Sunday, November 11, 2007

"Clearances" by Seamus Heaney

p. 27, “Clearances,” Seamus Heaney

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.

Again, I love that subtle rhyme—almost every line rhymes with the one after. But the rhyme is very quiet, very slight, and never satisfyingly complete (“at Mass” with “potatoes,” “by one” with “iron,” “to share” with “water,” “at her bedside” with “towards my head.”) Rhyme often functions to give a musicality to the lines. But I think in this poem that partial rhyme also carries some of the feeling of the poem, how this mother and son come close but never quite chime together, or like the last line says: “Never closer in all our lives.” For the boy, that time peeling potatoes on Sundays was a time approaching rhyme, approaching closeness, approaching music—not quite there, but close—the closest they got and the dearest thing to be remembered now. And I like the insight: that what connects us with our loved ones are these quiet, unspectacular times working together. That those matter more than dramatic carryings-on and fine phrases. "Would that there were more of them and that death did not end them," I think this poem says.
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