16 pages 32 minutes read

Seamus Heaney

Two Lorries

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1996

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Symbols & Motifs


Though death plays a prominent role in much of the poem, he comes into his own as a concrete figure from the fifth stanza onwards: “Death walked out past her like a dust-faced coalman” (Line 28). Here, the speaker imagines Death as the handsome coalman he saw with his mother long ago, his memories linked by the two lorries—here, Death is the one driving it to its destination. Giving Death the face of the delivery man creates an interesting parallel between the two memories; the first time, the coalman invites the poet’s mother to join him, but she declines and returns to her housework—the work of the living. It is not until much later when he invites her again, and this time the reader is left to imagine her leaving with him in peace.

Other points in the poem personify Death with human activity, such as “Refolding body-bags, plying his load” (Line 29), where the reader can imagine him filling the lorry truck with the souls of the dead; and “heft a load of dust that was Magherafelt” (Line 37), finishing by taking the town itself. Notably, it is in these last stanzas that Heaney’s perspective turns from talking to himself to talking to another person, directing death as “you”.