Seamus Heaney. The Tollund Man in Springtime

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Into your virtual city I’ll have passed

Unregistered by scans, screens, hidden eyes,

Lapping myself in time, an absorbed face

Coming and going, neither god nor ghost,

Not at odds or at one, but simply lost

To you and yours, out under seeding grass

And trickles of kesh water, sphagnum moss,

Dead bracken on the spreadfield, red as rust.

I reawoke to revel in the spirit

They strengthened when they chose to put me down

For their own good. And to a sixth-sensed threat:

Panicked snipe offshooting into twilight,

Then going awry, larks quietened in the sun,

Clear alteration in the bog-pooled rain.



Scone of peat, composite bog-dough

They trampled like a muddy vintage, then

Slabbed and spread and turned to dry in sun –

Though never kindling-dry the whole way through –

A dead-weight, slow-burn lukewarmth in the flue,

Ashless, flameless, its very smoke a sullen

Waft of swamp-breath … And me, so long unrisen,

I knew that same dead weight in joint and sinew

Until a spade-plate slid and soughed and plied

At my buried ear, and the levered sod

Got lifted up; then once I felt the air

I was like turned turf in the breath of God,

Bog-bodied on the sixth day, brown and bare,

And on the last, all told, unatrophied.



My heavy head. Bronze-buffed. Ear to the ground.

My eye at turf level. Its snailskin lid.

My cushioned cheek and brow. My phantom hand

And arm and leg and shoulder that felt pillowed

As fleshily as when the bog pith weighed

To mould me to itself and it to me

Between when I was buried and unburied.

Between what happened and was meant to be.

On show for years while all that lay in wait

Still waited. Disembodied. Far renowned.

Faith placed in me, me faithless as a stone

The harrow turned up when the crop was sown.

Out in the Danish night I’d hear soft wind

And remember moony water in a rut.



‘The soul exceeds its circumstances.’ Yes.

History not to be granted the last word

Or the first claim… In the end I gathered

From the display-case peat my staying powers,

Told my webbed wrists to be like silver birches,

My old uncallused hands to be young sward,

The spade-cut skin to heal, and got restored

By telling myself this. Late as it was,

The early bird still sang, the meadow hay

Still buttercupped and daisied, sky was new.

I smelled the air, exhaust fumes, silage reek,

Heard from my heather bed the thickened traffic

Swarm at a roundabout five fields away

And transatlantic flights stacked in the blue.



Cattle out in rain, their knowledgeable

Solid standing and readiness to wait,

These I learned from. I stood by in the wet.

My head as washy as a head of kale.

Shedding water like the flanks and tail

Of every dumb beast sunk above the cloot

fit trampled mud, bringing their heavyweight

Silence to hear on nosed-at sludge and puddle.

Of another world, unlearnable. and so

To he liked by, whatever it was I knew

Came back to me. Newfound contrariness.

In check-out lines, at cash-points, in those queues

Of wired, far-faced smilers. I stood off,

Bulrush, head in the air, far from its long lough.



Through every check and scan I carried with me

A bunch of Tollund rushes – roots and all –

Bagged in their own bog-damp. In an old stairwell

Broom cupboard where I had hoped they’d stay

Damp until transplanted, they went musty.

Every green-skinned stalk turned friable,

The drowned-mouse fibres withered and the whole

Limp, soggy cluster lost its frank bouquet

Of weed leaf and turf mould. Dust in my palm

And in my nostrils dust, should I shake it off

Or mix it in with spit in pollen’s name

And my own? As a man would, cutting turf,

I straightened, spat on my hands, feit benefit

And spirited myself into the street.

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