Monday, 21 February 2011

Penwork that cramps my hand

Saturday night in the London Underground. A nondescript man is slumped in his seat sleeping. Above him a “Poems on the Underground” by :
Colmcille the Scribe from the Irish c. 11th century, translated by Seamus Heaney (Human Chain, 2010)

My hand is cramped from penwork
My quill has a tapered point
Its bird-mouth issues a blue-dark
Beetle-spark of ink

Wisdom keeps welling in streams
From my fine-drawn sallow hand
Riverrun on the vellum
of ink from green-skinned holly.

My small runny pen keeps going
Through books, through thick and thin
To enrich the scholar’s holdings
Penwork that cramps my hand.


  1. thanks for sharing... its beautiful.

  2. Heaney's work is stellar. i really enjoy the photograph you've included. As I adore the handwritten, the personal, the real feeling of vellum or paper betwixt finger and thumb, I'll be back around for more of this choice blogging.

  3. Thank you both. It was a tired, drab evening - this poem made me smile.

  4. "Its bird-mouth issues a blue-dark / Beetle-spark of ink."

    That is just word-perfect. Thanks for sharing this.

  5. fine-dawn or fine-drawn?