September Poems on the Underground

This month we feature poems by Seamus Heaney, who died 10 years ago.

We follow this with Autumn poems to mark the changing seasons, Music Poems and London poems

Seamus Heaney 1939-2013

Seamus Heaney was a great fan of our programme and a dear friend.  He died ten years ago, in August 2013.

‘The Railway Children’ was one of the first poems we displayed on tube cars almost 40 years ago, in January 1986.

The Railway Children, Seamus Heaney ' When we climbed the slopes of the cutting We were eye-level with the white cups Of the telegraph poles and the sizzling wires.' '

Listen to Seamus Heaney reading ‘The Railway Children’ in a recording from The Poetry Archive

Inferno by Dante Alighieri translated by Seamus Heaney

Inferno Canto I, 1-3 Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) Translated by Seamus Heaney 'Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita mi ritrovai per una selva oscura, che la diritta via era smarrita... In the middle of the journey of our life I found myself astray in a dark wood where the right road had been lost sight of.'

Colmcille the Scribe by Seamus Heaney

Colmcille the Scribe from the Irish, c.11th century, Seamus Heaney ‘My hand is cramped from penwork. My quill has a tapered point. Its bird-mouth issues a blue-dark Beetle-sparkle of ink.’

The Rescue by Seamus Heaney

The Rescue by Seamus Heaney (b.1939) ' In drifts of sleep I came upon you Buried to your waist in snow. You reached your arms out : I came to Like water in a dream of thaw.'

from Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney

from Beowulf Anon. (10th century or earlier) translated by Seamus Heaney 'Then a powerful demon, a prowler through the dark, nursed a hard grievance. It harrowed him to hear the din of the loud banquet every day in the hall, the harp being struck and the clear song of a skilled poet telling with mastery of man's beginnings, how the Almighty had made the earth a gleaming plain girdled with waters; in His splendour He set the sun and the moon to be earth's lamplight, lanterns for men, and filled the broad lap of the world with branches and leaves; and quickened life in every other thing that moved. '

Had I Not Been Awake by Seamus Heaney

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

Autumn Poems on the Underground

To Autumn by John Keats

from To Autumn by John Keats ' Where are the songs of spring? Ay, where are they? Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,— While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day, And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue; Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn Among the river sallows, borne aloft Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies; And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn; Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft; And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.'

Autumn Evening by Matsuo Basho translated by Kenneth Rexroth

Autumn Evening, Matsuo Basho ' Autumn evening- A crow on a bare branch'

from Autumn Journal by Louis MacNeice

from Autumn Journal, Louis MacNeice ‘September has come, it is hers Whose vitality leaps in the autumn, Whose nature prefers Trees without leaves and a fire in the fireplace . . .’

Composed upon Westminster Bridge by William Wordsworth

Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802 ,William Wordsworth 2009 Poems on the Underground poster 'Earth has not anything to show more fair: Dull would he be of soul who could pass by A sight so touching in its majesty; This City now doth, like a garment, wear The beauty of the morning; silent, bare, Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie Open unto the fields, and to the sky; All bright and glittering in the smokeless air. Never did sun more beautifully steep In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill; Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep! The river glideth at his own sweet will: Dear God! the very houses seem asleep; And all that mighty heart is lying still!'

Symphony in Yellow by Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde, Symphony in Yellow An omnibus across the bridge Crawls like a yellow butterfly, And, here and there, a passer-by Shows like a little restless midge. Big barges full of yellow hay Are moored against the shadowy wharf, And, like a yellow silken scarf, The thick fog hangs along the quay. The yellow leaves begin to fade And flutter from the Temple elms, And at my feet the pale green Thames Lies like a rod of rippled jade.'

from To Autumn by John Keats

from To Autumn, John Keats ' Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; Conspiring with him how to load and bless With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run; To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees, And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core; To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells With a sweet kernel; to set budding more, And still more, later flowers for the bees, Until they think warm days will never cease, For Summer has o’er-brimmed their clammy cells.'

Music Poems on the Underground

Harvestwoman by Fernando Pessoa translated by Jonathan Griffin

Harvestwoman, Fernando Pessoa ' But no, she's abstract, is a bird Of sound in the air of air soaring, And her soul sings unencumbered Because the song's what makes her sing.'

The Maydens Came Anon 16th Century

The Maydens Came Anon 16th Century ' When I was in my mother's bower I had all that I would The bailey beareth the bell away The lily, the rose, the rose I lay The silver is white, red is the gold The robes they lay in fold The bailey beareth the bell away The lily, the rose, the rose I lay. And through the glass window shines the sun How should I love, and I so young? The bailey beareth the bell away The lily, the rose, the rose I lay The bailey beareth the bell away'

Maire Macrae’s Song by Kathleen Raine

Lines to a Movement in Mozart’s E-flat Symphony by Thomas Hardy

Lines to a Movement in Mozart’s E-flat Symphony, Thomas Hardy ‘Show me again the time When in the Junetide’s prime We flew by meads and mountains northerly! – Yea, to such freshness, fairness, fullness, fineness, freeness, Love lures life on….’

The Songs by Martin Bell

The Songs by Martin Bell ' Continuous, a medley of old pop numbers – Our lives are like this. Three whistled bars Are all it takes to catch us, defenceless On a District Line platform, sullen to our jobs, And the thing stays with us all day, still dapper, still Astaire, Still fancy-free. We’re dreaming while we work. Be careful, keep afloat, the past is lapping your chin. South of the Border is sad boys in khaki In 1939. And J’attendrai a transit camp, Tents in the dirty sand. Don’t go back to Sorrento. Be brisk and face the day and set your feet On the sunny side always, the sunny side of the street ' Reprinted by permission of Bloodaxe Books from Complete Poems (1988)

Rhapsody by Ben Ziman-Bright

Rhapsody by Ben Ziman-Bright ' Sat in the cheap seats Of Symphony Hall, squinting As the instruments tuned up I could pick out only you: Fourth row back and clutching Your viola, bright hair spilt Across the strings. You were Deep in a flurry of pages With bitten lip, too Intent on forcing that Melody right to the cheap seats To notice me up there, ears straining To block out any sound but yours.'

London Poems on the Underground

from Jerusalem by William Blake

London Poems on the Underground From Jerusalem, William Blake. The fields from Islington to Marylebone, To Primrose Hill and Saint John's Wood,

Bam Chi Chi La La London, 1969 by Lorna Goodison

Bam Chi Chi La La London, 1969, Lorna Goodison ‘In Jamaica she was a teacher. Here, she is charwoman at night in the West End. She eats a cold midnight meal carried from home’

Barter by Nii Ayikwei Parkes

Barter, Nii Ayikwei Parkes ‘That first winter alone, the true meaning Barter of all the classroom rhymes that juggled snow and go, old and cold, acquired new leanings.’

Immigrant by Fleur Adcock

Immigrant, Fleur Adcock 'November '63: eight months in London. I pause on the low bridge to watch the pelicans:'

Ballad of the Londoner by James Elroy Flecker

No. 3 from Uses for the Thames by Jane Draycott

No.3 from Uses for the Thames, Jane Draycott ‘The test was to dip the needles into the dark of the swallowing mirror’

On The Thames by Karen McCarthy Woolf

On the Thames, Karen McCarthy Woolf ‘The houseboat tilts into the water at low tide, ducklings slip in mud. Nothing is stable in this limbo summer, where he leaves his shoes in the flat.’

After the Lunch by Wendy Cope

London Poems on the Underground After the Lunch, Wendy Cope. On Waterloo Bridge, where we said our goodbyes, The weather conditions bring tears to my eyes.

A Trojan Horse in Trafalgar Square by George Szirtes

A Trojan horse in Trafalgar Square George Szirtes ‘We stood in Trafalgar Square completely covered in pigeons but looking all too pleased to find such wholehearted acceptance. We were the boys of the awkward squad, growing at an angle.’

Summoned by Bells by John Betjeman

from Summoned by Bells by John Betjeman (1906-84) Poems on the Underground 1995 ' Great was my joy with London at my feet - All London mine, five shillings in my hand And not expected back till after tea! Great was our joy, Ronald Hughes Wright's and mine, To travel by the Underground all day Between the rush hours, so that very soon There was no station, north to Finsbury Park, To Barking eastwards, Clapham Common south, No temporary platform in the west Among the Actons and the Ealings, where We had not once alighted. Metroland Beckoned us out to lanes in beechy Bucks - Goldschmidt and Howland (in a wooden hut Beside the station): 'Most attractive sites Ripe for development'; Charrington's for coal; And not far off the neo-Tudor shops.'

Stations by Connie Bensley

Stations, Connie Bensley ‘As he travels home on the Northern Line he is reviewing his marriage.’

Our Meetings by Andrew Waterman

Our Meetings, Andrew Waterman ‘As in the Underground there’s no mistaking the train’s approach, it pushes air ahead, whirls paper, the line sings, a sort-of dread suffusing longing and my platform shaking – so it is before our every meeting, till you arrive. Hear how my heart is beating! ‘

You can see our poems from August 2023 here