Poetry / The English Teacher

Luck o’ the Irish

Some scholars (and just regular folks too, mind you) often consider Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to be the greatest ‘great American novel.’ Shoot, even Hemingway apparently thought so. Who’s going to quibble with Hemingway!?!?  This post only notes the novel for its opening line, which reads, “You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter.”

Today, April 13, marks Seamus Heaney‘s birthday. I wouldn’t know Seamus Heaney without I had read his translation of the Anglo-Saxon epic poem, Beowulfand that is a matter indeed. I mean, I can read Middle English, but Old English?? Not a chance. Heaney’s translation, panned by some English teachers I’ve met, and lauded by others (yours truly included in that latter mix), infused light and breath into the dark, marvelous tale of Grendel, Hrothgar, and the warrior from Geatland, Beowulf, the “mightiest man on earth.” Mmmm. So good.

Heaney’s poetry is vast and varied. One of my favorites, “Blackberry-Picking” offers images layered with such meaning only a dolt would miss the possibilities. “Mid-Term Break” can break your heart (read it!), and “Digging” exalts the riches of heritage and the the burdensome responsibility of the family ‘inheritance.’ Today, though, I bring you “Anything Can Happen,” because where poets, words and possibility meet, truly, anything can…

Anything Can Happen

Anything can happen. You know how Jupiter

Will mostly wait for clouds to gather head

Before he hurls the lightning? Well, just now

He galloped his thunder cart and his horses


Across a clear blue sky. It shook the earth

And the clogged underearth, the River Styx,

The winding streams, the Atlantic shore itself.

Anything can happen, the tallest towers


Be overturned, those in high places daunted,

Those overlooked regarded. Stropped-beak Fortune

Swoops, making the air gasp, tearing the crest off one,

Setting it down bleeding on the next.


Ground gives. The heaven’s weight

Lifts up off Atlas like a kettle-lid.

Capstones shift, nothing resettles right.

Telluric ash and fire-spores boil away.


One minute we’re reading the ‘great American novel,’ the next we’re swept up in the powerful battles across the sea, across the millennia. A lifetime passes so quickly, but an Irishman’s poetry will be remembered far beyond those few years when a heart was beating and a pen scratched across the paper’s surface. We just never know, you know. Anything can happen.


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