THE CAMPAIGN FOR BETTER LETTER WRITING

A Poem by Seamus Heaney

In Letters and Poems on November 18, 2009 at 9:35 am

Elegy for a Postman

Who rowed out between islands one evening
Before Christmas, with a white mist censing
The clunk of the boat, the guttural oars
And noise of children playing round the shores.

Silent, lumpy as a berg, the mailbag
Lay at his feet. Under the swatching fog
Perhaps he is content to drift a while:
Those scattered homesteads won’t expect his call.

He seals quietly on the lough. The lamps
Are desultory markers as he gazes.
A child’s called in. The opened door blazes
On to the water. His old head nods. He dozes.

At one in the morning the lough was black.
Fathers awoke to far shouts, the crack
Of an oar on ice and calling of their names
By a late postman, locked out from all their homes.

His voice wailed out the roll-call of his beat.
The water would not open to his knock.
They reached him the next day by ten o’clock
Clad in hard frost, the bag stiff at his feet.

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