An August Night

It is hard to know what to say about death. Words are often dry and inadequate. But one poet, whose own recent death leaves the world the poorer, approached the topic with more adequacy than most. So many of Seamus Heaney’s poems of recent years delve into gaps and moments of memory, as a way perhaps of keeping alive the dead, or of trying to let them go. His method was less grand than Yeats’s summoning ghosts, and sidles up to its subject by sometimes the most unluminous of details. This warm and small moon poem, probably concerning the poet’s father, is imagist in brevity but somehow contains more overflowing subjective feeling than many imagist glimpses. Taken from the collection Seeing Things (1991), it is I think quietly making a claim about certain kinds of seeing, when as here a memory turns strange, and fittingly luminous.

An August Night

His hands were warm and small and knowledgeable
When I saw them again last night, they were two ferrets,
Playing all by themselves in a moonlit field.

Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)


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