Why I Rhyme
September 2, 2013 §
Dear poet, I’ll miss you!
Once I fell into your well
and that saved my life.
I do not post much of the poetry I so much love and read here. Maybe I should do that more. I mostly use this space to post my own little poetic bits and pieces. It’s my online notebook and at the same time my published little pamphlet. I write slowly and I doubt much whether I have the right to rhyme at all. You see, in the Mount Olympus of language (especially this foreign one I’ve chosen here) I’m a mortal who sneaks in to steal the fire. The fire I’ve found in the poetry of so many. One of them, a very dear to me, died last Friday, and that was Seamus Heaney.
There’s nothing I can say about his greatness that it’s not said already these days by people who had read him more, or had known him personally, or at least had been at one of his readings, in the same room with that lovely voice of his. None of these things has happened to me but I feel his loss, nevertheless, in a private way. There’s a Heaney poem that belongs to me as much as to the poet himself, for “poets place their voices inside our heads, so close to our thoughts that it feels as though we’ve thought them up”.
‘Personal Helicon’ was read to me by my dearest friend in a moment of great weakness. His voice will also be in my head, as long as I live. I’m as thankful to him for making this poem dear to me as I am to Seamus Heaney for ever being so bold and choosing the ‘squat pen’ to dig in our hearts and minds and let his mark there for ever.
Personal Helicon by Seamus Heaney
As a child, they could not keep me from wells
And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.
I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.
One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.
I savoured the rich crash when a bucket
Plummeted down at the end of a rope.
So deep you saw no reflection in it.
A shallow one under a dry stone ditch
Fructified like any aquarium.
When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch
A white face hovered over the bottom.
Others had echoes, gave back your own call
With a clean new music in it. And one
Was scaresome, for there, out of ferns and tall
Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.
Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,
To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.
(Seamus Heaney reading ‘Personal Helicon’ here.)