like a tinsmith’s scoop

Yesterday we lost a great poet. Nobel winner Seamus Heaney died in his native Ireland at the age of 74. He was still writing, and I thought we had many more years of masterful work from him ahead.

Heaney’s poems have had a huge impact on me as both a poet and a reader, and I suspect they will continue to teach me for years to come. His pleasure in language, its textures and sounds, teaches me to approach poetry-making like a craftsman. In poems, he is a woodworker with plane in hand, smoothing natural speech into something luminous and somehow more real. A blacksmith pounding rhythm into cold material.

I spent this morning in the turning fall light in the garden, rereading one of my favorite books of his, the series North. Tonight we read the book’s first poem aloud after dinner, marveling at its necklace of matched sounds. It remains one of my favorites of all. It’s the first part of “Mossbawn: Two Poems in Dedication,” written for his mother Mary.


I. Sunlight


There was a sunlit absence.
The helmeted pump in the yard
heated its iron,
water honeyed

in the slung bucket
and the sun stood
like a griddle cooling
against the wall

of each long afternoon.
So, her hands scuffled
over the bakeboard,
the reddening stove

sent its plaque of heat
against her where she stood
in a floury apron
by the window.

Now she dusts the board
with a goose’s wing,
now sits, broad-lapped,
with whitened nails

and measling shins:
here is a space
again, the scone rising
to the tick of two clocks.

And here is love
like a tinsmith’s scoop
sunk past its gleam
in the meal-bin.


With the sound of that scoop in our ears, its muted bite into coarse grain, we muse out loud. Yes, love is like that: sunk into the work of life. With our hands full of struggle, slowness, pieces and fragments, we make our lives. Over time and with the blessing of years, the making becomes inextricable from our loving, our being loved.

Here is love like a tinsmith’s scoop, in this poem as in so many of Heaney’s poems. Inextricable.

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