seamus heaney, hockey poet

Brad Leithauser had some things to say this week at Page-Turner, The New Yorker’s books blog, about what has to be Seamus Heaney’s most poignant hockey poem. Calling it the most touching English-language haiku he knows, Leithhauser plays down the hockey angle to the point of not mentioning it at all.

In a mere seventeen syllables, [he writes] the poem evokes a complex, compromised psychological condition. There’s comfort in the notion that Father is sheltering us with that stolid stick of his. And there’s anguish and vulnerability in the implication that the stick has been transferred because Father has died — recently, within the past year. As we set off from home into the freezing outer world, all sorts of emotional accommodations must be discharged.

True enough, though I’m not wholly convinced that Father is dead. I think that having realized the time has come to surrender his Sherwood, he remains at rinkside — remembering, maybe, his own father and the four-lie Northland he wielded in his day.

Here it is, either way, Heaney’s haiku, “I.I.87:”

Dangerous pavements.
But this year I face the ice
With my father’s stick.