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Pit Stop near Castletown

by Seamus Heaney

Robert Lowell’s incomparable high
What? Pitched voice?  Destiny?  Mania and style?
Under midnight beeches billowing darkly

We made our pit stop about half a mile
From the demesne gates, pissing like men
Together and apart against the wall.

“A large, undangerous drinker,” he called Larkin,
But not undangerous he. His forthright stroan
Went glittering like a foil, Marlovian,

As shoulder to shoulder, before we got back in
He intimated he’d probably not be
Returning to Caroline. The headlights shone

Stiffly into a whipped-up swirl and eddy
Of roadside leaves—“like ghosts from an enchanter
Fleeing!” O irremediably

Literary, first-striking Cal, at your
Memorial service later on that autumn
I said the cabbie who’d ferried you to the door

And waited to be paid already had been
Paid in the coin of language, that East River was Styx
And so on, rising to the occasion

Perhaps too highly. Mary MacCarthy’s verdict —
As reported back to me, at any rate —
Took my rhetoric and wrung its neck:

“The biggest cover-up since Watergate.”


Seamus Heaney received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. His most recent books are Electric Light (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2001) and Finders Keepers: Selected Prose 1971–2001 (FSG, 2002). Heaney has been a resident of Dublin since 1976 but since 1981 has spent part of each year teaching at Harvard University, where in 1984 he was elected the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory. (5/03)

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