The Tollund Man in Springtime by Seamus Heaney

Into your virtual city I'll have passed
Unregistered by scans, screens, hidden eyes ...

Into your virtual city I'll have passed
Unregistered by scans, screens, hidden eyes,
Lapping time in myself, an absorbed face
Coming and going, neither god nor ghost,
Not at odds or at one, but simply lost
To you and yours, out under seeding grass
And trickles of kesh water, sphagnum moss,
Dead bracken on the spreadfield, red as rust.
I reawoke to revel in the spirit
They strengthened when they chose to put me down
For their own good. And to a sixth-sensed threat:
Panicked snipe offshooting into twilight,
Then going awry, larks quietened in the sun,
Clear alteration in the bog-pooled rain.


"The soul exceeds its circumstances". Yes.
History not to be granted the last word
Or the first claim ... In the end I gathered
From the display-case peat my staying powers,
Told my webbed wrists to be like silver birches,
My old uncallused hands to be young sward,
The spade-cut skin to heal, and got restored
By telling myself this. Late as it was,
The early bird still sang, the meadow hay
Still buttercupped and daisied, sky was new.
I smelled the air, exhaust fumes, silage reek,
Heard from my heather bed the thickened traffic
Swarm at a roundabout five fields away
And transatlantic flights stacked in the blue.


Through every check and scan I carried with me
A bunch of Tollund rushes — roots and all —
Bagged in their own bog-damp. In an old stairwell
Broom cupboard where I had hoped they'd stay
Damp until transplanted, they went musty.
Every green-skinned stalk turned friable,
The drowned-mouse fibres dried up and the whole
Limp, soggy cluster lost its bouquet
Of weed leaf and turf mould. Dust in my palm
And in my nostrils dust, should I shake it off
Or mix it in with spit in pollen's name
And my own? As a man would, cutting turf,
I straightened, spat on my hands, felt benefit
And spirited myself into the street.

· From Metre, Spring 2005, a magazine of poetry, price £28 for three issues including postage. For a subscription send a cheque or international money order to Metre, Box 8745, Dublin 2, Ireland.

Seamus Heaney

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