Week 107: Exposure, by Seamus Heaney

A comet has been much in the news this week as the remarkable Rosetta probe makes its successful landing. Maybe those immemorial loners from the outer dark don’t figure in poetry as much as they should, but here’s a poem where one does make a beautiful (and deeply resonant) appearance. I have wondered if Heaney had a specific comet in mind: maybe comet Kohoutek that brightened our skies for a while in 1973. For those who missed it, the good news is that it will be back in about 75000 years.


It is December in Wicklow:
Alders dripping, birches
Inheriting the last light,
The ash tree cold to look at.

A comet that was lost
Should be visible at sunset,
Those million tons of light
Like a glimmer of haws and rose-hips,

And I sometimes see a falling star.
If I could come on meteorite!
Instead I walk through damp leaves,
Husks, the spent flukes of autumn,

Imagining a hero
On some muddy compound,
His gift like a slingstone
Whirled for the desperate.

How did I end up like this?
I often think of my friends’
Beautiful prismatic counselling
And the anvil brains of some who hate me

As I sit weighing and weighing
My responsible tristia.
For what? For the ear? For the people?
For what is said behind-backs?

Rain comes down through the alders,
Its low conducive voices
Mutter about let-downs and erosions
And yet each drop recalls

The diamond absolutes.
I am neither internee nor informer;
An inner émigré, grown long-haired
And thoughtful; a wood-kerne

Escaped from the massacre,
Taking protective colouring
From bole and bark, feeling
Every wind that blows;

Who, blowing up these sparks
For their meagre heat, have missed
The once-in-a-lifetime portent,
The comet’s pulsing rose.

Seamus Heaney

2 thoughts on “Week 107: Exposure, by Seamus Heaney

  1. Dear Mr Sutton,
    My very honest congratulations to you on choosing this great Heaney poem just at this perfect moment in time.
    Thank you so much and best regards
    Michael K. Locher

    • Thank you, Michael, good to hear from you again. Yes, it’s a superb poem, isn’t it, and the thing about great poems, as distinct from great space probes, is that their batteries never run out…

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