The poet conjures up the image of the doctor who delivered him and his siblings ("All of us came in Doctor Kerlin's bag"), the doctor who arrived at the house in his fur-lined coat and ascended to his mother's bedroom, and later came down and arranged the instruments in his bag (a "plump ark"), which by that point was otherwise empty. In the boy's fantasy, Doctor Kerlin's small eyes were "peepholes into a locked room," in which were strung "the little pendant infant parts / . . . neatly from a line up near the ceiling-- / a toe, a foot and shin, an arm, a cock."

On a visit to the ruined temple of Asclepius, the god of healing, the poet finds himself remembering Doctor Kerlin, and also the incident when, as an altar boy, he fainted during a procession at the healing shrine of Lourdes in 1956. Now many years later, he pulls up some tufts of grass from around the temple and sends them to friends suffering from cancer. He remembers entering the bedroom after Doctor Kerlin left, his mother on the bed asking, "And what do you think / Of the new wee baby the doctor brought for us all / When I was asleep?" [94 lines]


This is a poem of epiphanies, which, like the wee babies of the poet's childhood, jump out of a bag. In this case the bag is Seamus Heaney's memory. As in ancient times, Asclepius reveals himself through images and memories. The myths of childhood live on. Though Heaney is a man of the modern world who sees beyond (or behind) the myth of healing, still, the epiphany reveals its truth, a truth he wishes to share with his friends by sending them a token of grass from the god's precinct.

Primary Source

Electric Light


Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Place Published

New York