I tried to read this poem to my son (it’s one of life’s pleasures – persecuting your child by insisting he/she just sits for a minute to listens to whatever it is that has just possessed you!) but I found I could hardly finish it. The grief of the last few lines is so potent. It’s by Seamus Heaney, about the death of his little brother:
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.
I found it in a lovely new collection called, simply, 100 Poems. The ideas for I t began with Heaney himself – to put together a selection of poems that would lead you through his work – from early poems to the latest. As it turned out he ran out of time didn’t have the time – so his family have chosen for him, following the same plan, with a bias towards the poems that hold the greatest meaning for them (which seems to add to the potency of the poems somehow.)