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.

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

Questions & Answers

    © 2020 John Hansen

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      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        10 days 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 

        10 days 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 weeks 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 weeks 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 weeks 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 weeks 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 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

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

      • MsDora profile image

        Dora Weithers 

        4 weeks 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 weeks ago from Central Florida

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

      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        4 weeks 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 weeks 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

        Paula 

        5 weeks ago from UpstateWestern,New York

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

      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        5 weeks 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

        Paula 

        5 weeks ago from UpstateWestern,New York

        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 

        5 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

        Thank you manatita. I appreciate your comment.

      • manatita44 profile image

        manatita44 

        5 weeks ago from london

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

      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        5 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

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

      • Eiddwen profile image

        Eiddwen 

        5 weeks 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 

        5 weeks 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 

        5 weeks 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 

        5 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

        Thank you Bushra

      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        5 weeks 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

        Aishatu Ali 

        5 weeks ago from Rabwah, Pakistan

        Good poems!

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        5 weeks 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 

        5 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

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

      • Vellur profile image

        Nithya Venkat 

        5 weeks 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 

        5 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

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

      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 

        5 weeks 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 

        5 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

        Cheers, Lora.

      • Lora Hollings profile image

        Lora Hollings 

        5 weeks 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 

        5 weeks 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 

        5 weeks 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 

        5 weeks 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 

        5 weeks ago from Sutter Creek

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

        Have a lovely weekend!

        Donna Rayne

      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        5 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

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

      • Randy Horizon profile image

        Randy Horizon 

        5 weeks ago from Philadelphia

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

      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        5 weeks 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 

        5 weeks 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 

        5 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

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

      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        5 weeks 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 

        5 weeks 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 

        5 weeks 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 

        5 weeks ago from Scotland

        Great work John

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

      • Carb Diva profile image

        Linda Lum 

        5 weeks 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 

        5 weeks 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 

        5 weeks 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 

        5 weeks 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 

        5 weeks 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 

        5 weeks 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 

        5 weeks 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 

        5 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

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

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        5 weeks 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 

        5 weeks 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 

        5 weeks 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 

        5 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

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

      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        5 weeks 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 

        5 weeks ago from Roanoke

        Absolutely stunning. You make th river come alive.

      • rdsparrowriter profile image

        Rochelle Ann De Zoysa 

        5 weeks ago from Moratuwa, Sri Lanka

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

      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        5 weeks 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 

        5 weeks 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 

        5 weeks 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 

        5 weeks 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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