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“Seeing Things” is a profound collection of poetry by Seamus Heaney

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“Seeing Things” is a profound collection of poetry by Seamus Heaney, a towering figure in modern Irish literature and a Nobel Laureate in Literature. This collection, published in 1991, delves into the themes of perception, memory, and the transcendence of the ordinary into the extraordinary. Heaney’s work is renowned for its rich, earthy language and deep connection to Irish land and heritage, and “Seeing Things” is no exception. You only have to read his poem Digging to see what I mean. 

In this collection, Heaney explores the idea of ‘seeing beyond’ or looking deeper into the everyday world to uncover a more profound truth and beauty. The poems often reflect on past experiences, both personal and historical, and invite the reader to see these through a different lens – one that transcends the immediate and physical. Heaney’s language is accessible yet layered, allowing for multiple interpretations and insights. Something I like about his poetry. So simple yet so complex. 


One of the reasons why “Seeing Things” is essential reading is its ability to connect the mundane with the mystical. And it is exactly why I included it on my list of Seamus Heaney must-read poems.

Heaney skillfully bridges the gap between the ordinary world and a more spiritual, almost mythical realm. His reflections on nature, history, and personal memories resonate with universal themes of human experience, making this collection relatable and deeply moving.

For anyone interested in poetry that grapples with the nature of perception, the beauty of every day, and the depth of personal history, “Seeing Things” by Seamus Heaney is a compelling read.

It’s not just a collection of poems; it’s an invitation to view the world with a more thoughtful, observant eye.

Now, while this is a collection of poems, not just an individual poem, I have picked one for you. There are so many great poems to choose from in this list, but I found the poem Wheels Within Wheels to be a great poem from the collection. You can buy his collection here.

Wheels Within Wheels

Wheels Within Wheels

The first real grip I ever got on things
Was when I learned the art of pedaling
(By hand) a bike turned upside down, and drove
Its back wheel preternaturally fast.
I loved the disappearance of the spokes,
The way the space between the hub and rim
Hummed with transparency. If you threw
A potato into it, the hooped air
Spun mush and drizzle back into your face;
If you touched it with a straw, the straw frittered.
Something about the way those pedal treads
Worked very palpably at first against you
And then began to sweep your hand ahead
Into a new momentum—that all entered me
Like an access of free power, as if belief
Caught up and spun the objects of belief
In an orbit coterminous with longing.

But enough was not enough. Who ever saw
The limit in the given anyhow?
In fields beyond our house there was a well
(‘The well’ we called it. It was more a hole
With water in it, with small hawthorn trees
On one side, and a muddy, dungy ooze
On the other, all tramped through by cattle).
I loved that too. I loved the turbid smell,
The sump-life of the place like old chain oil.
And there, next thing, I brought my bicycle.
I stood its saddle and its handlebars
Into the soft bottom, I touched the tyres
To the water’s surface, then turned the pedals
Until like a mill-wheel pouring at the treadles
(But here reversed and lashing a mare’s tail)
The world-refreshing and immersed back wheel
Spun lace and dirt-suds there before my eyes
And showered me in my own regenerate clays.
For weeks I made a nimbus of old glit.
Then the hub jammed, rims rusted, the chain snapped.

Nothing rose to the occasion after that
Until, in a circus ring, drumrolled and spotlit,
Cowgirls wheeled in, each one immaculate
At the still centre of a lariat.
Pepetuum mobile. Sheer pirouette.
Tumblers. Jongleurs. Ring-a-rosies. Stet!

Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)


In conclusion, “Wheels Within Wheels” is a poem that reflects on the human drive to explore, discover, and transcend limitations. Through the metaphor of a bicycle, the poet conveys the sense of wonder, power, and belief that can be found in life’s simple yet profound moments. The poem ultimately celebrates the boundless potential of the human spirit to continue pushing the boundaries and seeking new horizons, much like the perpetual motion of a spinning wheel.

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