Proper names


translated from Romanian by Seamus Heaney

When the ancient world foundered
Bottles had not been invented
So whatever was valuable there
Was rolled up
Into a few proper names
And set afloat on the water.

They have reached us safely, those names.

And when we uncork one,
Homer, say, or Pythagoras or Tacitus,
Great sheaves of light break open in the sky,
Millennial chaff falls on our shoulders.

Let us do all we can to increase
The store of proper names in the world
So that if the earth goes down
They will keep on floating,
Trojan horses with the whole of mankind in their bellies,
Headed for the gates of other planets.

Excerpted from The Translations of Seamus Heaney by Seamus Heaney and edited by Marco Sonzogni. Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Copyright © 2022 by The Estate of Seamus Heaney. Introduction and editorial material copyright © 2022. All rights reserved.