He would drink by himself

And raise a weathered thumb

Towards the high shelf,

Calling another rum

And blackcurrant, without

Having to raise his voice,

Or order a quick stout

By a lifting of the eyes

And a discreet dumb-show

Of pulling off the top;

At closing time would go

In waders and peaked cap

Into the showery dark,

A dole-kept breadwinner

But a natural for work.

I loved his whole manner,

Sure-footed but too sly,

His deadpan sidling tact,

His fisherman’s quick eye

And turned observant back.


To him, my other life.

Sometimes on the high stool,

Too busy with his knife

At a tobacco plug

And not meeting my eye,

In the pause after a slug

He mentioned poetry.

We would be on our own

And, always politic

And shy of condescension,

I would manage by some trick

To switch the talk to eels

Or lore of the horse and cart

Or the Provisionals.

But my tentative art

His turned back watches too:

He was blown to bits

Out drinking in a curfew

Others obeyed, three nights

After they shot dead

The thirteen men in Derry.

PARAS THIRTEEN, the walls said,

BOGSIDE NIL. That Wednesday

Everyone held

His breath and trembled.


It was a day of cold

Raw silence, wind-blown

Surplice and soutane:

Rained-on, flower-laden

Coffin after coffin

Seemed to float from the door

Of the packed cathedral

Like blossoms on slow water.

The common funeral

Unrolled its swaddling band,

Lapping, tightening

Till we were braced and bound

Like brothers in a ring.

But he would not be held

At home by his own crowd

Whatever threats were phoned,

Whatever black flags waved.

I see him as he turned

In that bombed offending place,

Remorse fused with terror

In his still knowable face,

His cornered outfaced stare

Blinding in the flash.

He had gone miles away

For he drank like a fish

Nightly, naturally

Swimming towards the lure

Of warm lit-up places,

The blurred mesh and murmur

Drifting among glasses

In the gregarious smoke.

How culpable was he

That last night when he broke

Our tribe’s complicity?

‘Now, you’re supposed to be

An educated man,’

I hear him say. ‘Puzzle me

The right answer to that one.’


I missed his funeral,

Those quiet walkers

And sideways talkers

Shoaling out of his lane

To the respectable

Purring of the hearse…

They move in equal pace

With the habitual

Slow consolation

Of a dawdling engine,

The line lifted, hand

Over fist, cold sunshine

On the water, the land

Banked under fog: that morning

I was taken in his boat,

The screw purling, turning

Indolent fathoms white,

I tasted freedom with him.

To get out early, haul

Steadily off the bottom,

Dispraise the catch, and smile

As you find a rhythm

Working you, slow mile by mile,

Into your proper haunt

Somewhere, well out, beyond…

Dawn-sniffing revenant,

Plodder through midnight rain,

Question me again.


By: Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney Poems

Books on Seamus Heaney Poetry