Cover image for Opened ground : selected poems, 1966-1996
Opened ground : selected poems, 1966-1996
Heaney, Seamus.
Personal Author:
First Farrar, Straus and Giroux edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998.
Physical Description:
443 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
From Death of a naturalist (1966) -- From Door into the dark (1969) -- From Wintering out (1972) -- From Stations (1975) -- From North (1975) -- From Field work (1979) -- From Sweeney astray (1983) -- From Station island (1984) -- From The haw lantern (1987) -- From The cure at Troy (1990) -- From Seeing things (1991) -- From The spirit level (1996) -- Creating poetry (1995).
Geographic Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PR6058.E2 O65 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



As selected by the author, Opened Ground includes the essential work from Heaney's twelve previous books of poetry, as well as new sequences drawn from two of his landmark translations, The Cure at Troy and Sweeney Astray , and several previously uncollected poems. Heaney's voice is like no other--"by turns mythological and journalistic, rural and sophisticated, reminiscent and impatient, stern and yielding, curt and expansive" (Helen Vendler, The New Yorker )--and this is a one-volume testament to the musicality and precision of that voice. The book closes with Heaney's Nobel Lecture: "Crediting Poetry."

Author Notes

Seamus Heaney was born in Mossbawn, Ireland on April 13, 1939. He received a degree in English from Queen's College in Belfast in 1961. After earning his teacher's certificate in English from St. Joseph's College in Belfast the following year, he took a position at the school as an English teacher. During his time as a teacher at St. Joseph's, he wrote and published work in the university magazine under the pen name Incertus.

In 1966, he became an English literature lecturer at Queen's College in Belfast. His first volume of poems, Death of a Naturalist, went on to receive the E.C. Gregory Award, the Cholmondeley Award, the Somerset Maugham Award, and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize.

After the death of his parents, Heaney published the poetry volumes The Haw Lantern, which includes a sonnet sequence memorializing his mother, and Seeing Things, a collection containing numerous poems for his father. His other works included Field Work, Opened Ground: Poems 1966-1996, and Human Chain.

Heaney was a professor at Harvard from 1981 to 1997 and its Poet in Residence from 1988 to 2006. From 1989 to 1994 he was also the Professor of Poetry at Oxford and in 1996 was made a Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres. Other awards that he received include the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize (1968), the E. M. Forster Award (1975), the PEN Translation Prize (1985), the Golden Wreath of Poetry (2001), T. S. Eliot Prize (2006) and two Whitbread Prizes (1996 and 1999). In 2012, he was awarded the Lifetime Recognition Award from the Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry. His literary papers are held by the National Library of Ireland.

He died following a short illness on August 30, 2013 at the age of 74. Heaney's last words were in a text to his wife Marie, "Noli timere", which means "Do not be afraid."

(Bowker Author Biography) Seamus Heaney lives in Dublin and teaches at Harvard University. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1995.

(Publisher Provided) Seamus Heaney was born in 1939 in Northern Ireland. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. A resident of Dublin, he has taught poetry at Oxford University and Harvard University.

(Publisher Provided)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The best of Nobel laureate Heaney's poems, gathered from 12 previous collections, create a substantial volume that charts the course of one man's thoroughly examined personal life and reflects a volatile era in the life of his troubled country, Northern Ireland, though the particulars Heaney renders so vibrantly become archetypal and unbounded in their tragedy and bliss. Heaney's art is rooted deeply in the earth and set to the rhythm of physical labor, an age-old effort as noble as it is wearing. This elemental engagement with life is the source of Heaney's timelessness, a quality not in any way diminished by the modernity of his persona and his observations of our technological advances and spiritual floundering. And his lyricism is glorious: his melodic lines are made of stone and water, iron and cloth, bread and prayer, flesh and dream. Heaney provides a glimpse into his writerly self in his Nobel lecture, which is included in Opened Ground, but renowned Harvard critic Vendler, whose last book was a study of Shakespeare's sonnets, is far freer than the poet himself to illuminate the subtext of his poems. Combining biography with history and highly developed senses of aesthetics and poetics, Vendler guides her readers through Heaney's work like a naturalist identifying plants in a thick forest. She tracks the evolution of Heaney's imagery, his musicality, the beat and velocity of his poems, his many-tendriled metaphors and symbols, his flair for storytelling, and his moods, obsessions, and revelations. Astute, specific, and expressive, Vendler is an ideal reading companion. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

For those few readers of poetry unfamiliar with the Nobel laureate's work, and for others who wish for up-to-date representative samplings from a prolific career, this new volume from Heaney will be just the ticket, perhaps the poetry stocking-stuffer of the year. Although we already have a selected from Heaney, running through 1987, and nearly all of his previous 12 books of poems are in print (including an even earlier selected), the post-'87 material collected here is very generous: most of 1996's Spirit Level, as well as Heaney's Nobel Lecture. Looking at the entire arc of his work, one is reminded of the heavy lifting in the earlier books Death of a Naturalist, Wintering Out and North, in which Heaney struggles heroically to find purchase as a poet in a minefield of sectarian contentions. As Heaney finds his voice, that peculiarly wistful and earthy mixture of rural reverie and high public speech (Kavanagh meets Yeats), his interests broaden, and in the middle and later volumes the poet seeks out Greek myths, Irish epics and Scandinavian digs, looking for correlatives apt to his meditations. Throughout, the visceral impact of Heaney's speech is his signature-"All year the flax-dam festered in the heart/ Of the townland; green and heavy-headed/ Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods"-and not written to be tromped through speedily. Better, then, to take short walks in Opened Ground. Although it is not a critically important time for this compilation to appear, the effort to keep the shape of Heaney's continuing body of work in view is a worthy one. He is a major figure, working at full-bore still. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

If you can't afford all 12 of Nobel Laureate Heaney's previous works, here is a selection spanning 30 years. Heaney stays close to the ground in his measured, meditative poems, reveling in the everydayÄbut since the everyday in Ireland can mean sectarian violence, there's a dark edge, too. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One FROM Death of a Naturalist [1966]     Digging Between my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests; snug as a gun. Under my window, a clean rasping sound When the spade sinks into gravelly ground: My father, digging. I look down Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds Bends low, comes up twenty years away Stooping in rhythm through potato drills Where he was digging. The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft Against the inside knee was levered firmly. He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep To scatter new potatoes that we picked, Loving their cool hardness in our hands. By God, the old man could handle a spade. Just like his old man. My grandfather cut more turf in a day Than any other man on Toner's bog. Once I carried him milk in a bottle Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up To drink it, then fell to right away Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods Over his shoulder, going down and down For the good turf. Digging. The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge Through living roots awaken in my head. But I've no spade to follow men like them. Between my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests. I'll dig with it.     Death of a Naturalist All year the flax-dam festered in the heart Of the townland; green and heavy-headed Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods. Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun. Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell. There were dragonflies, spotted butterflies, But best of all was the warm thick slobber Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water In the shade of the banks. Here, every spring I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied Specks to range on window-sills at home, On shelves at school, and wait and watch until The fattening dots burst into nimble Swimming tadpoles. Miss Walls would tell us how The daddy frog was called a bullfrog And how he croaked and how the mammy frog Laid hundreds of little eggs and this was Frogspawn. You could tell the weather by frogs too For they were yellow in the sun and brown In rain. Then one hot day when fields were rank With cowdung in the grass the angry frogs Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through hedges To a coarse croaking that I had not heard Before. The air was thick with a bass chorus. Right down the dam gross-bellied frogs were cocked On sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails. Some hopped: The slap and plop were obscene threats. Some sat Poised like mint grenades, their blunt heads farting. I sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.     The Barn Threshed corn lay piled like grit of ivory Or solid as cement in two-lugged sacks. The musky dark hoarded an armoury Of farmyard implements, harness, plough-socks. The floor was mouse-grey, smooth, chilly concrete. There were no windows, just two narrow shafts Of gilded motes, crossing, from air-holes slit High in each gable. The one door meant no draughts All summer when the zinc burned like an oven. A scythe's edge, a clean spade, a pitchfork's prongs: Slowly bright objects formed when you went in. Then you felt cobwebs clogging up your lungs And scuttled fast into the sunlit yard-- And into nights when bats were on the wing Over the rafters of sleep, where bright eyes stared From piles of grain in corners, fierce, unblinking. The dark gulfed like a roof-space. I was chaff To be pecked up when birds shot through the air-slits. I lay face-down to shun the fear above. The two-lugged sacks moved in like great blind rats.     Blackberry-Picking     for Philip Hobsbaum Late August, given heavy rain and sun For a full week, the blackberries would ripen. At first, just one, a glossy purple clot Among others, red, green, hard as a knot. You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for Picking. Then red ones inked tip and that hunger Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam pots Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots. Round hayfields, cornfields and potato drills We trekked and picked until the cans were full, Until the tinkling bottom had been covered With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's. We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre But when the bath was filled we found a fur, A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache. The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour. I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot. Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.     Churning Day A thick crust, coarse-grained as limestone rough-cast, hardened gradually on top of the four crocks that stood, large pottery bombs, in the small pantry. After the hot brewery of gland, cud and udder, cool porous earthenware fermented the butter milk for churning day, when the hooped churn was scoured with plumping kettles and the busy scrubber echoed daintily on the seasoned wood. It stood then, purified, on the flagged kitchen floor. Out came the four crocks, spilled their heavy lip of cream, their white insides, into the sterile churn. The staff, like a great whiskey muddler fashioned in deal wood, was plunged in, the lid fitted. My mother took first turn, set up rhythms that, slugged and thumped for hours. Arms ached. Hands blistered. Cheeks and clothes were spattered with flabby milk. Where finally gold flecks began to dance. They poured hot water then, sterilized a birchwood bowl and little corrugated butter-spades. Their short stroke quickened, suddenly a yellow curd was weighting the churned-up white, heavy and rich, coagulated sunlight that they fished, dripping, in a wide tin strainer, heaped up like gilded gravel in the bowl. The house would stink long after churning day, acrid as a sulphur mine. The empty crocks were ranged along the wall again, the butter in soft printed slabs was piled on pantry shelves. And in the house we moved with gravid ease, our brains turned crystals full of clean deal churns, the plash and gurgle of the sour-breathed milk, the pat and slap of small spades on wet lumps.     Follower My father worked with a horse-plough, His shoulders globed like a full sail strung Between the shafts and the furrow. The horses strained at his clicking tongue. An expert. He would set the wing And fit the bright steel-pointed sock. The sod rolled over without breaking. At the headrig, with a single pluck Of reins, the sweating team turned round And back into the land. His eye Narrowed and angled at the ground, Mapping the furrow exactly. I stumbled in his hobnailed wake, Fell sometimes on the polished sod; Sometimes he rode me on his back Dipping and rising to his plod. I wanted to grow up and plough, To close one eye, stiffen my arm. All I ever did was follow In his broad shadow round the farm. I was a nuisance, tripping, falling, Yapping always. But today It is my father who keeps stumbling Behind me, and will not go away.     Mid-Term Break I sat all morning in the college sick bay Counting bells knelling classes to a close. At two o'clock our neighbours drove me home. In the porch I met my father crying-- He had always taken funerals in his stride-- And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow. The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram When I came in, and I was embarrassed By old men standing up to shake my hand And tell me they were `sorry for my trouble'. Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest, Away at school, as my mother held my hand In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs. At ten o'clock the ambulance arrived With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses. Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him For the first time in six weeks. Paler now, Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple, He lay in the four-foot box as in his cot. No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear. A four-foot box, a foot for every year.     The Diviner Cut from the green hedge a forked hazel stick That he held tight by the arms of the V: Circling the terrain, hunting the pluck Of water, nervous, but professionally Unfussed. The pluck came sharp as a sting. The rod jerked with precise convulsions. Spring water suddenly broadcasting Through a green hazel its secret stations. The bystanders would ask to have a try. He handed them the rod without a word. It lay dead in their grasp till, nonchalantly, He gripped expectant wrists. The hazel stirred.     Poem     for Marie Love, I shall perfect for you the child Who diligently potters in my brain Digging with heavy spade till sods were piled Or puddling through muck in a deep drain. Yearly I would sow my yard-long garden. I'd strip a layer of sods to build the wall That was to keep out sow and pecking hen. Yearly, admitting these, the sods would fall. Or in the sucking clabber I would splash Delightedly and dam the flowing drain But always my bastions of clay and mush Would burst before the rising autumn rain. Love, you shall perfect for me this child Whose small imperfect limits would keep breaking: Within new limits now, arrange the world And square the circle: four walls and a ring.     Personal Helicon     for Micheal Longley As a child, they could not keep me from wells And old pumps with buckets and windlasses. I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss. One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top. I savoured the rich crash when a bucket Plummeted down at the end of a rope. So deep you saw no reflection in it. A shallow one under a dry stone ditch Fructified like any aquarium. When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch A white face hovered over the bottom. Others had echoes, gave back your own call With a clean new music in it. And one Was scaresome, for there, out of ferns and tall Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection. Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime, To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.     Antaeus When I lie on the ground I rise flushed as a rose in the morning. In fights I arrange a fall on the ring To rub myself with sand That is operative As an elixir. I cannot be weaned Off the earth's long contour, her river-veins. Down here in my cave Girdered with root and rock I am cradled in the dark that wombed me And nurtured in every artery Like a small hillock. Let each new hero come, Seeking the golden apples and Atlas: He must wrestle with me before he pass Into that realm of fame Among sky-born and royal. He may well throw me and renew my birth But let him not plan, lifting me off the earth, My elevation, my fall. Copyright © 1998 Seamus Heaney. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Author's Note fromDeath of a Naturalist(1966)
Digging Death of a Naturalist
The Barn Blackberry-Picking Churning Day Follower Mid-Term Break
The Diviner Poem Personal Helicon Antaeus(1966) from
Door into the Dark(1969)
The Outlaw
The Forge Thatcher
The Peninsula Requiem for the Croppies Undine
The Wife's Tale Night Drive Relic of Memory
A Lough Neagh Sequence
The Given Note Whinlands
The Plantation Bann Clay Bogland
fromWintering Out(1972)
Fodder Bog Oak Anahorish Servant Boy Land Gifts of Rain Toome Broagh Oracle
The Backward Look A New Song
The Other Side Tinder(fromA Northern Hoard)
The Tollund Man
fs26Nerthus Wedding Day
Mother of the Groom Summer Home Serenades Shore Woman Limbo Bye-Child Good-night Fireside Westering
Nesting-Gound July England's Difficulty Visitant Trial Runs
The Wanderer Cloistered
The Stations of the West Incertus fromNorth(1975)
Mossbawn: Two Poems in Dedication
1 Sunlight
2 The Seed Cutters Funeral Rites North Viking Dublin: Trial Pieces Bone Dreams Bog Queen
The Grauballe Man Punishment Strange Fruit Kinship Act of Union Hercules and Antaeus fromWhatever You Say Say Nothing Singing School
1 The Ministry of Fear
2 A Constable Calls
3 Orange Drums, Tyrone, 1966
4 Summer 1969
5 Fosterage
6 Exposure fromField Work(1979)
Oysters Triptych After a Killing Sibyl At the Water's Edge 0
The Toome Road A Drink of Water
The Strand at Lough Beg Casualty Badgers
The Singer's House The Guttural Muse Glanmore Sonnets An Afterwards The Otter
The Skunk A Dream of Jealousy Field Work Song Leavings
The Harvest Bow In Memoriam Francis Ledwidge Ugolino
fromSweeney Astray(1983)
Sweeney in Flight
The Names of the Hare(1981) fromStation Island(1984)
The Underground Sloe Gin Chekhov on Sakhalin Sandstone Keepsake from
Shelf Life Granite Chip Old Smoothing Iron Stone from Delphi Making Strange
The Birthplace Changes A Bat on the Road A Hazel Stick for Catherine Ann A Kite for Michael and Christopher
The Railway Children Widgeon Sheelagh na Gig 'Aye'(fromThe Loaning)
The King of the Ditchbacks Station Island fromSweeney Redivivus
The First Gloss Sweeney Redivivus In the Beech
The First Kingdom
The First Flight Drifting Off The Cleric
The Hermit The Master The Scribes Holly An Artist
The Old Icons In Illo Tempore On the Road
Villanelle for an Anniversary(1986) fromThe Haw Lantern(1987)