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Seamus Heaney: "An Afterwards"

Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney died this morning in Dublin. Over the years, he published many poems in The New Republic. In tribute, here is "An Afterwards," first published in the magazine in 1979.

She would plunge all poets in the ninth circle

And fix them, tooth in skull, tonguing for brain;

For backbiting in life she'd make their hell

A rabid egotistical daisy-chain.

Unyielding, spurred, ambitious, unblunted,

Lockjawed, mantrapped, each a fastened badger

Jockeying for position, hasped and mounted

Like Ugolino on Archbishop Roger.

And when she'd make her circuit of the ice.

Aided and abetted by Virgil's wife,

I would cry out, 'My sweet, who wears the bays

In our green land above, whose is the life

Most dedicated and exemplary?'

And she: 'I have closed my widowed ears

To the sulphurous news of poets and poetry.

Why could you not have, oftener, in our years

Unclenched, and come down laughing from your room

And walked the twilight with me and your children

Like that one evening of elder bloom

And hay, when the wild roses were fading?'

And (as some maker gaffs me in the neck)

'You weren't the worst. You aspired to a kind.

Indifferent, faults-on-both-sides tact.

You left us first, and then those books, behind.'