Blowing Your Heart Open

Poems are strange things.

Like most people I find there’s a lot of poetry that leaves me cold, or baffled.

There are poems you can read and think ‘that’s good’, but they don’t stick, or move you.

Then there are poems that speak to you, that grab you, that connect to something inside that you didn’t know you had, but recognise instantly on reading.

Postscript‘, by the late Seamus Heaney, was one such poem for me.  I can’t remember where and when I found it (or rather, it found me), only that I was browsing the internet one day, and stumbled upon the words.

I loved the poem, and knew instantly that I had to go and see for myself this place of which he talked: the north west corner of County Clare.

The Flaggy Shore.

Oh, even just typing the words makes my heart skip a beat!

It’s the edge of the limestone pavement of the Burren, the place where the limestone meets the sea.

The Flaggy Shore.

The poem took me there last early summer, and again in November.

I walked the loop of the Flaggy Shore, up to the loch of the swans, over and over, and over and over. I could walk it now in my head, in my heart, every inch familiar.

I’ve written so many times about this limestone pavement and what it means to me, and yet I’m nowhere near being close to explain it. Perhaps it’s one of those things best left to the great poets to find the words to tell.

Anyway, the death of Seamus Heaney the other week reminded me of Postscript, and the Flaggy Shore, and how it was the poem that took me there, and how grateful that makes me.

It reminded me of how many times poetry can play this part in your life: give you a nudge, wake you up, remind you of what matters, dissolve you in tears as it blows your heart open.

And it reminded me that there’s not as much written about this thing that poems can do as there could be, and I’d like to see more of it. I’d like to write more of it myself, to share some of the ways that poetry has changed things for me, and highlight some of the poems that are part of my story, my landscapes.

So, this is the opening to sharing some poems (over time, and not too much, as I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea) and talking about why they’re important to me.

Last but not least, here’s the poem, for those of you who don’t know it, and a photograph from one of the dark-light days of last November, walking the limestone at the Flaggy Shore.


And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

Seamus Heaney

From THE SPIRIT LEVEL (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996)

the flaggy shore

Silently Singing

sorrowful you walked
the Flaggy Shore
silent of words
bereft of poetry
sorrowful you walked
even as you lay
on the warm limestone pavement
crying love at the sea thrifts pinkly

even as you walked
cold in November rain
over and over,
cheeks wet with the cold of your tears
even as you stumbled the autumn seaweed
fell once again to lie closely with the stones
even as the skies caught fire above the swans at Loch Maree
and you cried a song of
thank you thank you
as you walked in darkness home

sorrowful it was you walked
wordless without poems
not knowing that this too was a song of worship

even as you prayed hard for the words of the poem to come
silent you stayed,
even as you lay,
flat on the still warm earth
day after day
watching sea thrifts dancing madly
lost in prayer
this quiet
act of