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Poetry from The Blackbird's Nest
The poets and verse associated with Queen's University in Belfast are celebrated in a new anthology, edited by Franks Ormsby.

Among the writers featured are Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney, Philip Larkin and John Hewitt. Below are a selection of the poems included in the book, The Blackbird's Nest.


Philip Larkin

Once I am sure there's nothing going on I step inside, letting the door thud shut. Another church: matting, seats, and stone, And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff Up at the holy end; the small neat organ; And a tense, musty, unignorable silence, Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.

Move forward, run my hand around the font. From where I stand, the roof looks almost new - Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don't. Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce 'Here endeth' much more loudly than I'd meant. The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence, Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do, And always end much at a loss like this, Wondering what to look for; wondering, too, When churches will fall completely out of use What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep A few cathedrals chronically on show, Their parchment, plate and pyx in locked cases, And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep. Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

Or, after dark, will dubious women come To make their children touch a particular stone; Pick simples for a cancer; or on some Advised night see walking a dead one? Power of some sort will go on In games, in riddles, seemingly at random; But superstition, like belief, must die, And what remains when disbelief has gone? Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

A shape less recognisable each week, A purpose more obscure. I wonder who Will be the last, the very last, to seek This place for what it was; one of the crew That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were? Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique, Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh? Or will he be my representative,

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt So long and equably what since is found Only in separation - marriage, and birth, And death, and thoughts of these - for which was built This special shell? For, though I've no idea What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth, It pleases me to stand in silence here;

A serious house on serious earth it is, In whose blent air all our compulsions meet, Are recognised, and robed as destinies. And that much never can be obsolete, Since someone will forever be surprising A hunger in himself to be more serious, And gravitating with it to this ground, Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in, If only that so many dead lie round.


Seamus Heaney

All of us on the sofa in a line, kneeling Behind each other, eldest down to youngest, Elbows going like pistons, for this was a train

And between the jamb-wall and the bedroom door Our speed and distance were inestimable, First we shunted, then we whistled, then

Somebody collected the invisible For tickets and very gravely punched it As carriage after carriage under us

Moved faster, chooka-chook, the sofa legs Went giddy and the unreachable ones Far out on the kitchen floor began to wave.

Ghost-train? Death-gondola? The carved, curved ends, Black leatherette and ornate gauntness of it Made it seem the sofa had achieved

Flotation. Its castors on tiptoe, Its braid and fluent backboard gave it airs Of superannuated pageantry:

When visitors endured it, straight-backed, When it stood off in its own remoteness, When the insufficient toys appeared on it

On Christmas mornings, it held out as itself, Potentially heavenbound, earthbound for sure, Among things that might add up or let you down

We entered history and ignorance Under the wireless shelf. Yippee-i-ay, Sang 'The Riders of the Range'. HERE IS THE NEWS,

Said the absolute speaker. Between him and us A great gulf was fixed where pronunciation Reigned tyrannically. The aerial wire

Swept and swayed in us like nets in water Or the abstract, lonely curve of distant trains As we entered history and ignorance.

We occupied our seats with all our might, Fit for the uncomfortableness. Constancy was its own reward already.

Out in front, on the big upholstered arm, Somebody craned to the side, driver or Fireman, wiping his dry brow with the air

Of one who had run the gauntlet. We were The last thing on his mind, it seemed; we sensed A tunnel coming up where we'd pour through

Like unlit carriages through fields at night, Our only job to sit, eyes straight ahead, And be transported and make engine noise.


Ciaran Carson

Suddenly as the riot squad moved in, it was raining exclamation marks, nuts, bolts, nails, car-keys. A fount of broken type. And the explosion. Itself - an askerisk on the map. This hyphenated line, a burst of rapid fire...

I was trying to complete a sentence in my head but it kept stuttering, All the alleyways and side streets blocked with stops and colons.

I know this labyrinth so well - Balaclava, Raglan, Inkerman, Odessa Street - Why can't I escape? Every move is punctuated. Crimea Street. Dead end again.

A Saracen, Kremlin-2 mesh. Makrolon face-shields. Walkie- talkies. What is My name? Where am I coming from? Where am I going? A fusillade of question- marks.


John Hewitt

There is a bareness in the images I temper time with in my mind's defence; they hold their own, their stubborn secrecies;

A gannet's plunge, a heron by a pond, a last rook homing as the sun goes down, a spider squatting on a bracken-frond, and thistles in a cornsheaf's tufted crown, a boulder on a hillside, lichen-stained, the sparks of sun on dripping icicles, their durable significance contained in texture, colour, shape and nothing else.

All these are sharp, spare, simple, native to this small republic I have charted out as the sure acre where my sense is true, while round its boundaries sprawl the screes of doubt.

My lamp lights up the kettle on the stove and throws its shadow on the whitewashed wall, like some Assyrian profile with, above, a snake, a bird-prowed helmet crested tall;

But this remains a shadow; when I shift the lamp or move the kettle it is gone, the substance and the shadow break adrift that needed bronze to lock them, bronze or stone.


Michael Longley


Put in mind of his own father and moved to tears Achilles took him by the hand and pushed the old king Gently away, but Priam curled up at his feet and Wept with him until their sadness filled the building.


Taking Hector's corpse into his own hands Achilles Made sure it was washed and, for the old king's sake, Laid out in uniform, ready for Priam to carry Wrapped like a present home to Troy at daybreak.


When they had eaten together, it pleased them both To stare at each other's beauty as lovers might, Achilles built like a god, Priam good-looking still And full of conversation, who earlier had sighed:


'I get down on my knees and do what must be done And kiss Achilles' hand, the killer of my son.'

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