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station to station: island

Heaney meets Joyce in a carpark, after a fast and pilgrimage to St. Patrick’s Purgatory in Lough Derg. The tall, older man on his ashplant, holding Heaney’s hand with his boney own, gives him this parting advice that ends the poem:

and suddenly he hit a litter basket with his stick, saying, “Your obligation is not discharged by any common rite. What you do you must do on your own. The main thing is to write for the joy of it. Cultivate a work-lust that imagines its haven like your hands at night dreaming the sun in the sunspot of a breast. You are fasted now, light-headed, dangerous. Take off from here. And don’t be so earnest, so ready for the sackcloth and the ashes. Let go, let fly, forget. You’ve listened long enough. Now strike your note. You lose more of yourself than you redeem doing the decent thing. Keep at a tangent. When they make the circle wide, it’s time to swim out on your own and fill the element with signatures on your own frequency, echo-soundings, searches, probes, allurements, elver-gleams in the dark of the whole sea.” The shower broke in a cloudburst. The tarmac fumed and sizzled. As he moved off quickly the downpour loosed its screens round his straight walk.

Seamus Heaney, Station Island (1984)

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