Funeral Rites

3 07 2010

by Seamus Heaney


I shouldered a kind of manhood
stepping in to lift the coffins
of dead relations.
They had been laid out
in tainted rooms,
their eyelids glistening,
their dough-white hands
shackled in rosary beads.
Their puffed knuckles
had unwrinkled, the nails
were darkened, the wrists
obediently sloped.
The dulse-brown shroud,
the quilted satin cribs:
I knelt courteously
admiring it all
as wax melted down
and veined the candles,
the flames hovering
to the women hovering
behind me.
And always, in a corner,
the coffin lid,
its nail-heads dressed
with little gleaming crosses.
Dear soapstone masks,
kissing their igloo brows
had to suffice
before the nails were sunk
and the black glacier
of each funeral
pushed away.


Now as news comes in
of each neighbourly murder
we pine for ceremony,
customary rhythms:
the temperate footsteps
of a cortege, winding past
each blinded home.
I would restore
the great chambers of Boyne,
prepare a sepulcher
under the cupmarked stones.
Out of side-streets and bye-roads
purring family cars
nose into line,
the whole country tunes
to the muffled drumming
of ten thousand engines.
Somnambulant women,
left behind, move
through emptied kitchens
imagining our slow triumph
towards the mounds.
Quiet as a serpent
in its grassy boulevard
the procession drags its tail
out of the Gap of the North
as its head already enters
the megalithic doorway.


Before they put the stone back
in its mouth,
let us pray
that the necropolis will prove
sufficient to our appetite
for memory, that cuds behindbacks
and incubates spilled blood;
and place these remnants
in the care of Gunnar.
He lay beautiful
inside his mound,
though dead by violence
and unavenged:
it seemed that he was chanting
verses about honour,
and four lights burned
in corners of the chamber.
Which opened then, as he turned
with a joyful face
and looked at the moon.

Isidorean Mappa Mundi




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