“Casualty” by Seamus Heaney

Once while reading Seamus Heaney’s Field Work I came across a poem “Casualty” that’s about a central component of alcoholism: the disease tells you what to do.  As Jimmy Logan used to say, “When I drink I got a manager.”  I mean that’s my take on the poem. The central character in the poem is a fisherman, friend, a solitary drinker, and mentor of sorts, whose natural environments were the ocean and the pub.  

“He was blown to bits
Out drinking in a curfew
Others obeyed…”

“He had gone miles away
For he drank like a fish
Nightly, naturally
Swimming toward the lure
Of warm lit-up places…”

Heaney loved the guy:

 “I tasted freedom with him
To get out early, haul
Steadily off the bottom,
Depraise the catch, and smile
As you find a rhythm…

Although the character portrayed in the poem had limited understanding of Heaney’s poetry, Heaney’s “other life,” they were close.  Heaney appears to understand the compulsion of drinking.  He seems to know that his friend couldn’t help but violate the curfew and get himself blown to bits.  That’s alcoholism, we do what appears to the uninitiated to be irrational, but we are following the inner logic of alcoholism, our own fish-like program.
Read the poem if you get a chance.

Heaney, S. (1979) Field Work. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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