Week 45: Limbo, by Seamus Heaney

So we have lost Seamus Heaney, and that’s a loss indeed. He was very good at Being A Poet, but more to the point, and the two don’t always go together, he was also very good at being a poet. It’s hard to pick out a single poem to represent him from so accomplished an oeuvre, but I have always felt that this one shows his Dantesque intensity of vision coupled with an empathy not always so characteristic of the great Italian.


Fishermen at Ballyshannon
Netted an infant last night
Along with the salmon.
An illegitimate spawning,

A small one thrown back
To the waters. But I’m sure
As she stood in the shallows
Ducking him tenderly

Till the frozen knobs of her wrists
Were dead as the gravel,
He was a minnow with hooks
Tearing her open.

She waded in under
The sign of her cross.
He was hauled in with the fish.
Now limbo will be

A cold glitter of souls
Through some far briny zone.
Even Christ’s palms, unhealed,
Smart and cannot fish there.

Seamus Heaney

1 thought on “Week 45: Limbo, by Seamus Heaney

  1. “… she stood in the shallows / Ducking him tenderly …”. The action resembles baptism. Here’s a definition of baptism: “the Christian religious rite of sprinkling water on to a person’s forehead or of immersing them in water, symbolizing purification or regeneration and admission to the Christian Church. In many denominations, baptism is performed on young children and is accompanied by name-giving”.

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