Saturday, September 21, 2013

Butterfly Dream: Turf Haiku by Marion Clarke

English Original

turf in the air
the old man
returns home

for Seamus Heaney
Marion Clarke

Chinese Translation (Traditional)
Chinese Translation (Simplified)

Bio Sketch
A member of the Irish Haiku Society, Marion Clarke is a writer and artist from Warrenpoint, Northern Ireland. Her work was highly commended in the IHS 2011 International Haiku Competition and, in summer 2012, she received a Sakura award in the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival contest. A selection of her haiku featured in the first national collection of haiku from Ireland, Bamboo Dreams, edited by Anatoly Kudryavitsky. Marion’s poetry and artwork can be found at


  1. Marion effectively utilizes a dedication to set up an intertextual context upon which the reader can work to write his/her other 'half poem.'

    Read against Heaney's Digging, L1 successfully sets an emotive context while Ls 2&3 work effectively on at least two levels, literal and metaphoric.

    Digging by Seamus Heaney

    Between my finger and my thumb
    The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

    Under my window, a clean rasping sound
    When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
    My father, digging. I look down

    Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
    Bends low, comes up twenty years away
    Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
    Where he was digging.

    The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
    Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
    He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
    To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
    Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

    By God, the old man could handle a spade.
    Just like his old man.

    My grandfather cut more turf in a day
    Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
    Once I carried him milk in a bottle
    Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
    To drink it, then fell to right away
    Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
    Over his shoulder, going down and down
    For the good turf. Digging.

    The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
    Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
    Through living roots awaken in my head.
    But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

    Between my finger and my thumb
    The squat pen rests.
    I’ll dig with it.

  2. Below is the reply from Marion, which was first posted on THF:

    I originally had 'an old man returns home', but changed it to 'the old man returns home' to suggest it is Heaney talking about his father, whom he referred to in the poem 'Digging.' Also, 'the old man' could be Heaney himself because, like lots of Irish, he went back to his homeland to be buried, or it could be a homage to anyone whose father worked the land coming back home to be buried. And taken literally, of course, it could simply be an old man returning home because he smells the smoke of the evening fire that his wife has lit for the evening.

    As an Irish person living away from home, I often heard the saying 'going back to the old turf/old sod' to mean going back to the homeland, eg, people would ask me if I was going 'back to the old turf for Christmas (although there is no turf anywhere near my hometown!)

  3. A wonderful one, Marion, and truly a never ending story....He goes down in history, not just in Ireland, but around the world...

  4. Thank you, Barbara. I've been watching a series of interviews with Seamus Heaney recently and it sounds like he was a really lovely man. I guess that came through in his work. Anyone I've spoken to who knew him or had the good fortune to have met him has nothing but praise for the man.

  5. Barbara and Marion:

    I'll post Heaney's view of the Japanese aesthetic concept of mono no aware (`pathos of things) soon. He was one of the few Western poets who publicly recognized the Japanese effect in English poetry.