This poem, which is part of a longer sequence, is a good illustration of Seamus Heaney’s gift for moving from the private and particular memory or observation to a moving statement of the universal. The unnamed ‘them’ in the third line are, of course, his parents, who are brought to the mind of a convalescent Heaney by the sound of a boiler starting up – I guess we all have particular sounds that trigger memories of childhood, we lived on a hill and mine would be the sound of the wind on autumn nights, hooting and snuffling outside the house like an invisible animal trying to find a way in.
Now the oil-fired heating boiler comes to life
Abruptly, drowsily, like the timed collapse
Of a sawn down tree, I imagine them
In summer season, as it must have been,
And the place, it dawns on me,
Could have been Grove Hill before the oaks were cut,
Where I’d often stand with them on airy Sundays
Shin-deep in hilltop bluebells, looking out
At Magherafelt’s four spires in the distance.
Too late, alas, now for the apt quotation
About a love that’s proved by steady gazing
Not at each other but in the same direction.