A nod to Seamus Heaney

RTE recently ran a competition called A Poem for Ireland, where the nation were invited to nominate their favourite poems. A shortlist of 10 poems was selected and then opened to voting.

While there were 10 great poems in the shortlist, there was only one winner for me. It was this poem by the great Seamus Heaney. I hadn’t read it before and after I did, I immediately voted for it. Like other Heaney poems, I had a lump in my throat by the closing lines.

Heaney is surely one of the country’s best poets. He had an amazing knack of summing up emotions so poignantly. So here it is below. If you haven’t read Heaney before, then this is a real treat.

And btw, it won the contest. Of course!

When all the others were away at Mass

In Memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984


When all the others were away at Mass

I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.

They broke the silence, let fall one by one

Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:

Cold comforts set between us, things to share

Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.

And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes

From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside

Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying

And some were responding and some crying

I remembered her head bent towards my head,

Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives –

Never closer the whole rest of our lives.