The mosaic on the façade

of Prague’s St Vitus cathedral
shows the damned all dressed up
as for some dance
but being dragged towards the mouth of hell
by demons with hooks and halberds
while the blessed are naked
gently lifted by angels
out of their gaping sepulchres
– you look twice kind of
expecting it to be the other way round
but it’s not some Bohemian
naturist’s whim rather
that the damned are attached to their
trappings their habits of concealment
& the blessed have nothing
to hide or be ashamed of
The nakedness of prisoners
before the smirking guards
taking cellphone snapshots
and with hellhounds
wrenching at the leash
is innocent however
guiltily they’re massed
in a catasta of flesh
[Read in Out There, published by Faber & Faber. Ripped from the New Statesman.]

Come live with me and be my Love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That hills and valleys, dale and field,
And all the craggy mountains yield.

There will we sit upon the rocks
And see the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers, to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

There will I make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroider’d all with leaves of myrtle.

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull,
Fair linèd slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold.

A belt of straw and ivy buds
With coral clasps and amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me and be my Love.

Thy silver dishes for thy meat
As precious as the gods do eat,
Shall on an ivory table be
Prepared each day for thee and me.

The shepherd swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May-morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my Love.


A love poem with prominent mention of slippers. Wonderful.

[Read in a friend’s 1980 anthology of English love poems. Ripped from]

Not the one who takes up his bed and walks
But the ones who have known him all along
And carry him in –

Their shoulders numb, the ache and stoop deeplocked
In their backs, the stretcher handles
Slippery with sweat. And no let-up

Until he’s strapped on tight, made tiltable
And raised to the tiled roof, then lowered for healing.
Be mindful of them as they stand and wait

For the burn of the paid-out ropes to cool,
Their slight lightheadedness and incredulity
To pass, those ones who had known him all along.

[Read in Human Chain, published by Faber & Faber. Ripped from the Guardian.]

for Terence Brown

Seeing the bags of meal passed hand to hand
In close-up by the aid workers, and soldiers
Firing over the mob, I was braced again

With a grip on two sack corners,
Two packed wads of grain I’d worked to lugs
To give me purchase, ready for the heave –

The eye-to-eye, one-two, one-two upswing
On to the trailer, then the stoop and drag and drain
Of the next lift. Nothing surpassed

That quick unburdening, backbreak’s truest payback,
A letting go which will not come again.
Or it will, once. And for all.


Typical Heaney: the moving of a load. The closing line is not his subtlest. But there is also something implied that is most un-Heaney: a screen, which is presumably where the narrator is ‘seeing’ the aid workers. A slightly different theme, but in the remote viewing of ‘somewhere else’, it’s interesting to compare with Ted Hughes’ ‘Public Bar TV’.

[Read in Human Chain, published by Faber & Faber. Ripped from the Guardian.]

Long after the Vasa sank on its maiden voyage, skeletons were salvaged from its wreckage and osteology applied to determine gender, age, height, illness and injury.

Understanding little how the body aches in the flesh,
I’m more attuned to the way the lashing wind
or callous words can chill a person to the bone.

According to science, life leaves clearer,
more lasting marks on bones than on the heart.
And for that matter, one shouldn’t fear
nor care if the head, too, is lost.
Ultimately, after skin and tendons rot,
the scaffolding still holds firm, providing clues.

Imagine: Cremation should be outlawed
because you’ll never know when
you’ll need to consult the vertebrae.
And wouldn’t it be apt if coded stanzas
are enshrined in the collarbones of poets?

In lovemaking, reach straight for the ribs –
and do likewise, whenever you crave
for keepsakes from your liaisons.
Don’t discuss matters of the heart
or what’s on your mind. Instead
make our bones grind and rattle through the night.

By contrast, in quiet or desperate times,
we listen to ancient wisdom resonating
through the corridors of our ivory tenements.
And let prayers and intercessions ebb and rise
from within the marrow where our souls reside.

[Read in From Within the Marrow, published by firstfruits publications.]