for Norman MacCaig
On the day he was to take the poison
Socrates told his friends he had been writing:
putting Aesop's fables into verse.
And this was not because Socrates loved wisdom
and advocated the examined life.
The reason was that he had had a dream.
Caesar, now, or Herod or Constantine
or any number of Shakespearean kings
bursting at the end like dams
where original panoramas lie submerged
which have to rise again before the death scenes -
you can believe in their believing dreams.
But hardly Socrates. Until, that is,
he tells his friends the dream had kept recurring
all his life, repeating one instruction:
Practise the art, which art until that moment
he always took to mean philosophy.
Happy the man, therefore, with a natural gift
for practising the right one from the start -
poetry, say, or fishing, whose nights are dreamless;
whose deep-sunk panoramas rise and pass
like daylight through the rod's eye or the nib's eye.
Seamus Heaney, The Haw Lantern, Faber & Faber, 1987 (reset 2006).