Like so many books of poetry, my copy of Station Island by Seamus Heaney
had found its way to the remainder table of a bookstore.
I Opened the thin volume to the first poem, and read to myself:
There we were in the vaulted tunnel running,
You in your going-away coat speeding ahead
And me, me then like a fleet god gaining
Upon you before you turned to a reed
Or some new white flower japped with crimson
As the coat flapped wild and button after button
Sprang off and fell in a trail
Between the Underground and the Albert Hall.
Honeymooning, moonlighting, late for the Proms,
Our echoes die in that corridor and now
I come as Hansel came on the moonlit stones
Retracing the path back, lifting the buttons
To end up in a draughty lamplit station
After the trains have gone, the wet track
Bared and tensed as I am, all attention
For your step following and damned if I look back.
–The Underground, Station Island, 1985
That was my introduction to the Irish poet Seamus Heaney, dead this day at age 74. Leaving unforgettable poetry.
In 2009, Seamus Heaney was awarded the prestigious David Cohen prize for his life’s work in poetry. It gave Heaney (who was turning 70) the chance to reflect on his career. The ceremony called for Heaney to select two poems that sum up his work. He was upfront about the difficulty of this: ” I have a slight problem in knowing how to represent a lifetime of poems by reading only a couple of them.” Heaney chose two poems which speak to the poetic process: the short lyric poem The Underground and the sonnet A Drink of Water.
–John Lundberg, Huffington Post, 03/22/09
Station Island is the site of St Patrick’s Purgatory, an ancient pilgrimage in Lough Derg, County Donegal, Ireland. According to wikipedia, the site dates from the fifth century, when Christ showed Saint Patrick a cave that was an entrance to hell. (I don’t know if the cave still exists, or why anyone would want to visit it, but …)
If you happen to visit Donegal, You may also visit Lough Derg for a day of reflection on Station Island:
One Day Retreats on Lough Derg give you the opportunity to come together and celebrate faith. Come and walk in the footsteps of your ancestors, savour the atmosphere, feel the divine energy of a truly holy place.
—Sanctuary of St Patrick