Seamus Heaney, “From the Frontier of Writing”
The tightness and the nilness round that space
when the car stops in the road, the troops inspect
its make and number and, as one bends his face
towards your window, you catch sight of more
on a hill beyond, eyeing with intent
down cradled guns that hold you under cover,
and everything is pure interrogation
until a rifle motions and you move
with guarded unconcerned acceleration –
a little emptier, a little spent
as always by the quiver in the self,
subjugated, yes, and obedient.
So you drive on to the frontier of writing
where it happens again. The guns on tripods;
the sergeant with his on-off mike repeating
data about you, waiting for the squawk
of clearance; the marksman training down
out of the sun upon you like a hawk.
And suddenly you’re through, arraigned yet freed,
as if you’d passed from behind a waterfall
on the black current of a tarmac road
past armour-plated vehicles, out between
the posted soldiers flowing and receding
like tree shadows into the polished windscreen.
~ ~ ~
A beautiful and frightened thought on writing and war. The entire feeling of the work is summed up in a word in the first line of Heaney’s own making: nilness. Nilness. What a perfectly absent, hollow word. Hollow and haunted, filled with this blank blackness that permeates the rest of the poem.