Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Seamus Heaney's "The Bookcase"

"The Bookcase"

Ashwood or oakwood? Planned to silkiness,
Mitred, much eyed-along, each vellum-pale
Board in the bookcase held and never sagged. 
Virtue went forth from its very shipshapeness.

Whoever remembers the rough blue paper bags
Loose sugar was once sold in might remember
The jacket of (was it Oliver & Boyd’s?)
Collected Hugh MacDiarmid. And the skimmed milk

Bluey-white of the Chatto Selected
Elizabeth Bishop. Murex of Macmillan’s
Collected Yeats. And their Collected Hardy.
Yeats of 'Memory'. Hardy of 'The Voice'.

Voices too of Frost and Wallace Stevens.
Off a Caedmon double album, off different shelves.
Dylan at full volume, the Bushmills killed.
'Do Not Go Gentle.' 'Don’t be going yet.'


Heavy as the gate I hung on once
As it swung its arc through air round to the hedge-back,
The bookcase turns on a druggy hinge, its load
Divulging into a future perfect tense

Where we hang loose, ruminating and repeating
The three words, 'books from Ireland', to each other,
Quoting for pleasure the Venerable Bede
Who writes in his History of the English Church

That scrapings off the leaves of books from Ireland
When steeping in water palliate the effect 
Of snake-bite. 'For on this isle,' he states,
'Almost everything confers immunity.'

Chiefly I liked the lines and weight of it.
A measuredness. Its long back to the wall
And carpentered right angles I could feel
In my neck and shoulder. And books from everywhere.

Cash in As I Lay Dying makes a coffin - 
For thirteen stated reasons - 'on the bevel'.
From first, 'There is more surface for the nails
To grip,' to last, 'It makes a better job.'

In Riders to the Sea Synge specifies
In the opening stage direction 'some new boards
Standing by the wall,' and in Maurya's speech
'White boards' are like storm-gleams on the flood

At the very end, or the salt salvaged makings
Of a raft for books, a bier to be borne.
I imagine us bracing ourselves for the first lift,
Then staggering for balance, it has grown so light.

Check out this NYTimes video dedicated to Heaney:

Interesting essay that discusses Heaney and cites this poem

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