Saturday, September 07, 2013

tea, tangerines and Seamus Heaney on a Saturday morning

There are many reasons I've never read a single poem by Seamus Heaney before today.  One or two of the reasons are my own laziness.  One or two I blame on reading too many Bible verses in Christian high school.

Today, redemption happens.  Maybe there's a gift to us all when a great, good man dies.  We take notice.  And realize a body of work ended and I hadn't even yet stopped to take notice.

This morning, I open a gift from the poet.  If I read no other poems from this man, I've spent this one quiet Saturday morning reading words like these....

Death of a Naturalist
Seamus Heaney

All year the flax-dam festered in the heart
Of the townland; green and heavy-headed
Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.
Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun.
Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles
Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.
There were dragonflies, spotted butterflies,
But best of all was the warm thick slobber
Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water
In the shade of the banks. Here, every spring
I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied
Specks to range on window-sills at home,
On shelves at school, and wait and watch until
The fattening dots burst into nimble-
Swimming tadpoles. Miss Walls would tell us how
The daddy frog was called a bullfrog
And how he croaked and how the mammy frog
Laid hundreds of little eggs and this was 
Frogspawn. You could tell the weather by frogs too
For they were yellow in the sun and brown 
In rain.

    Then one hot day when fields were rank
With cowdung in the grass the angry frogs
Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through hedges
To a coarse croaking that I had not heard
Before. The air was thick with a bass chorus.
Right down the dam gross-bellied frogs were cocked
On sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails. Some hopped:
the slap and plop were obscene threats . Some sat
Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting.
I sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings
Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew
That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.

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