John Hewitt - The Watchers - Seamus Heaney

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Seamus Heaney reads John Hewitt's The Watchers at the Ulster Museum in Belfast - July 2012

The Watchers
by John Hewitt (1907-1987)

We crouched and waited as the day ebbed off
and the close birdsong dwindled point by point,
not daring the indulgence of a cough
nor the jerked protest of a weary joint;
and when our sixty minutes had run by
and lost themselves in the declining light
we heard the warning snuffle and the sly
scuffle of mould, and, instantly, the white
long head thrust through the sighing undergrowth,
and the grey badger scrambled into view,
eager to frolic carelessly, yet loth
to trust the air his greedy nostrils drew;
awhile debated with each distant sound,
then, settling into confidence, began
to scratch his tough-haired side, to sniff the ground
without the threat of that old monster, man.
And as we watched him, gripped in our surprise,
that moment suddenly began to mean
more than a badger, and a row of eyes,
a stony brook, a leafy ditch between.
It was as if another nature came
close to my knowledge, but could not be known;
yet if I tried to call it by its name
would start, alarmed, and instantly be gone.