Friday, March 20, 2009

Underground by Seamus Heaney

On the surface, "Underground" is about a memory, but I think it's also about the process of writing poetry. Notice how the speaker returns to examine the scene in the last two stanzas, bare and tense and "all attention." That reads like Heaney the poet (not Heaney the husband) to me.


There we were in the vaulted tunnel running,
You in your going-away coat speeding ahead
And me, me then like a fleet god gaining
Upon you before you turned to a reed

Or some new white flower japped with crimson
As the coat flapped wild and button after button
Sprang off and fell in a trail
Between the Underground and the Albert Hall.

Honeymooning, moonlighting, late for the Proms,
Our echoes die in that corridor and now
I come as Hansel came on the moonlit stones
Retracing the path back, lifting the buttons

To end up in a draughty lamplit station
After the trains have gone, the wet track
Bared and tensed as I am, all attention
For your step following and damned if I look back.

Seamus Heaney was born into a family of farmers in County Derry, Northern Ireland in 1939. He currently lives in Dublin, but spends a part of each year teaching at Harvard University. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995.


Blogger ginger said...

it seems like a dream to me. i approve of seamus. :)

2:04 AM  
Anonymous Frustrated Poet said...

I think the poem is a reference to Orpheus in the Underworld and the story of Orpheus and Euridyce - hence the reference to underground/underworld, the Proms and not looking back and being damned.

5:28 AM  
Anonymous Harlan said...

I think that this poem is really beautiful, but also sad and lonely. Especially where he talks about walking back and looking for the buttons, retracing their steps. It reminds me of T.S. Eliot's poem "Rhapsody on a Windy Night" when he talks about the street light that he finds himself under at the end of a poem. The entire poem reflects "Rhapsody on a Windy Night" and just the way it makes you feel in general. Like you lost someone, or something is missing. Very sad and reflective on the past.

11:43 PM  
Blogger Brother said...

Good heavens. Perhaps I need to adjust me meds, but I think the poem is erotic! An extraordinary, wonderful description of the movements of making love, which as we all know can't be described or presented directly. The vaunted tunnel. He comes as Hansel. The naked rail, his lovely, lovely focus on nothing but her, looking ahead.

What an astonishing human being this Seamus is. Erotic or not, I will take this poem as pure joy, and a brilliant, simple, unforgettable way to approach a certain experience of beauty that is extremely difficult to share!

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