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From 'Station Island.' (poem)

Like a convalescent, I took the hand stretched down from the jetty, sensed again an alien comfort as I stepped on ground

to find the helping hand still gripping mine, fish-cold and bony, but whether to guide or to be guided I could not be certain

for the tall man in step at my side seemed blind, though he walked straight as a rush upon his ash plant, his eyes fixed straight ahead.

Then I knew him in the flesh out there on the tarmac among the cars, wintered hard and sharp as a blackthorn bush.

His voice eddying with the vowels of all rivers came back to me, though he did not speak yet, a voice like a prosecutor's or a singer's,

cunning, narcotic, mimic, definite as a steel nib's downstroke, quick and clean, and suddenly he hit a litter basket

with his stick, saying, `Your obligation is not discharged by any common rite. What you do you must do on your own.

The main thing is to write for the joy of it. Cultivate a work-lust that imagines its haven like your hands at night

dreaming the sun in the sunspot of a breast. You are fasted now, light-headed, dangerous. Take off from here. And don't be so earnest,

so ready for the sackcloth and the ashes. Let go, let fly, forget. You've listened long enough. Now strike your note.'

It was as if I had stepped free into space alone with nothing that I had not known already. Raindrops blew in my face

as I came to and heard the harangue and jeers going on and on: `The English language belongs to us. You are raking at dead fires,

rehearsing the old whinges at your age. That subject people stuff is a cod's game, infantile, like this peasant pilgrimage.

You lose more of yourself than you redeem doing the decent thing. Keep at a tangent. When they make the circle wide, it's time to swim

out on your own and fill the element with signatures on your own frequency, echo-soundings, searches, probes, allurements,

elver-gleams in the dark of the whole sea.' The shower broke in a cloudburst, the tarmac fumed and sizzled. As he moved off quickly

the downpour loosed its screens round his straight walk.

COPYRIGHT 1996 Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Heaney, Seamus
Publication:The Wilson Quarterly
Date:Dec 22, 1996
Previous Article:The Grauballe man.
Next Article:Edmund Wilson and the public intellectuals.

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