The Other Side

© By Seamus Heaney

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Thigh deep in sedge and marigolds
a neighbour laid his shadow
on the stream, vouching

‘It’s poor as Lazarus, that ground,’
and brushed away
among the shaken leafage.

I lay where his lea sloped
to meet our fallow,
nested in moss and rushes,

my ear swallowing
his fabulous, biblical dismissal,
that tongue of chosen people.

When he would stand like that
on the other side, white-haired,
swinging his blackthorn

at the marsh weeds,
he prophesised above our scraggy acres,
then turned away

towards his promised furrows
on the hill, a wake of pollen
drifting to our bank, next season’s tares.


For days we would rehearse
each patriarchal dictum:
Lazarus, the Pharoah, Solomon

and David and Goliath rolled
magnificently, like loads of hay
too big for our small lanes,

or faltered on a rut -
“Your side of the house, I believe,
hardly rules by the book at all.”

His brain was a whitewashed kitchen
hung with texts, swept tidy
as the body o the kirk.


Then sometimes when the rosary was dragging
mournfully on in the kitchen
we would hear his step around the gable

though not until after the litany
would the knock come to the door
and the casual whistle strike up

on the doorstep. “A right-looking night,”
he might say, “I was dandering by
and says I, I might as well call.”

But now I stand behind him
in the dark yard, in the mourn of prayers.
He puts his hand in a pocket

or taps a little tune with the blackthorn
shyly, as if he were party to
lovemaking or a strangers weeping.

Should I slip away, I wonder,
or go up and touch his shoulder
and talk about the weather

or the price of grass-seed?

© Seamus Heaney, permissons Faber & Faber Ltd.

Seamus Heaney is exploring the tensions between the differing religious attitudes of neighbours.

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