The Beauty Experiment

“Two Stick Drawings” by Seamus Heaney

by on Feb.12, 2014, under time

This poem about sticks comes from Seamus Heaney’s The Spirit Level (FSG, 1996).  As a parent, I see the sticks of childhood often, and notice their solidness and agency.  As a reader—when I type in poems like this– I notice the limits of my own vocabulary. As a prose writer, I notice my offhand regard for punctuation. Poems are about many things; noticing, one of them.


Two Stick Drawings



Claire O’Reilly used her granny’s stick–

A crook-necked one—to snare the highest briars

That always grew the ripest blackberries.

When it came to gathering, Persephone

Was in the halfpenny place compared to Claire.

She’d trespass and climb gates and walk the railway

Where sootflakes blew into convolvulus

And the train tore past with the stoker yelling

Like a balked king from his iron chariot.



With its drovers canes and blackthorns and ashplants,

The ledge of my father’s car

Had turned into a kind of stick-shop window,

But the only one who ever window shopped

Was Jim of the hanging jaw, for Jim was simple

And rain or shine he’s make his desperate rounds

From windscreen to back window, hands held up

O both sides of his face, peering and groaning.

So every now and then the sticks would be

Brought out for him and stood up

Against the front mudguard; and one by one

I would take measure of them, sight

And wield and slice and poke and parry

The unhindering air; until he found

The true extension of himself in one

That made him jubilant. He’d run and crow,

Stooped forward, with his right elbow stuck out

And the stick held horizontal to the ground,

Angled in front of him, as if

He were leashed to it and it drew him on

Like a harness rod of the inexorable.


WORDS (with thanks to Merriam Webster)

Convolvulus: a genus or erect trailing or twining herbs and shrubs

Balk:   Hindrance, check  (one of 5 definitions)

Drover: one who drives cattle or sheep

Blackthorn: spiny plum

Ashplant: walking stick made from an ash sapling

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