station to station: island

Heaney meets Joyce in a carpark, after a fast and pilgrimage to St. Patrick’s Purgatory in Lough Derg. The tall, older man on his ashplant, holding Heaney’s hand with his boney own, gives him this parting advice that ends the poem:

and suddenly he hit a litter basket

with his stick, saying, “Your obligation
is not discharged by any common rite.
What you do you must do on your own.

The main thing is to write
for the joy of it. Cultivate a work-lust
that imagines its haven like your hands at night

dreaming the sun in the sunspot of a breast.
You are fasted now, light-headed, dangerous.
Take off from here. And don’t be so earnest,

so ready for the sackcloth and the ashes.
Let go, let fly, forget.
You’ve listened long enough. Now strike your note.

You lose more of yourself than you redeem
doing the decent thing. Keep at a tangent.
When they make the circle wide, it’s time to swim

out on your own and fill the element
with signatures on your own frequency,
echo-soundings, searches, probes, allurements,

elver-gleams in the dark of the whole sea.”
The shower broke in a cloudburst. The tarmac
fumed and sizzled. As he moved off quickly

the downpour loosed its screens round his straight walk.

Seamus Heaney, Station Island (1984)


  1. Hg

    February 28, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    God, that’s good advice. Light-headed, dangerous and overly earnest is a pretty good description of my current state of mind.

  2. alistair

    February 28, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    I suppose I should point out for the historically confused that it’s the ghost of Joyce that he’s talking to…

Leave a Reply