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)