Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966-1996

Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966-1996

by Seamus Heaney

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As selected by the author, Opened Ground includes the essential work from Heaney's twelve previous books of poetry, as well as new sequences drawn from two of his landmark translations, The Cure at Troy and Sweeney Astray, and several previously uncollected poems. Heaney's voice is like no other--"by turns mythological and journalistic, rural and sophisticated, reminiscent and impatient, stern and yielding, curt and expansive" (Helen Vendler, The New Yorker)--and this is a one-volume testament to the musicality and precision of that voice. The book closes with Heaney's Nobel Lecture: "Crediting Poetry."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466855700
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 01/13/2014
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 512
Sales rank: 1,073,905
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Seamus Heaney (1939-2013) received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. His poems, plays, translations, and essays include Opened Ground, Electric Light, Beowulf, The Spirit Level, District and Circle, and Finders Keepers. Robert Lowell praised Heaney as the "most important Irish poet since Yeats."

Read an Excerpt

Opened Ground

Selected Poems 1966 â" 1996

By Seamus Heaney

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 1998 Seamus Heaney
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-5570-0



Death of a Naturalist



    Between my finger and my thumb
    The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

    Under my window, a clean rasping sound
    When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
    My father, digging. I look down

    Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
    Bends low, comes up twenty years away
    Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
    Where he was digging.

    The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
    Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
    He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
    To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
    Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

    By God, the old man could handle a spade.
    Just like his old man.

    My grandfather cut more turf in a day
    Than any other man on Toner's bog.
    Once I carried him milk in a bottle
    Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
    To drink it, then fell to right away
    Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
    Over his shoulder, going down and down
    For the good turf. Digging.

    The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
    Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
    Through living roots awaken in my head.
    But I've no spade to follow men like them.

    Between my finger and my thumb
    The squat pen rests.
    I'll dig with it.

    Death of a Naturalist

    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.

    The Barn

    Threshed corn lay piled like grit of ivory
    Or solid as cement in two-lugged sacks.
    The musky dark hoarded an armoury
    Of farmyard implements, harness, plough-socks.

    The floor was mouse-grey, smooth, chilly concrete.
    There were no windows, just two narrow shafts
    Of gilded motes, crossing, from air-holes slit
    High in each gable. The one door meant no draughts

    All summer when the zinc burned like an oven.
    A scythe's edge, a clean spade, a pitchfork's prongs:
    Slowly bright objects formed when you went in.
    Then you felt cobwebs clogging up your lungs

    And scuttled fast into the sunlit yard —
    And into nights when bats were on the wing
    Over the rafters of sleep, where bright eyes stared
    From piles of grain in corners, fierce, unblinking.

    The dark gulfed like a roof-space. I was chaff
    To be pecked up when birds shot through the air-slits.
    I lay face-down to shun the fear above.
    The two-lugged sacks moved in like great blind rats.


    for Philip Hobsbaum

    Late August, given heavy rain and sun
    For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
    At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
    Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
    You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
    Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
    Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
    Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
    Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam pots
    Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
    Round hayfields, cornfields and potato drills
    We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
    Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
    With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
    Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
    With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.

    We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre
    But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
    A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
    The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
    The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
    I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
    That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
    Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.

    Churning Day

    A thick crust, coarse-grained as limestone rough-cast,
    hardened gradually on top of the four crocks
    that stood, large pottery bombs, in the small pantry.
    After the hot brewery of gland, cud and udder,
    cool porous earthenware fermented the butter milk
    for churning day, when the hooped churn was scoured
    with plumping kettles and the busy scrubber
    echoed daintily on the seasoned wood.
    It stood then, purified, on the flagged kitchen floor.

    Out came the four crocks, spilled their heavy lip
    of cream, their white insides, into the sterile churn.
    The staff, like a great whiskey muddler fashioned
    in deal wood, was plunged in, the lid fitted.
    My mother took first turn, set up rhythms
    that slugged and thumped for hours. Arms ached.
    Hands blistered. Cheeks and clothes were spattered
    with flabby milk.

    Where finally gold flecks
    began to dance. They poured hot water then,
    sterilized a birchwood bowl
    and little corrugated butter-spades.
    Their short stroke quickened, suddenly
    a yellow curd was weighting the churned-up white,
    heavy and rich, coagulated sunlight
    that they fished, dripping, in a wide tin strainer,
    heaped up like gilded gravel in the bowl.

    The house would stink long after churning day,
    acrid as a sulphur mine. The empty crocks
    were ranged along the wall again, the butter
    in soft printed slabs was piled on pantry shelves.
    And in the house we moved with gravid ease,
    our brains turned crystals full of clean deal churns,
    the plash and gurgle of the sour-breathed milk,
    the pat and slap of small spades on wet lumps.


    My father worked with a horse-plough,
    His shoulders globed like a full sail strung
    Between the shafts and the furrow.
    The horses strained at his clicking tongue.

    An expert. He would set the wing
    And fit the bright steel-pointed sock.
    The sod rolled over without breaking.
    At the headrig, with a single pluck

    Of reins, the sweating team turned round
    And back into the land. His eye
    Narrowed and angled at the ground,
    Mapping the furrow exactly.

    I stumbled in his hobnailed wake,
    Fell sometimes on the polished sod;
    Sometimes he rode me on his back
    Dipping and rising to his plod.

    I wanted to grow up and plough,
    To close one eye, stiffen my arm.
    All I ever did was follow
    In his broad shadow round the farm.

    I was a nuisance, tripping, falling,
    Yapping always. But today
    It is my father who keeps stumbling
    Behind me, and will not go away.

    Mid-Term Break

    I sat all morning in the college sick bay
    Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
    At two o'clock our neighbours drove me home.

    In the porch I met my father crying —
    He had always taken funerals in his stride —
    And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

    The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
    When I came in, and I was embarrassed
    By old men standing up to shake my hand

    And tell me they were 'sorry for my trouble'.
    Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
    Away at school, as my mother held my hand

    In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
    At ten o'clock the ambulance arrived
    With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.

    Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
    And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
    For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

    Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
    He lay in the four-foot box as in his cot.
    No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

    A four-foot box, a foot for every year.

    The Diviner

    Cut from the green hedge a forked hazel stick
    That he held tight by the arms of the V:
    Circling the terrain, hunting the pluck
    Of water, nervous, but professionally

    Unfussed. The pluck came sharp as a sting.
    The rod jerked with precise convulsions,
    Spring water suddenly broadcasting
    Through a green hazel its secret stations.

    The bystanders would ask to have a try.
    He handed them the rod without a word.
    It lay dead in their grasp till, nonchalantly,
    He gripped expectant wrists. The hazel stirred.


    for Marie

    Love, I shall perfect for you the child
    Who diligently potters in my brain
    Digging with heavy spade till sods were piled
    Or puddling through muck in a deep drain.

    Yearly I would sow my yard-long garden.
    I'd strip a layer of sods to build the wall
    That was to keep out sow and pecking hen.
    Yearly, admitting these, the sods would fall.

    Or in the sucking clabber I would splash
    Delightedly and dam the flowing drain
    But always my bastions of clay and mush
    Would burst before the rising autumn rain.

    Love, you shall perfect for me this child
    Whose small imperfect limits would keep breaking:
    Within new limits now, arrange the world
    And square the circle: four walls and a ring.

    Personal Helicon

    for Michael Longley

    As a child, they could not keep me from wells
    And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.
    I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
    Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.

    One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.
    I savoured the rich crash when a bucket
    Plummeted down at the end of a rope.
    So deep you saw no reflection in it.

    A shallow one under a dry stone ditch
    Fructified like any aquarium.
    When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch
    A white face hovered over the bottom.

    Others had echoes, gave back your own call
    With a clean new music in it. And one
    Was scaresome, for there, out of ferns and tall
    Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.

    Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,
    To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
    Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme
    To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.



      When I lie on the ground
    I rise flushed as a rose in the morning.
    In fights I arrange a fall on the ring
      To rub myself with sand

      That is operative
    As an elixir. I cannot be weaned
    Off the earth's long contour, her river-veins.
      Down here in my cave

      Girdered with root and rock
    I am cradled in the dark that wombed me
    And nurtured in every artery
      Like a small hillock.

      Let each new hero come
    Seeking the golden apples and Atlas:
    He must wrestle with me before he pass
      Into that realm of fame

      Among sky-born and royal.
    He may well throw me and renew my birth
    But let him not plan, lifting me off the earth,
      My elevation, my fall.


Excerpted from Opened Ground by Seamus Heaney. Copyright © 1998 Seamus Heaney. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


from Death of a Naturalist (1966),
from Door into the Dark (1969),
from Wintering Out (1972),
from Stations (1975),
from North (1975),
from Field Work (1979),
from Sweeney Astray (1983),
from Station Island (1984),
from The Haw Lantern (1987),
from The Cure at Troy (1990),
from Seeing Things (1991),
from The Spirit Level (1996),
Crediting Poetry (1995),
Index of Titles,
Index of First Lines,

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