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A Dog Was Crying in Wicklow Also

September 7, 2013
A Dog Was Crying in Wicklow Also

 

When human beings found out about death
They sent the dog to Chukwu with a message:
They wanted to be let back to the house of life.
They didn’t want to end up lost forever
Like burnt wood disappearing into smoke
Or ashes that get blown away to nothing.
Instead, they saw their souls in a flock at twilight
Cawing and headed back for the same old roosts
And the same bright airs and wing-stretchings each morning.
Death would be like a night spent in the wood:
At first light they’d be back in the house of life.
(The dog was meant to tell all this to Chukwu).
But death and human beings took second place
When he trotted of the path and started barking
At another dog in broad daylight just barking
Back at him from the far bank of a river.
And that is how the toad reached Chukwu first,
The toad who’d overheard in the beginning
What the dog was meant to tell. “Human beings,” he said
(And here the toad was trusted absolutely),
“Human beings want death to last forever.”
Then Chukwu saw the people’s souls in birds
Coming towards him like black spots off the sunset
To a place where there would be neither roosts nor trees
Nor any way back to the house of life.
And his mind reddened and darkened all at once
And nothing that the dog would tell him later
Could change that vision. Great chiefs and great loves
In obliterated light, the toad in mud,
The dog crying out all night behind the corpse house.

–Seamus Heaney 1995

COMMENTARY: I was very sad to learn about Heaney’s death earlier today. It’s hard to say just how much his work has meant to me, but it has meant an awful lot. Just reading the comments section of his obituary in the New York Times made me realize just how many people feel the same way. Anyway, this is an elegy he wrote for the Nigerian scholar, and his former classmate, Donatus Nwoga, and it feels appropriate to send it out on this occasion as well. A dog is crying in Wicklow. And in Belfast. And in Dublin. And in Limerick. And in Sligo. And in Cork. And even way out here in Delaware and every place in between where there are readers of poetry.

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