— by Seamus Heaney
You were the one for skylights. I opposed
Cutting into the seasoned tongue-and-groove
Of pitch pine. I liked it low and closed,
Its claustrophobic, nest-up-in-the-roof
Effect. I liked the snuff-dry feeling,
The perfect, trunk-lid fit of the old ceiling.
Under there, it was all hutch and hatch.
The blue slates kept the heat like midnight thatch.
But when the slates came off, extravagant
Sky entered and held surprise wide open.
For days I felt like an inhabitant
Of that house where the man sick of the palsy
Was lowered through the roof, had his sins forgiven,
Was healed, took up his bed and walked away.
- Enjambment: In poetry, lines with broken syntax are called “enjambment“. Enjambment is in stark contrast to rhyming couplets or other rhyming patterns — which most of our minds have been raised on. Enjambment has always been aesthetically painful to me — perhaps like Jazz or Sitar music is to others, whereas I love both of those. Nonetheless, over the years, I have slowly gotten to the point where I don’t let poetic enjambment bother me — mind you, I still don’t love it, but it won’t stop me from appreciating a poem. Yet in Heaney’s “The Skylight” I actually appreciated his enjambment — I am not sure why. It is fun to have something outside of one’s familiarity finally stir one’s heart.
- Skylights: I hold an ambiguous aesthetic relationship with skylights too. But in this poem, I felt the author surrendering aesthetics for the other, the lover, and falling slowly and trustingly into her/his influence — a sort of healing.
- Jesus Healing: The final reference to Jesus-healing-story, was a perfect fit: a hole in a roof and a healing. For those of you who are unfamiliar, the story is shared in the synoptic gospels Mark 2 and Luke 5 while Matthew 9 has a bit of a different story of Jesus healing a paralytic lying on a bed.
- Biblical Literacy: Biblical references may have rung true to many readers decades ago, but Biblical literacy is down. Yet perhaps in Heaney’s Ireland, it may have been much higher. Just as knowing the Bible helps with Western literature, in Eastern literature you may need knowledge of the Mahabharata (Indian) or the Shahnameh (Persian) or the I Ching (Chinese) to mention a few. There is too much to know out there. I even get lost in conversations with others because I don’t watch TV shows or know sports. But it is fun when we understand allusions because they give depth to a story. Learning about the unfamiliar and relaxing into their unknown aesthetics can be healing, eye-opening and enriching.