autumn has settled in well and truly here: darkness and wetness are upon us.

As always, thank you.

Brian McMahon said...

Thanks for introducing me to this beautfiul poem. I find echoes of Yeats' Wild Swans at Coole. Knowing Yeats influence on Heaney and the fact that Coole is not too far from County Clare I wonder if Heaney had Yeats' poem in his head when he wrote this, is this the moment just before Yeats' swans

All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. McMahon: thank you very much for visiting. I'm pleased that you like the poem. I confess that I am drawn more to the poetry of Mahon and Longley than to that of Heaney (from that generation). But "Postscript" is one of my favorite poems by Heaney (or by anybody else, for that matter).

I hadn't thought of the connection with "The Wild Swans at Coole." The relationship that you suggest is a lovely one!

Thanks again.