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The Rain Stick

October 10, 2016

The Rain Stick

Up-end the rain stick and what happens next
Is a music you never would have known
To listen for. In a cactus stalk

Downpour, sluice-rush, spillage and backwash
Come flowing through. You stand there like a pipe
Being played by water, you shake it again lightly

And diminuendo runs through all its scales
Like a gutter stopping trickling. And now here comes
A sprinkle of drops out of the freshened leaves,

Then subtle little wets off grass and daisies;
Then glitter-drizzle, almost breaths of air.
Up-end the stick again. What happens next

Is undiminished for having happened once,
Twice, ten, a thousand times before.
Who cares if all the music that transpires

Is the fall of grit or dry seeds through a cactus.
You are like a rich man entering heaven
Through the ear of a raindrop. Listen now again.

Seamus Heaney, 1996

COMMENTARY: Though Seamus Heaney, like all poets, had his themes, his politics, and his philosophy, he was at his best when he was a pipe being played by the language. This is weather-poetry at its most delicious. “Downpour, sluice-rush, spillage and backwash,” or “diminuendo runs through all its scales/ Like a gutter stopping trickling.” While there may be a broader metaphor at play (rain stick = art), by and large this poem is a music made of the earthly, textured, lacquered, and sensuous

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One Comment
  1. You highlighted the lines I’d have picked. It’s a great poem. And notice the optimism in

    What happens next

    Is undiminished for having happened once,
    Twice, ten, a thousand times before

    with “undiminished” echoing and transforming “diminuendo.”

    It reminds me of what he writes elsewhere, “extra, unforeseen and free.”

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