Poem: The Skylight

August 7, 2006

The Skylight

You were the one for skylights. I opposed
Cutting into the seasoned tongue-and-groove
Of pitch pine. I liked it low and closed,
Its claustrophobic, nest-up-in-the-roof
Effect. I liked the snuff-dry feeling,
The perfect, trunk-lid fit of the old ceiling.
Under there, it was all hutch and hatch.
The blue slates kept the heat like midnight thatch.

But when the slates came off, extravagant
Sky entered and held surprise wide open.
For days I felt like an inhabitant
Of that house where the man sick of the palsy
Was lowered through the roof, had his sins forgiven,
Was healed, took up his bed and walked away.

Seamus Heaney

Ordinarily I’m not a fan of Heaney’s work, but the one above took my breath away when I first saw it about three years ago as a college student. Back then I still had lofty ideals about poetry, its importance, its uses and abuses. Now, stripped of those highflown and highfalutin ideals, the poem touches the heart. I could expound on its sonnet structure, on the intelligent octave-sestet transition, of the gentle, lulling rhythm, of how apt the Biblical allusion is.

But instead I’m keeping quiet and appreciating how sweet it is as a portrayal of quotidian household love.


  1. What? This is called a poem? It sounds like a dairy of a Grade 3 student, telling a process of opening a latch. His wife and he fighs each other for the latch, and he lost. His wife opened the latch, and the skylight was into the attic. To his suprise, he liked the skylight.

  2. The above comment isn’t worthy of this site, and should be deleted. Opening a latch has nothing to do with it; the process envisioned is that of cutting into the attic roof and putting in a large, new window, not a mere opening of a window that already existed. The writer should, first, learn how to spell, second, learn how to read, and finally, perhaps, learn to love the miracles of everyday life. And note that the speaker is not putting himself in the position of the man who was cured, but one of the spectators of that miracle, thus, his ambivalence about the skylight, about the opening up of his world, remains.

  3. may I suggest this to Abra-Debra: remember a moment in 3rd grade – pick the one you want. Imagine yourself the third grader experiencing the event. Now write the poem: if you are a brave and kindly soul, share the results with the world.

    Then come back to Heaney’s poem. Read it again. And if you are still brave and kindly, tell the world what you think about it, with the same unruffled simplicity as you did the first time.

  4. Wow, someone who can’t even recognize a sonnet when they see one is an expert on what poetry is/is not!

  5. You know, people like this complain about poetry that uses thees and thous or inverted sentence structure because it seems high-faloutin’ or old and dusty (though the real reason is just that they can’t understand it.)
    Then, when they encounter poetry that uses plain modern vocabulary and syntax, they complain because it doesn’t look like ‘real’ poetry.

  6. […] of lots of different windows in different buildings. Skylights are good. Here’s Heaney again writing about that gap between house and […]

  7. […] try to always leave a little extra empty space.  Like space for creativity or something… good poetry tends to do this.  If the essence of bergamot is some kind of metaphor, I don’t honestly […]

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