And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park or capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.
Malcolm Guite reads today’s poem
The second Sunday of Lent finds us once again in paused reflection. Just as every Lord’s Day is itself a celebration of Easter, we too find renewal and refreshment in its separation from the busy week. How tragic that we often fill it up with hurried activity.
In The Word in the Wilderness, Malcolm Guite writes:
We are ourselves conductors! The strange beauties and energies of the world pass through us and it is up to us whether we are simply ‘a hurry’ through which they pass or if we might ourselves be changed and charged by what passes through us…
Was there a memorable moment when, as the poet says, your heart was caught off guard?
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
Dig Deeper: Literature & Liturgy
Seamus Justin Heaney, (born April 13, 1939, near Castledàwson, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland—died August 30, 2013, Dublin, Ireland) Irish poet whose work is notable for its evocation of Irish rural life and events in Irish history as well as for its allusions to Irish myth. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995.
After graduating from Queen’s University, Belfast (B.A., 1961), Heaney taught secondary school for a year and then lectured in colleges and universities in Belfast and Dublin. He became a member of the Field Day Theatre Company in 1980, soon after its founding by playwright Brian Friel and actor Stephen Rea. In 1982 he joined the faculty of Harvard University as visiting professor and, in 1985, became full professor—a post he retained while teaching at the University of Oxford (1989–94).
Heaney’s first poetry collection was the prizewinning Death of a Naturalist (1966). In this book and Door into the Dark (1969), he wrote in a traditional style about a passing way of life—that of domestic rural life in Northern Ireland. In Wintering Out (1972) and North (1975), he began to encompass such subjects as the violence in Northern Ireland and contemporary Irish experience, though he continued to view his subjects through a mythic and mystical filter. Among the later volumes that reflect Heaney’s honed and deceptively simple style are Field Work (1979), Station Island (1984), The Haw Lantern (1987), and Seeing Things (1991). The Spirit Level (1996) concerns the notion of centredness and balance in both the natural and the spiritual senses. His Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966–1996 was published in 1998. In Electric Light (2001) and District and Circle (2006), he returned to the Ireland of his youth. The poetry in Human Chain (2010) reflects on death, loss, regret, and memory.
Heaney wrote essays on poetry and on poets such as William Wordsworth, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Elizabeth Bishop. Some of these essays have appeared in Preoccupations: Selected Prose, 1968–1978 (1980) and Finders Keepers: Selected Prose, 1971–2001 (2002). A collection of his lectures at Oxford was published as The Redress of Poetry (1995).
Heaney also produced translations, including The Cure at Troy (1991), which is Heaney’s version of Sophocles’ Philoctetes, and The Midnight Verdict (1993), which contains selections from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and from Cúirt an mheán oíche (The Midnight Court), a work by the 18th-century Irish writer Brian Merriman. Heaney’s translation of the Old English epic poem Beowulf (1999) became an unexpected international best seller, while his The Burial at Thebes (2004) gave Sophocles’ Antigone contemporary relevance.
Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).
Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings. For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page.
Photo courtesy Lancia E. Smith
For every day from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Day, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it.