Seamus Heaney’s last-known poem was described by the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, as ‘heartbreakingly prescient’.

Seamus Heaney’s last-known poem was described by the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, as ‘heartbreakingly prescient’.

n a Field

And there I was in the middle of a field,

The furrows once called “scores’ still with their gloss,

The tractor with its hoisted plough just gone

Snarling at an unexpected speed

Out on the road. Last of the jobs,

The windings had been ploughed, furrows turned

Three ply or four round each of the four sides

Of the breathing land, to mark it off

And out. Within that boundary now

Step the fleshy earth and follow

The long healed footprints of one who arrived

From nowhere, unfamiliar and de-mobbed,

In buttoned khaki and buffed army boots,

Bruising the turned-up acres of our back field

To stumble from the windings’ magic ring

And take me by a hand to lead me back

Through the same old gate into the yard

Where everyone has suddenly appeared,

All standing waiting.

As the Team’s Head Brass, by Edward Thomas

As the team’s head-brass flashed out on the turn

The lovers disappeared into the wood.

I sat among the boughs of the fallen elm

That strewed an angle of the fallow, and

Watched the plough narrowing a yellow square

Of charlock. Every time the horses turned

Instead of treading me down, the ploughman leaned

Upon the handles to say or ask a word,

About the weather, next about the war.

Scraping the share he faced towards the wood,

And screwed along the furrow till the brass flashed

Once more.

The blizzard felled the elm whose crest

I sat in, by a woodpecker’s round hole,

The ploughman said. ‘When will they take it away?’

‘When the war’s over.’ So the talk began –

One minute and an interval of ten,

A minute more and the same interval.

‘Have you been out?’ ‘No.’ ‘And don’t want to, perhaps?’

‘If I could only come back again, I should.

I could spare an arm. I shouldn’t want to lose

A leg. If I should lose my head, why, so,

I should want nothing more. . . . Have many gone

From here?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Many lost?’ ‘Yes: a good few.

Only two teams work on the farm this year.

One of my mates is dead. The second day

In France they killed him. It was back in March,

The very night of the blizzard, too. Now if

He had stayed here we should have moved the tree.’

‘And I should not have sat here. Everything

Would have been different. For it would have been

Another world.’ ‘Ay, and a better, though

If we could see all all might seem good.’ Then

The lovers came out of the wood again:

The horses started and for the last time

I watched the clods crumble and topple over

After the ploughshare and the stumbling team.

• This article was amended on 26 October 2013. The photo caption now reads “Heaney’s last-known poem” instead of “Heaney’s last poem”.

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