Opened Ground – poems by Seamus Heaney

This week we have Richard from Brompton Library who is reviewing Seamus Heaney’s collection of poems, Opened Ground.


I can thoroughly recommend any collection of poems by Seamus Heaney and there are many in digital form to choose from on the Cloud Library. Selected poems 1966-1975 was my first introduction to the poet many years ago. These poems have a strong connection with the land and the country. The language has a tactile quality that brings you cheek by jowl with the sensuality of nature.

Interestingly, many people during the early stages of lockdown in London, commented on the sudden pleasure of seeing nature more clearly: the burst of colour (early Spring), noticing many animal species compared with pre-lockdown and hearing more varied bird sounds etc.

Heaney’s Gifts of Rain from Opened Ground, floods the senses with its use of monosyllabic Anglo-Saxon words that capture the tactile feel of a straw-footed mammal on the mud and the sounds and smells of the river Moyola bursting its banks near Heaney’s hometown. The relationship of the worker to the land is pictured in the brush-stroke of a line: ‘A man wading lost fields breaks the pane of flood: a flower of mud- water blooms up to his reflection.’  Many of the poems dwell on this relationship of the people with the land such as The Tollund Man and Bog Queen, poems based on Bronze aged cadavers that have been preserved in the peat bogs of northern Europe capture this intimacy between the people and the land through bold imagery and rich use of metaphor: ‘my body was braille for the creeping influences.’ In addition to these themes is a concern with the political situation that dominated his landscape during these formative years. There is a great selection of his work to be found here on cloudLibrary:

New Selected Poems 1988 – 2013

District and Circle


Death of a Naturalist

Human Chain


If you would like to read any of these works of Seamus Heaney, they are available here from our cloudLibrary.  All you need is your Kensington and Chelsea Library card and if you are not a member, don’t worry, just click here to join.

Your battle wounds are scars upon my heart

Elin Jones (Tri-borough Stock Librarian) inspired by the poetry books available in the libraries, writes:

Some of the most moving poetry in English was written as a result of direct experience of the First World War. Here is a quick browse of some of the best-loved and most profound poetry of the era- and it is all available in the library.

Our poetry selection
Our poetry selection

Feminist author and poet Vera Brittain wrote her autobiography Testament of Youth as a result of losing her fiancée, her brother and two of her dearest male friends before peace was declared in November 1918. Words from her poem “To My Brother” (In Memory of July 1st 1916), still move us today:

Your battle wounds are scars upon my heart
Received when in that grand and tragic show
You played your part
Two years ago

“In Flanders Fields” is one of the most memorable poems from the First World War written by Canadian Officer John McCrae:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row.

Poppies were everywhere on the battlefield of Ypres as they only flower in rooted-up soil, and the whole of the Western Front consisted of churned mud. McCrae, in his poem,  gave us an enduring image of war: the poppy.

Wilfred Owen is one of the most famous of the War Poets who tragically died in 1918 just one week before the end of World War I. He encapsulated the horrors of the battlefield in his writing. “Dulce Et Decorum Est” is one of his best-known pieces, written by Owen who in October 1917 wrote to his mother, “Here is a gas poem, done yesterday – the famous Latin tag (from Horace Odes) means Sweet! And decorous!”. The title was, of course, ironic: the intention was to shock people at home who thought war was noble and glorious.

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge…

Poetry of the First World War reflects the mixture of social status, class and backgrounds of the men fighting in the trenches: Isaac Rosenberg wrote some of the best poems of the First World War. His poem “Break of Day in the Trenches” had a special mention in Paul Fussell’s book The Great War and Modern Memory.

The darkness crumbles away
It is the same old druid Time as ever,
Only a live thing leaps my hand,
A queer sardonic rat,
As I pull the parapet’s poppy
To stick behind my ear.

He was born into a working class Jewish family in Dvink (now Latvia) and his parents then emigrated to the East End of London.  It was thought that he might have been one of the outstanding poets of his generation had he survived the war: his work was admired by T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. He was killed at the front in April 1918.

In contrast to Rosenberg, Ivor Gurney was trained as a chorister in Gloucester Cathedral and a composer as well as a poet. His lifelong friend was Herbert Howells, a director of music in St Paul’s Girls School, Hammersmith. Gurney wrote a collection of poetry for his first book Severn and Somme, which was published in October 1917. He suffered from a mental health condition and spent the last fifteen years of his life in a mental hospital having been gassed in 1917, but it was in hospital that he returned to his wartime experiences and wrote some of his best works.

We said no word. Yet, as such comrades would,
You understood.
Such friendship is not touched by death’s disaster,
But stands the faster…

If you are interested in finding out more about the poetry of the First World War, take a look at these websites: the War Poets Website contains lots of useful information about the First World War Poets and their poems, as does the First World War Poets Digital Archive . The website Poetry by Heart incorporates a First World War Poetry Showcase. On 1st August,  to mark the centenary of the war, Cambridge University  put Siegfried Sassoon’s poems and diaries from the First World War online . They include an account of the ‘horrifying slaughter’ of the first day (

Or try some further reading, from books available on the catalogue (For a full reading list from our libraries, please click here):

Carol Ann Duffy – 1914: Poetry remembers Faber & Faber 2014 9780571302154

Tim Kendall – Poetry of the First World War: an anthology OUP 2013 9780199581443

Gaby Morgan – Poems from the First World War, Published in association with the IWM, 2013. ISBN 9781447248644

The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry, Penguin 2006 ISBN 9780141181905

Poems of the Great War 1914-1918 Penguin 1998 9780141181035

Poems of War and Remembrance Talking Book BBC Audio, 2012 9781445896182




















Blog post from the North – June 2013

Welcome to our June blog post from our three libraries in the North.

Notting Hill Gate Library

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

The Notting Hill Gate Library Reading Group met to discuss The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid. As usual the discussion was lively and vibrant with opinions bouncing across the table.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a monologue by Changez, a young Pakistani boy telling his life story to an American stranger in a café in Lahore. Changez used to live in America and is reporting why he has come to live back in Pakistan, in doing so he highlights the post 9/11 tensions. Changez went to America as a student to study at Princeton University, he lands a job with a prestigious consultancy firm and falls in love with an American girl, everything changes for Changez after 9/11 when his dream becomes a nightmare.

The group had different opinions about what the book was actually about. Some said it was about a man finding his identity, some said it was about the after effects of 9/11 and some said it was about a man going against America, but what we all agreed was, it was powerfully written and Changez’s story was deeply touching. We covered a range of discussions from religion, terrorism, capitalism, identity crises, the American dream and culture.

The story is full of intrigue, suspense and tension and it’s where we are left to fill in the blanks and the ambiguous ending that made it an exceptional book to discuss.

A trip to the cinema
A trip to the cinema

Lucky for the Notting Hill Gate Reading Group, the Reluctant Fundamentalist was then released in cinemas on 10th May, so of course we had to go and see it! We enjoyed the movie as much as we enjoyed the book and thought it was a great idea to have a comparative discussion. We were of course annoyed about some of the cuts from the book but we thought it still kept the essence of the story and it did justice for the book. We are very enthusiastic about linking future films with books.

Fancy a mystery?

To celebrate Crime Writers Month, we have decide to make things a little more exciting at Notting Hill Gate, choose a mysterious book from our display if you dare…

Crime fiction display at Notting Hill Gate Library
Crime fiction display at Notting Hill Gate Library

National Crime Writing Month is an initiative of the Crime Writers’ Association. Formerly known as Crime Writing Week, it was launched in 2010 with 50 events up and down the UK. In 2012, due to the popularity of the event, it was increased to a month. It gives readers the opportunity to explore the latest and best crime writing, as well as to discover (or rediscover) many classic writers. At Notting Hill Gate we have a vast collection of books by the authors of the Crime Writing Panel and by other authors associated with Crime Writing Week.

Ihssan Dhimi
Ihssan Dhimi

Ihssan Dhimi

Senior Customer Services Assistant, Notting Hill Gate Library

North Kensington Library

Sunshine in the Children’s Library

Don’t you think the sun is bright?
I wonder where it goes at night?
Does it sleep or does it hide?
Or is the moon its other side?
Does it hide behind the hills?
Late at night as outside chills?
Do you think it needs to rest?
From all that warming it does best?

On a gloomy and rainy Thursday afternoon we brought some sunshine to North Kensington Children’s Library by reading a poem about the sun, written by Gareth Lancaster and making the sun for our half term story and craft session. Children enjoyed tracing their palms on coloured paper, cutting traced fingers and sticking them on the back of paper plates. That is how we created the sun and now our display in children’s library looks bright and sunny.

Adisa Behmen-Kreso
Adisa Behmen-Kreso

Adisa Behmen-Kreso

Senior Customer Services Assistant, North Kensington Library

Kensal Library

National Bookstart Week

Bookstart logo
Bookstart logo

We are looking forward to celebrating National Bookstart Week here at Kensal Library and will be having a special baby rhyme time on Friday 28 June at 10.30 to 11.00 am with stories, songs and a craft tying in with Bookstart’s theme of fairytales.

There’s  more information about National Bookstart Week on the Bookstart website.

Crime at Kensal

Crime fiction on display at Kensal Library
Crime fiction on display at Kensal Library

We currently have a crime fiction display at Kensal Library to promote National Crime Writing Month.  We have included staff recommendations and the display has proved to be quite popular.

Natasha Chaoui

Senior Customer Services Assistant, Kensal Library