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'The Quilt': A poem before bedtime

Take a moment to read The Quilt, a poem by Paula Meehan taken from a new collection by Marie Heaney.

Marie Heaney

Marie Heaney – wife of the late Seamus Heaney – has edited a collection of poetry inspired by the night time, called All Through The Night. Here, she explains why it’s such a meaningful time, and includes a poem by Paula Meehan from the collection.

We incline to think of night as a time of peace, rest and relaxation: a time that brings freedom from the cares of the day, a time to dream, to make love and to embrace blessed sleep which, in Shakespeare’s words, knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care. And this is, indeed, a reality; but night can bring with it other, less benign experiences.

With darkness can come sleeplessness and its attendant sadness, anxiety and guilt, emotions that are often more intensely felt at night than during the day with all its distractions.

A time when, to borrow a phrase from Keats, conscience burrows like a mole and we are haunted by fears and regrets. Both these aspects of the night, happiness and sadness, are explored by the poems in this collection.

Lullabies, quiet songs to lull a child to sleep and other poems relating to children, form the opening section. The poems in the second part of the collection celebrate the various night-time pleasures as well as giving voice to the anxieties that beset us during the night.

The poems in the night poems section are very wide-ranging in both emotional expression and subject matter, and they bring the reader to unexpected places. However, unsurprisingly, sleep is still a preoccupation – praise for it, the need for it, the desire for it and the lack of it – and is the subject matter of a number of these poems.

The adult’s fear of insomnia replaces the child’s reluctance to go to sleep. Even Wordsworth, in his gentle poem, ‘To Sleep’, admits to counting sheep to no avail.

The Quilt

By Paula Meehan

It was a simple affair – nine squares
by nine squares, blue on green – spots, stripes, bows –
alternate with gold on red chevrons:
my grandmother’s quilt I slept under
the long and winding nights of childhood.

Above the bed a roundy window:
my own full moon. I loved the weathers
wheeling past, the stars, the summer suns;
my aunties’ deep breaths, distant thunder.

The Quilt is taken from the poetry collection All Through The Night, edited by Marie Heaney. It is nominated in the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards, in the Best Irish Published Book award, which is sponsored by TheJournal.ie. The awards take place on 16 November and members of the public are invited to vote for their favourite books on the website. Photo of Marie Heaney by Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland.

Read: These are the best books in Ireland right now – and you get to vote for your favourites>

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Marie Heaney

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