Seamus Heaney's final poem revealed in Irish National Gallery's anthology

Seamus Heaney's final poem revealed in Irish National Gallery's anthology

A POEM penned by Seamus Heaney just 10 days before his death was revealed today in an anthology published by the National Gallery of Ireland to celebrate its 150th anniversary.

The Nobel prize winner completed Banks of a Canal less than a fortnight before he passed away in August 2013, a poem inspired by an 1872 painting by Gustave Caillebotte which hangs in Ireland’s National Gallery.

The poem features in a collection of essays, stories and poems by Irish writers, which have all been inspired by works of art held in the Dublin venue.

The pieces were published today (Monday, October 6) in the anthology Lines of Vision: Irish Writers on Art edited by Janet McLean, the gallery’s curator of European art 1850-1950.

Of Heaney’s contribution, McLean said: “It's such a beautiful poem and that painting instantly caught his eye when he went into that room."

Fellow writers Roddy Doyle, Colm Tóibín and John Banville are also among those who have also contributed to the collection, after being inspired by paintings on display at the gallery.

“It’s been so interesting to see the different pieces come back, and the different approaches,” said McLean.

“The eccentricity of it works quite nicely; this is a book with personality,” she added.

“It’s been about seeing what people walk out of the gallery with, when they’ve a painting in mind.”

An exhibition of the paintings featured in the anthology is due to be unveiled by President Michael D Higgins at the National Gallery of Ireland tomorrow.

The National Gallery of Ireland first opened in 1864, with 112 paintings. Today, its collection comprises over 15,000 works, from the 13th century to the modern day.

Banks of a Canal by Seamus Heaney
Gustave Caillebotte, c.1872 

Say ‘canal’ and there’s that final vowel

Towing silence with it, slowing time

To a walking pace, a path, a whitewashed gleam

Of dwellings at the skyline. World stands still.

The stunted concrete mocks the classical.

Water says, ‘My place here is in dream,

In quiet good standing. Like a sleeping stream,

Come rain or sullen shine I’m peaceable.’

Stretched to the horizon, placid ploughland,

The sky not truly bright or overcast:

I know that clay, the damp and dirt of it,

The coolth along the bank, the grassy zest

Of verges, the path not narrow but still straight

Where soul could mind itself or stray beyond.


‘Lines of Vision: Irish Writers on Art’ edited by Janet McLean and published by Thames & Hudson is available from October 6 priced £19.95.