A Drink of Water
by Seamus Heaney
She came every morning to draw water
Like an old bat staggering up the field:
The pump’s whooping cough, the bucket’s clatter
And slow diminuendo as it filled,
Announced her. I recall
Her grey apron, the pocked white enamel
Of the brimming bucket, and the treble
Creak of her voice like the pump’s handle.
Nights when a full moon lifted past her gable
It fell back through her window and would lie
Into the water set out on the table.
Where I have dipped to drink again, to be
Faithful to the admonishment on her cup,
Remember the Giver fading off the lip.
I’m in a hurry this Christmas Eve—egg casseroles to make, flowers to arrange, napkins to be ironed—so forgive this hasty post.
Remember the Giver. I’m taking this line from Heaney’s beautiful poem out of context, but bear with me. I’m sending out that line to all those receiving gifts over the holidays.
This time of year we focus on giving, and unless we’re little kids, teenagers, or needy adults, we enjoy giving more than receiving. Especially because gifts can be a let-down, not matching our expectations. We don’t hear a lot on how to receive a gift. I myself have been an ungracious receiver at times. But I’ve come to view receiving as an art form, and when done properly, as a spiritual duty, a moment of grace that allows the giver to experience his or her own goodness.
“A Drink of Water” must have been an important poem to Heaney, because it was one of two poems he chose to represent his lifetime achievement at an awards dinner. This from a Guardian article about his selection:
Heaney said it was “about receiving a gift and being enjoined to ‘remember the giver'”, something he said he would always do when remembering that evening.
“The old lady in the poem was a neighbour, a crone, as she might have been described, who lived on her own, down the fields from us,” he said. “To us kids she had a certain witch-like aura, but in the poem she becomes more like a muse offering the cup of poetry to the child incertus.”
Merry Christmas to those celebrating! Happy Hanukkah a little late, and Happy Holidays to all!
Remember the Giver.