Skip to content


November 19, 2009

by Seamus Heaney
from Times Online


To win the hand of the princess
what tasks the youngest son
had to perform.

For me, the first to come a-courting
in the fish factor’s house,
it was to eat with them

an eel supper.


Cut of diesel oil in evening air,
tractor engines in the clinker-built
deep-bellied boats,

landlubbers’ craft,
heavy in water
as a cow down in a drain,

the men straight-backed,
standing firm
at stern and bow –

horse and cart men, really,
glad when the adze-dressed keel
cleaved to the mud.

Rum and peppermint men too
at the counter later on
in her father’s pub.


That skin Alfie Kirkwood wore
at school, sweaty-lustrous, supple

and bisected into tails
for the tying of itself around itself –

for strength, according to Alfie.
Who would ease his lapped wrist

from the flap-mouthed cuff
of a jerkin rank with eel oil,

the abounding reek of it
among our summer desks

my first encounter with the up close
that had to be put up with.


Sweaty-lustrous too
the butt of the freckled
elderberry shoot

I made a rod of,
a-fluster when I felt
not tugging but a trailing

on the line, not the utter
flip-stream frolic-fish
but a foot-long

slither of a fellow,
a young eel, greasy grey
and rightly wriggle-spined,

not yet the blueback
slick-backed waterwork
I’d live to reckon with,

my old familiar


“That tree,” said Walter de la Mare
(summer in his rare, recorded voice
so I could imagine

a lawn beyond French windows
and downs in the middle distance)
“That tree, saw it once

struck by lightning . . . The bark –”
in his accent ba-aak –
“the bark came off it

like a girl taking off her petticoat.”
White linen éblouissante
in a breath of air,

sylph-flash made flesh,
eelwork, sea-salt and dish cloth
getting a first hold,

then purchase for the thumb nail
and the thumb
under a v-nick in the neck,

the skinpeel drawing down
like a silk stocking
at a practised touch.


On the hoarding and the signposts
“Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-operative”,

but ever on our lips and at the weir
“the eelworks”.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: