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Friday Poem: Servant Boy, by Seamus Heaney


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Seamus Heaney should need no introduction, what with his Nobel award, Whitbread prizes and status as Irish national treasure. There are few subjects he didn’t touch upon in his almost five-decade-long career.

Seamus Heaney - made public domain by photographer

‘Servant Boy’ features in his 1972 collection Wintering Out, and is not your typical festive-fare. In two sentences, Heaney portrays a worker of indeterminate age whose life is blighted by the Catholic-Protestant conflict in Ireland. Using winter as a metaphor for the conflict, as well as to show the harsh conditions the poor lived under, Heaney hopes for a better future for his countrymen.

Twenty years after the Good Friday Agreement, and with peace in Ireland once again a hot topic due to Brexit, here’s Heaney’s winter offering.

Servant Boy 
He is wintering out
the back-end of a bad year,
swinging a hurricane-lamp
through some outhouse;
a jobber among shadows.
Old work-whore, slave-
blood, who stepped fair-hills
under each bidder's eye
and kept your patience
and your counsel, how
you draw me into
your trail. Your trail
broken from haggard to stable,
a straggle of fodder
stiffened on snow,
comes first-footing
the back doors of the little
barons: resentful
and impenitent,
carrying the warm eggs.

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