Monday, May 24, 2010

Seamus Heaney's essay "Feelings into Words"

I did not say in yesterday's post that another attractive aspect of Heaney's essay is its tender and non-ironic feel for sex. About his poem "Undine":

It was the dark pool of the sound of the word that first took me: if our auditory imaginations were sufficiently attuned to plumb and sound a vowel, to unite the most primitive and civilized associations, the word "undine" would probably suffice as a poem in itself. Unda, a wave; undine, a water-woman-- a litany of undines would have ebb and flow, water and woman, wave and tide, fulfillment and exhaustion in its very rhythms. But old two-faced vocable that it is, I discovered a more precise definition once, by accident, in a dictionary. An undine is a water sprite who has to a marry a human being and have a child by him before she can become human. With that definition, the lump in the throat, or rather the thump in the ear, undine, became a thought, a field of force that called up other images. One of these was an orphaned memory, without a context, obviously a very early one, of watching a man clearing out an old spongy growth from a drain between two fields, focusing in particular on the way the water, in the cleared-out place, as soon as the shovelfuls of sludge had been removed, the way the water began to run free, rinse itself clean of the soluble mud, and make its own little channels and currents, And this image was gathered into a more conscious reading of the myth as being about the liberating, humanizing effect of sexual encounter.

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