The River Knows ~ a Poem in the Style of Seamus Heaney

Updated on March 24, 2020
Jodah profile image

John has many years of writing experience in poetry, short fiction and text for children's books. Basically he just loves to write.

Inspiration For "The River Knows"

I have recently been reading the works of a number of famous poets including Henry Lawson, Charles Bukowski, Walt Whitman etc. The latest I have been studying is Seamus Heaney, and so this poem is inspired by one of his works called "The Harvest Bow."

The subject of "The River Knows" is totally different but the structure, flow and rhyme scheme similar to Seamus Heaney's poem. I hope you enjoy it.

The River, Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
The River, Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay | Source

The River Knows

Strolling by the river, risks are fraught,

Your demeaner indicated deeper thought.

I took your hand but your response was slow

Just like the water's gentle rippling flow.

Words were tangled bitter in my throat

And conversation started by you nought.


Is it so long ago I saw you swoon?

We sat as lovers staring at the moon

Exchanging words of love, was it a dream?

Now tongue-tied both, the only sound the stream.

Our sad discomfort felt by only us,

The river babbles by, oblivious.


Should I extract words from my aching heart?

It makes me wonder were you just a flirt?

I toss a stone, it skims, and then it sinks

To the dark bottom of the river’s depths.

The river is much wiser than us both

The riddle answered by the sinking stone.


Seamus Heaney

Who Was Seamus Heaney?

Seamus Justin Heaney was an Irish poet, playwright and translator. Heaney was recognised as one of the principal contributors to poetry during his lifetime. American poet Robert Lowell described him as "the most important Irish poet since Yeats", and many others, including the academic John Sutherland, have said that he was "the greatest poet of our age".

Heaney published his first poetry book in 1966, Death of a Naturalist, creating vivid portraits of Irish rural life. Later work looked at events in Irish history as well as his homeland's civil war, and allusions to Irish myth.

He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995 and later received England's T.S. Eliot and David Cohen prizes, among a wide array of accolades. He was known for his speaking engagements as well and traveled across the world to share his art and ideas.

Seamus Heaney was a professor at Harvard from 1981 to 1997, and its Poet in Residence from 1988 to 2006. He was also the Professor of Poetry at Oxford from 1989 to 1994. During this period he divided his time between Dublin and Boston.

Seamus Heaney 1970. This is a scan from an original black & white photo taken and printed by me, SiGarb. It has been retouched to remove dust and scratches and repair the edges of the image. / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)
Seamus Heaney 1970. This is a scan from an original black & white photo taken and printed by me, SiGarb. It has been retouched to remove dust and scratches and repair the edges of the image. / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0) | Source

Heaney's Last Work

His last book of poetry, Human Chain, was published in 2010. I love this collection and in my opinion contains some of his best poems. Here is a short poem from the book as an example:

Had I Not Been Awake

Had I not been awake I would have missed it,
A wind that rose and whirled until the roof
Pattered with quick leaves off the sycamore


And got me up, the whole of me a-patter,
Alive and ticking like an electric fence:
Had I not been awake I would have missed it

It came and went too unexpectedly
And almost it seemed dangerously,
Hurtling like an animal at the house,

A courier blast that there and then
Lapsed ordinary. But not ever"


Regarded as a kind, lovely soul, he died in Dublin, Ireland, on August 30, 2013, at the age of 74.

Upon his death, The Independent described him as "probably the best-known poet in the world".

(References: Wikipedia, Britannica)

Both his stunning work and his life were a gift to the world. His mind, heart, and his uniquely Irish gift for language made him our finest poet of the rhythms of ordinary lives and a powerful voice for peace.

— Bill Clinton
M Marie and Seamus Heaney at the Dominican Church, Kraków, Poland, 1996. Maire / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)
M Marie and Seamus Heaney at the Dominican Church, Kraków, Poland, 1996. Maire / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5) | Source

© 2020 John Hansen

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    • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

      John Hansen 

      3 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Lawrence, I imagine your dad would have been surprised but proud of you writing a book. Glad I could introduce you to Seamus Heaney. Thank you for reading my poetry and your kind words.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      3 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      John

      I have to admit to having not heard of Seamus Heaney before, then again its not totally surprising as poetry wasnt big on the agenda in our house when growing up (I do find myself wondering what dad would have thought of me writing a book

      And yes, yours is just as good, if not better.

    • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Thank you Brenda. I appreciate you saying my poem is better than that of a Nobel Prize winning writer :)

    • Brenda Arledge profile image

      BRENDA ARLEDGE 

      4 months ago from Washington Court House

      John,

      Seamus Heaney seems like he was a very good author. He was awarded the Nobel Prize.

      I like the poem you selected from his book, " Human Chain"

      Your poem is quite good on The River Knows...it does follow the structure of "The Harvest Bow".

      I must say I like your poem better than "The Harvest Bow."

      Great writing. Thanks for sharing.

    • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Thank you Nell. I am glad you enjoyed both my poem and Seamus Heaney’s. Yes, check out his other works.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      4 months ago from England

      I loved your poem, and thank you for introducing us to Seamus Heaney. I had never heard of him, but reading his poem has made me want more.

    • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      That's my pleasure MsDora. Thank you for reading.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      4 months ago from The Caribbean

      "The river is much wiser than us both." The illustration in the poem proved that admirably. Thanks for sharing the life and work of Seamus Heaney.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      4 months ago from Central Florida

      I was referring to you, my friend! You're my favorite poet.

    • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Thank you Shauna. Yes, the sinking stone was the answer. Seamus Heaney was obviously much loved and respected. Not sure who else you are referring to though :)

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      4 months ago from Central Florida

      John, I love your poem. It describes failing or fallen relationships so aptly. When that stone sinks to the bottom of the river, it seems the ultimate questions has been answered without the need for words.

      Seamus Heaney sounds like he touched the world with his poetry. I know someone else who does that. Hmmm. I wonder who that may be?

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Suzie 

      4 months ago from Carson City

      Of course I am!!! Love that show!! A little different twist in this edition!! LOL

    • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Haha Paula, thanks for the compliment. Bodies of water have always been popular with poets..the sea, rivers etc. It makes me proud to think I may be even partly responsible for you learning to appreciate poetry more. That is one of my main aims in writing it. Peace, and hope you are watching MAFS.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Suzie 

      4 months ago from Carson City

      Jodah.....Wow! Look at YOU!! Nice new photo, cutey! I would not have realized it was you if it wasn't attached to your name. You look sooo different! You're just a young whippersnapper! LOL...

      For some reason, I favor poetry about bodies of water. This is great work, my Aussie Pal. Because of your talent, I have learned to truly appreciate poetry more than I Have in the past! Peace, Paula

    • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Thank you manatita. I appreciate your comment.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 

      4 months ago from london

      Nice work and great succinct bio of Seamus Heaney. He was something special! Thanks John.

    • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      It is wonderful to have you back, Eddy. Thank you for reading and the encouraging comment.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 

      4 months ago from Wales

      I loved it. Brilliant write and I could almost feel and hear the river and it's magic.So glad I returned to join you all.

    • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Thank you for your kind words, Devika. I am sure you will enjoy Heaney’s work.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      4 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Hi John a good one and well expressed with your true talent in writing poems. I am aware of a new poet thanks to you I will read the work of Heaney.

    • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Thank you Bushra

    • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Thanks for reading this Flourish. I am glad you enjoyed the poem and learned about Heaney for the first time.

    • Bushra Iqbal profile image

      Anya Ali 

      4 months ago from Rabwah, Pakistan

      Good poems!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      4 months ago from USA

      I like this poem of desperation, as one partner ponders whether the other has fallen out of love. Thank you for introducing Heaney as well. I was unfamiliar with his work.

    • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Thank you Vellur. much appreciated. Please do check out more of his work.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 

      4 months ago from Dubai

      Your poem is beautifully penned drawing vivid pictures filled with emotions. Thank you for introducing me to Seamus Heaney, I will read more of his poems.

    • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Thank you very much Alicia. I am glad you both enjoyed and found it interesting.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      4 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Your poem is lovely, John. Thank you for sharing your poem as well as the one by Seamus Heaney and the facts about his life. This is an interesting and enjoyable article.

    • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Cheers, Lora.

    • Lora Hollings profile image

      Lora Hollings 

      4 months ago

      I think it was a beautifully written poem that really captured the desolation now felt in a once vibrant relationship. I think you put much of your soul into writing this poem, John. I also loved the song you selected too.

    • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Lora, I would have to admit I was very pleased with how this poem turned out. Some I write but come away a little disappointed, but I doubt I could have done this better. I am glad you found my information on Seamus Heaney to be of interest too. Thank you.

    • Lora Hollings profile image

      Lora Hollings 

      4 months ago

      Your poem is excellent John. It just flows and I like the pensive mood that you create and the questions you pose in your verse about what has become of a relationship. Very expressive writing and the ending is particularly poignant! I also found your article very interesting on the poet, Seamus Heaney. Thanks for sharing.

    • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Thank you for taking the time to read this poem, Donna. It is a real bonus that you enjoyed it, Have a blessed weekend.

    • Donna-Rayne profile image

      Donna Rayne 

      4 months ago from Greenwood, In

      A wonderful poem John, I really liked it, good job!

      Have a lovely weekend!

      Donna Rayne

    • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Hi Randy, good to see you. Thanks for the kind comment.

    • Randy Horizon profile image

      Randy Horizon 

      4 months ago from Philadelphia

      Very nice poem John, it flows with a peaceful feeling. Thanks.

    • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Peg, glad I could introduce you to Heaney. Oh, the first poem “The River Knows” was written by me, and I am not sure where you got the impression I had met him. I wish I had though.

    • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      It was my pleasure to share, Venkatachari. I am glad you enjoyed my poem too.thank you for the kind comment.

    • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Thanks Charlie. Well that is a coincidence. Enjoy the book.

    • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      My pleasure to introduce you to Seamus Heaney, Linda. Thank you for those kind words.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      4 months ago from Houston, Texas

      Thanks for introducing these poems and the poet who wrote them to me. I would enjoy reading more poems by Seamus Heaney. You are fortunate to have met him in person.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 

      4 months ago from Hyderabad, India

      Thanks, John, for sharing his life and works.

      I enjoyed your poem in its wonderful rhyming style. It is very appealing too.

    • drylen profile image

      Charlie Halliday 

      4 months ago from Scotland

      Great work John

      I got a book of Seamus Heaney's poems for christmas

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 

      4 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Thank you for introducing us to this gifted poet. I had not heard of him but I know you, and in my estimation you are one and the same.

    • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Thank you, Bill. You are right, a lot of writers are slow getting recognition and many die trying. Yes, so much harder still for a poet. Seamus was obviously a very special person and writer. Glad to introduce you to him.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      4 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I like it!

      There are times I think the life of a writer is hopeless. Recognition is slow coming or non-existent. Double that for a poet. How hard it must be for a poet to gain any recognition at all...so bravo to Seamus, and thank you John for the introduction.

    • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Thank you Ruby. Your words are truly humbling. Yes, Bill Clinton’s quote was a good one.

    • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Hi Pamela, I am glad I was able to introduce you to a poet you didn’t know. So happy also that you enjoyed “The River Knows” also.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      4 months ago from Southern Illinois

      The River Knows is beautiful indeed. I like Bill Clinton's quote. John, I think poets will be looking at your poetry and writing about you long after you're gone, your poetry is that good. Cheers my friend.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      4 months ago from Sunny Florida

      This poet was new to me and I enjoyed reading about him. I think your poem was excellent and I enjoyed it. Of course, Heaney's poem was good. This was very interesting.

    • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Thanks for pointing out that correction, Eric. Fixed. Feel free to return.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      4 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      I will be back. A good one to take in slowly.

      You may want to check your very first line.

      And a big thank you for introducing this writer and style.

    • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Lorna, being Irish i am sure you are much more familiar with Sean Heaney than myself. Thank you for comparing the flow of my poem to his - a true compliment.

    • Lorna Lamon profile image

      Lorna Lamon 

      4 months ago

      I am very well acquainted with this amazing poet and proud that he was a 'Son of Ireland'. I have always been inspired by his work and your poem flows with the same effortless grace. A beautiful piece John.

    • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Hello Cheryl. Thank you very much for the generous comment.

    • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Thank you Rochelle. I am glad I could introduce you to Seamus Heaney. Thank you for reading. God bless you too.

    • Cheryl E Preston profile image

      Cheryl E Preston 

      4 months ago from Roanoke

      Absolutely stunning. You make th river come alive.

    • rdsparrowriter profile image

      Rochelle Ann De Zoysa 

      4 months ago from Moratuwa, Sri Lanka

      First time I heard about poet Seamus :) Beautiful poetry and images :) God bless you!

    • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Thank you Rosina. I am glad you enjoyed my poem The River Knows, and also the poem and information about Seamus Heaney.

    • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Hello Liz, I really haven’t read a lot of Heaney’s poetry until recently, though I have always known of him. It would be my dream to have future generations studying my poetry.

    • surovi99 profile image

      Rosina S Khan 

      4 months ago

      The poem you wrote following the pattern of Seamus Heaney is gorgeous. I love it when you say, "The riddle answered by the sinking stone". The description of the poet you mention is exciting and informative. I love the short poem from his last book. Thank you for such a superb contribution.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      4 months ago from UK

      Your poem is loaded with feeling and deep meaning. I recall studying some of Heaney's work many years ago. One day others could be studying yours!

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