seamus heaney

Seamus Heaney kindly gave permission for his poem Saint Kevin and the Blackbird to be published in the catalogue of my 2007 exhibition, The Temptations of Solitude. As much of the work in my  forthcoming exhibition Touch at The Martin Tinney Gallery is based on the poem, I thought it high time to post it here.

Saint Kevin and the Blackbird

And then there was St Kevin and the blackbird.
The saint is kneeling, arms stretched out, inside
His cell, but the cell is narrow, so

One turned-up palm is out the window, stiff
As a crossbeam, when a blackbird lands
and Lays in it and settles down to nest.

Kevin feels the warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked
Neat head and claws and, finding himself linked
Into the network of eternal life,

Is moved to pity: now he must hold his hand
Like a branch out in the sun and rain for weeks
Until the young are hatched and fledged and flown.

And since the whole thing’s imagined anyhow,
Imagine being Kevin. Which is he?
Self-forgetful or in agony all the time

From the neck on out down through his hurting forearms?
Are his fingers sleeping? Does he still feel his knees?
Or has the shut-eyed blank of underearth

Crept up through him? Is there distance in his head?
Alone and mirrored clear in Love’s deep river,
‘To labour and not to seek reward,’ he prays,

A prayer his body makes entirely
For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird
And on the riverbank forgotten the river’s name.

Seamus Heaney


5 thoughts on “seamus heaney

  1. Pingback: ‘Saint Kevin and the Blackbird’s Nest’ | Clive Hicks-Jenkins' Artlog:

  2. Pingback: revisiting Kevin and the Blackbird | Clive Hicks-Jenkins' Artlog:

  3. I say again how much I love this poem. It goes deeper than St. Kevin, deeper than the blackbird, deeper even than Heaney. It speaks to me of a necessary sacrifice we humans have yet to make, of a kind of loving and cherishing that seems hard to find, of a sense of importance not meant for us but for others–and of so much more. Simple version: It speaks to me, and it speaks to me every time I read it, every time I feel it.

    • I shall find that video and if I’m able, link it to this page. Thanks for alerting me Dave. Heaney is one of the few poets (among which select group I count both you and Marly Youmans) who I feel successfully reads his own work.

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