Soil, Soul, Society: A poem by Paul Heaney

by | Jan 26, 2021

Poet Paul Heaney explores the triad of soil, soul and society, examining the complex systems of exchange taking place below our very feet.

In our current age, the harmony between the natural world and humanity is more important than ever. Heaney draws our attention away from the importance of power within our human society and presents nature as the true power over Earth. This great power is born from the soil.

If we continue to neglect the soil, we only hinder our society. Heaney shows it is now more important than ever for society to respect the soil, again establishing our role in the systems of nature, rather than alienating ourselves from the natural orders.

Without soil, genesis of soul and society is impossible, yet we often overlook how crucial soil truly is to the diverse and beautiful life on our planet.

Soil, Soul, Society

What is soil?
What is soul?
What is society?
Soiling the soul with the mark of society
This is a good thing
Soil is the Nature of what we are at the level of Earth
It is our reminder of our connection to Nature
It is the thing from which we are born
And return to
It is the reminder that we are very much part of Nature
Not apart from it
It is that which keeps us alive
Keeps us healthy
It is the ever evolving process
Of the cycle of life
It is richness itself
It is both dormant with potential
And teeming with life
It represents and is the very diversity
That keeps us salubrious with the salt of life
The salt of the good earth
Without its rich mix
Of organisms that break down the dead
That reform to make new life
Without its complex tapestry of life
There can be no health without this wealth
The ever clean hands are not the healthiest hands while on and of the Earth
So why on earth are we obsessed with hygiene?
No extreme is healthy
It is a false sense of wellbeing
That disconnects us from the earth
No, it is the soiling that keeps us healthy
The immersion with earth and all its diversity
This is the key to life
To a long and healthy life at that
So from time to time
Immerse your hands
In the great wealth of life
Get your hands dirty
Touch hold grasp dig
Bury your hands deep
In the great richness of the blessed soil
For you will grow to love the soil
Over time
And with more time
You will learn to love it all the more
You will benefit all the more
Love it
For its life giving properties
For it is the very propagation of life
No nation is built without it
No society can survive without it
Let alone thrive without it
And what of soul
That elusive thing that is no thing
That cannot be touched or counted
Seen or heard
Nor sensed by the usual senses
Yet the soul can be sensed and discerned
It is that which animates the inanimate
That lifts a body to rise to great heights
Gives fleet to the feet to run
The greatest distance run
To break records in time and length
It is that which catches the breath
And at length
It is the experienced soul
The soiled soul
That is the great measure of a life
Both in years
And in the quality of a life led
Led by the courage a soul shows
Through its actions
Through its engagement with life
For unhampered
And unhindered
The soul will rise to heights unheard of
For it is the fire at the heart of a life
And all life
That burns with the brightest intensity
Yet without density
And so what is society?
What is the worth of society
Without a soul and soil?
Without its connection and natural foundation?
Without its many souls that make it up?
For no society exists without those souls
It cannot survive long without that which is natural to it
That flows in and out of it
That feeds it from the very source of life itself
A society that thinks it is above Nature
Is a society divorced from itself
Unaware of itself
Is lost in itself
Such a society needs to rediscover itself
Or else it dies
A society is by its nature sociable
Without such social connections
It becomes insular
And sick
Cut off from the arterial flow of life
Forgetting it’s own true origins
The healthiest societies
Know their true nature
Know that which sustains them
Know on what they are built
And it is the soul that feeds the soil
With love care and attention
These are the great qualities of a nation
It is the soul in the soil that feeds the society
And it is society that feeds the soul
And so the loop is complete
One without the other is incomplete
And so we have to ask
What does it profit a man and woman
If the soul is not touched by the soil
By the very substance that would feed the soul?
What does it profit a woman and a man
If the very society one is measured and grows by
Is not founded on the soil of the earth?
That which truly supports us
If the very foundation of our society
Is not built on that which sustains us
If we lose touch with that from whence we were born
If we forget that from which we are made
And what does it profit a man and woman
If our finest creation
Our society of sisterhood and brethren
Then becomes soulless burden?
A life or a society without soul
Is as good as dead
In the end
As it is in the beginning
All life starts with soul
All souls need the soil of life’s experience to grow by
All societies need to remember their roots and that which sustains them
And the good earth needs the caring hand of man and woman
To bridge heaven and earth
For woman and man is that bridge
Ours is to create a heaven on earth
So to sew the seeds of life
To recreate
As above
So below
And in so doing
The perfect balance is struck
Let these be the unified object of our goal
For these surely are the principles to all our lives
Representing the greatest dynamic in sobriety