16 pages 32 minutes read

Seamus Heaney

Two Lorries

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1996

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Summary and Study Guide


“Two Lorries” by Irish poet Seamus Heaney, first appeared in his collection The Spirit Level in 1996. It blends modern free verse language with traditional poetry form. This poem was released one year after Heaney received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995 and was actively teaching, lecturing, and publishing — this period represents the height of his literary career. One year later, Heaney would go on to be elected to the prestigious Irish arts council Aosdána. The poem explores, through two different chronological lenses, the horror of the Irish nationalist conflict that ran from the 1960s to the late 1990s; the aftereffects of the conflict are still reverberating today. Through it, the reader gets an intimate, personal glimpse into the poet’s childhood and his later experiences living on the Irish border.

Poet Biography

Seamus Heaney is a renowned poet originally from Northern Ireland, though he spent much of his life living in Dublin. He was born on April 13, 1939, and lived until August 30, 2013, aged 74. Heaney’s work has been widely read on several continents, studied in school systems, and lauded as being both exquisite in literary value and highly accessible to the average reader. He has won many awards for his work, including the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995 and the Irish PEN Award for Literature ten years later.

Heaney studied literature at Queen’s University Belfast, where he discovered Ted Hughes’s “Lupercal” (1960), which inspired him to write poetry of his own. After graduating from Queen’s, he went on to train as a teacher. This would eventually take him back to Queen’s University as a lecturer in English. Later he would become a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley, before returning to Ireland and teaching at Carysfort College in Dublin.

During this time, Heaney published several collections of poetry, including his debut Death of a Naturalist (1966), Wintering Out (1972), Field Work (1979), and others. In 1989 Heaney was elected Oxford Professor of Poetry, during which time he also served as a visiting professor at Harvard in the United States. For several years he split his time between Ireland and America, teaching and inspiring a new generation of emerging poets. In 1997, Heaney was elected Saoi of Aosdána, the highest possible honor in the Irish druidic-inspired arts council. He also worked in translation from Irish and Old English; he is most famous for his modern translation of the ancient 11th century epic Beowulf, which made the saga more accessible to modern audiences.

Seamus Heaney died in Blackrock in 2013. His loss was mourned by the country at large and publicly by his contemporaries in the literary world, such as Frank McGuinness, Colm Tóibín, and Tom Stoppard. Today his contribution to the world is commemorated at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University Belfast, and at the permanent Seamus Heaney exhibit at the Bank of Ireland Cultural and Heritage Centre in Dublin.

Poem Text

Heaney, Seamus. “Two Lorries.” 1996. Poetry Archive.


A delivery truck has pulled up in front of the speaker’s house to deliver their coal. The speaker, a young boy, watches as the delivery man flirts with his mother. The man asks her to the cinema in Magherafelt, but he cannot stay and talk because he needs to finish his deliveries. The speaker examines the new coal they have received, which is of the best quality. The bus to Magherafelt passes, and the speaker’s mother enjoys the attentions of the delivery man. However, she goes back inside and attends to her housework. The delivery man closes his truck and drives off to his next destination.

In the fourth stanza, the speaker dreams of the day out his mother was offered, sitting on the “red plush” (Line 20) seats of the cinema with her “city coalman” (Line 20). As in a film, a lorry “groans into shot” (Line 22), in a future time, driving up to a Magherafelt bus station to explode, turning the bus station to “dust and ashes” (Line 23). The speaker remembers that after this event, he had a vision of his mother there, on the bench where they would often meet, caught in the dust and ashes of the explosion. Her shopping bags are “full up with shovelled ashes” (Line 27) from the explosion. He imagines the delivery man walking past her, only this time the delivery man is death, waiting to gather those who were killed on to his delivery truck, “Refolding body-bags, plying his load” (Line 29).

In the sixth stanza, his vision and his memory blurs together, the past and the present. The speaker mixes up the two lorries, the coal man’s and the one “set to explode” (Line 33). He encourages the delivery man of his memory to enjoy the present moment, to tally body bags and “sweet-talk darkness” (Line 35). In the final stanza, the delivery man becomes one with death again, shoveling the “dust that was Magherafelt” (Line 37), and heroically leading the people of Magherafelt and the speaker’s mother into the beyond.