Poem - Bio - Interviews - Eulogy
shells clacked on the plates.
My tongue was a filling estuary,
My palate hung with starlight:
As I tasted the salty Pleiades
Orion dipped his foot into the water.
They lay on their beds of ice:
the split bulb
And philandering sigh of ocean.
Millions of them ripped and shucked and scattered.
driven to that coast
Through flowers and limestone
And there we were, toasting friendship,
Laying down a perfect memory
In the cool of thatch and crockery.
the Alps, packed deep in hay and snow,
The Romans hauled their oysters
south to Rome:
I saw damp panniers disgorge
Glut of privilege
And was angry that my trust could not repose
In the clear
light, like poetry or freedom
Leaning in from sea. I ate the day
Deliberately, that its tang
Might quicken me all
into verb, pure verb.
Poem - Bio - Interviews - Eulogy
Seamus Heaney is widely recognized as one of the major poets of the
twentieth century. A native of Northern Ireland, Heaney currently lives in Dublin. Heaney taught at
Harvard University from 1985 to 2006, where he was a Visiting Professor, and then Boylston Professor of
Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard University (1985-1997) and Ralph Waldo Emerson Poet in Residence (1998-2006).
Heaney has attracted a readership on several continents and has won prestigious literary awards and honors, including
the Nobel Prize. As Blake Morrison noted in his work Seamus Heaney, the author is "that
rare thing, a poet rated highly by critics and academics yet popular with 'the common reader.'" Part
of Heaney's popularity stems from his subject matter—modern Northern Ireland, its farms and cities beset
with civil strife, its natural culture and language overrun by English rule. The New York Review of Books essayist
Richard Murphy described Heaney as "the poet who has shown the finest art in presenting a coherent vision
of Ireland, past and present." Heaney's poetry is known for its aural beauty and finely-wrought textures.
Often described as a regional poet, he is also a traditionalist who deliberately gestures back towards
the “pre-modern” worlds of William Wordsworth and John Clare.
Heaney was born and
raised in Castledawson, County Derry, Northern Ireland. The impact of his surroundings and the details
of his upbringing on his work are immense. As a Catholic in Protestant Northern Ireland, Heaney once described
himself in the New York Times Book Review as someone who "emerged from a hidden,
a buried life and entered the realm of education." Eventually studying English at Queen’s University,
Heaney was especially moved by artists who created poetry out of their local and native backgrounds—authors
such as Ted Hughes, Patrick Kavanagh, and Robert Frost. Recalling his time in Belfast, Heaney once noted:
"I learned that my local County Derry [childhood] experience, which I had considered archaic and
irrelevant to 'the modern world' was to be trusted. They taught me that trust and helped me to articulate
Heaney’s work has always been most concerned with the past, even his earliest poems
of the 1960s. According to Morrison, a "general spirit of reverence toward the past helped Heaney
resolve some of his awkwardness about being a writer: he could serve his own community by preserving in
literature its customs and crafts, yet simultaneously gain access to a larger community of letters."
Indeed, Heaney's earliest poetry collections— Death of a Naturalist (1966) and Door
into the Dark (1969)—evoke "a hard, mainly rural life with rare exactness," according
to Parnassus contributor Michael Wood. Using descriptions of rural laborers and their
tasks and contemplations of natural phenomena—filtered through childhood and adulthood—Heaney "makes
you see, hear, smell, taste this life, which in his words is not provincial, but parochial; provincialism hints
at the minor or the mediocre, but all parishes, rural or urban, are equal as communities of the human
spirit," noted Newsweek correspondent Jack Kroll
As a poet from Northern Ireland, Heaney used his work
to reflect upon the "Troubles," the often-violent political struggles that plagued the country
during Heaney’s young adulthood. The poet sought to weave the ongoing Irish troubles into a broader
historical frame embracing the general human situation in the booksWintering Out (1973) and North (1975). While
some reviewers criticized Heaney for being an apologist and mythologizer, Morrison suggested that the role of
political spokesman has never particularly suited Heaney. The author "has written poems directly about
the Troubles as well as elegies for friends and acquaintances who have died in them; he has tried to discover
a historical framework in which to interpret the current unrest; and he has taken on the mantle of public
spokesman, someone looked to for comment and guidance," noted Morrison. "Yet he has also shown
signs of deeply resenting this role, defending the right of poets to be private and apolitical, and questioning
the extent to which poetry, however 'committed,' can influence the course of history." In the New
Boston Review, Shaun O'Connell contended that even Heaney's most overtly political poems contain depths
that subtly alter their meanings. "Those who see Seamus Heaney as a symbol of hope in a troubled land are not,
of course, wrong to do so," O'Connell stated, "though they may be missing much of the undercutting complexities
of his poetry, the backwash of ironies which make him as bleak as he is bright."
foray into the world of translation began with the Irish lyric poemBuile Suibhne. The work concerns an ancient
king who, cursed by the church, is transformed into a mad bird-man and forced to wander in the harsh and inhospitable countryside.
Heaney's translation of the epic was published as Sweeney Astray: A Version from the Irish (1984). New
York Times Book Review contributor Brendan Kennelly deemed the poem "a balanced statement about a tragically
unbalanced mind. One feels that this balance, urbanely sustained, is the product of a long, imaginative bond between Mr.
Heaney and Sweeney." This bond is extended into Heaney's 1984 volume Station Island, where
a series of poems titled "Sweeney Redivivus" take up Sweeney's voice once more. The poems reflect one
of the book’s larger themes, the connections between personal choices, dramas and losses and larger, more
universal forces such as history and language. In The Haw Lantern(1987) Heaney extends
many of these preoccupations. W. S. DiPiero described Heaney's focus: "Whatever the occasion—childhood,
farm life, politics and culture in Northern Ireland, other poets past and present—Heaney strikes time and
again at the taproot of language, examining its genetic structures, trying to discover how it has served, in all
its changes, as a culture bearer, a world to contain imaginations, at once a rhetorical weapon and nutriment of
spirit. He writes of these matters with rare discrimination and resourcefulness, and a winning impatience with
With the publication of Selected Poems, 1966-1987 (1990)
Heaney marked the beginning of a new direction in his career. Poetry contributor William Logan
commented of this new direction, "The younger Heaney wrote like a man possessed by demons, even when
those demons were very literary demons; the older Heaney seems to wonder, bemusedly, what sort of demon he has
become himself." In Seeing Things (1991) Heaney demonstrates even more clearly this shift
in perspective. Jefferson Hunter, reviewing the book for the Virginia Quarterly Review, maintained
that collection takes a more spiritual, less concrete approach. "Words like 'spirit' and 'pure'… have
never figured largely in Heaney's poetry," Hunter explained. However, in Seeing Things Heaney
uses such words to "create a new distanced perspective and indeed a new mood" in which "'things beyond measure'
or 'things in the offing' or 'the longed-for' can sometimes be sensed, if never directly seen." The Spirit Level (1996)
continues to explore humanism, politics and nature.
Always respectfully received, Heaney’s later work, including
his second collected poems, Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966-1996 (1998), has
been lavishly praised. Reviewing Opened Ground for the New York Times Book Review, Edward
Mendelson commented that the volume “eloquently confirms [Heaney’s] status as the most skillful and profound poet
writing in English today." With Electric Light(2001), Heaney broadened his range of allusion and reference
to Homer and Virgil, while continuing to make significant use of memory, elegy and the pastoral tradition. According to
John Taylor in Poetry, Heaney "notably attempts, as an aging man, to re-experience childhood and
early-adulthood perceptions in all their sensate fullness." Paul Mariani in America found Electric
Light "a Janus-faced book, elegiac" and "heartbreaking even." Mariani noted in particular
Heaney's frequent elegies to other poets and artists, and called Heaney "one of the handful writing today who
has mastered that form as well."
Heaney’s next volume District and Circle (2006)
won the T.S. Eliot Prize, the most prestigious poetry award in the UK. Commenting on the volume for the New
York Times, critic Brad Leithauser found it remarkably consistent with the rest of Heaney’s
oeuvre. But while Heaney’s career may demonstrate an “of-a-pieceness” not common in
poetry, Leithauser found that Heaney’s voice still “carries the authenticity and believability
of the plainspoken—even though (herein his magic) his words are anything but plainspoken. His stanzas are
dense echo chambers of contending nuances and ricocheting sounds. And his is the gift of saying something extraordinary
while, line by line, conveying a sense that this is something an ordinary person might actually say.”
seen as an “elder statesman” of poetry, Heaney’s prose constitutes an important part of his work.
Heaney often uses prose to address concerns taken up obliquely in his poetry. In The Redress of
Poetry (1995), according to James Longenbach in the Nation, "Heaney
wants to think of poetry not only as something that intervenes in the world, redressing or correcting
imbalances, but also as something that must be redressed—re-established, celebrated as itself."
The book contains a selection of lectures the poet delivered at Oxford University as Professor of Poetry.
Heaney's Finders Keepers: Selected Prose, 1971-2001 (2002) earned the Truman Capote Award
for Literary Criticism, the largest annual prize for literary criticism in the English language. John Carey
in the London Sunday Times proposed that Heaney's "is not just another book of literary
criticism…It is a record of Seamus Heaney's thirty-year struggle with the demon of doubt. The questions
that afflict him are basic. What is the good of poetry? How can it contribute to society? Is it worth the
dedication it demands?" Heaney himself described his essays as "testimonies to the fact that
poets themselves are finders and keepers, that their vocation is to look after art and life by being discoverers
and custodians of the unlooked for."
As a translator, Heaney’s most famous work is the translation
of the epic Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf (2000). Considered groundbreaking because of the
freedom he took in using modern language, the book is largely credited with revitalizing what had become
something of a tired chestnut in the literary world. Malcolm Jones inNewsweek stated: "Heaney's
own poetic vernacular—muscular language so rich with the tones and smell of earth that you almost
expect to find a few crumbs of dirt clinging to his lines—is the perfect match for the Beowulf poet's
Anglo-Saxon…As retooled by Heaney, Beowulf should easily be good for another
millennium." Though he has also translated Sophocles, Heaney remains most adept with medieval works.
He translated Robert Henryson’s Middle Scots classic and follow-up to Chaucer, The Testament of
Cresseid and Seven Fables in 2009.
In 2009, Seamus Heaney
turned 70. A true event in the poetry world, Ireland marked the occasion with a twelve-hour broadcast
of archived Heaney recordings. It was also announced that two-thirds of the poetry collections sold in
the UK the previous year had been Heaney titles. Such popularity is almost unheard of in the world of contemporary
poetry, and yet Heaney’s voice is unabashedly grounded in tradition. Heaney’s belief in the
power of art and poetry, regardless of technological change or economic collapse, offers hope in the face
of an increasingly uncertain future. Asked about the value of poetry in times of crisis, Heaney answered
it is precisely at such moments that people realize they need more to live than economics: “If poetry and
the arts do anything,” he has said, “they can fortify your inner life, your inwardness."
Poem - Bio - Interviews - Eulogy
Seamus Heaney has Seen it
All: In a rare interview, Seamus Heaney talks to Jenny McCartney about the crises
- both personal and political - that still fire his work, first published in The Telegraph
Dublin may be a brasher city than of yore, jammed tight with traffic and frantic shoppers, but
the old courtesy still clings to Seamus Heaney, standing in the sunlit kitchen of his house poised on
a sweep of beach at the city's Sandymount Strand.
He hands me a cup of tea, with the milk placed in a small jug next to it. Then he looks at the plate beside
the cup, and notes its uncomfortable blankness.
'Would you like some … bread?' Heaney asks, tentatively. I tell him that I have already
eaten. 'A monastic biscuit then!' he says, and goes off to dig out the tin of digestives from the cupboard.
It is, perhaps, the casual exactness of that word 'monastic' that might betray Heaney's profession to one
who didn't know.
But then almost no one
can be unaware, either, of Heaney's profession, or his stature within it. Irish wags refer to him as 'Famous
Seamus' in a sly but proud acknowledgement of his international celebrity, crowned with his Nobel Prize
for Literature in 1995.
Heaney was born into a Catholic, nationalist family in Northern Ireland - and once objected to inclusion in
a book of British poets with the warning lines: 'Be advised, my passport's green/ No glass of ours was
ever raised/ To toast the Queen' - British readers can't get enough of him: it is an oft-cited statistic
that his books account for two-thirds of the sales of living poets in Britain.
All that might be expected, perhaps, to puff a man up and render
him a little prickly with self-importance. With Heaney, quite the opposite has occurred: he only rests
easy in the gentle understatement of his achievement. That derives, I think, from the small, superstitious voice
that echoes within the Northern Irish psyche, greeting success with the words: 'Be grateful: don't get
cocky and blow it.'
The word 'lucky' thus
chimes like a tiny warning-bell throughout his descriptions of past successes, be they his First Class
honours degree from Queen's University, Belfast, or the rapturous critical reception for his debut book
of poems, Death of a Naturalist, in 1966.
yet it is evident that Heaney has been a powerhouse of literary labour throughout, regularly turning out poems
and translations, essays and lectures, taking up professorships at Harvard and Oxford, and winning the Whitbread
I am reminded of that
old quote from the movie mogul Sam Goldwyn: 'The harder I work, the luckier I get.'
At the sound of my Belfast accent, he asks, as though
regretful for some past imposition: 'Did you have to do the poems at school?' We did, I say, and then
I heard him read when he was Professor of Poetry at Oxford. 'Ah, Oxford was wonderful,' he says. 'It was
great that so many people came to the readings'. As I recall, the scramble for tickets was fierce.
You would be a fool, though, to mistake
the 68-year-old Heaney's modesty for sleepiness: in the centre of the broad, calm plains of his face,
beneath the poetic shock of white hair, his dark eyes glitter and dart. They are the quick eyes of a man
who notices everything: noticing, after all, is Heaney's profession.
A minor stroke last year compelled him to ease off on his public appearances, but beyond him the worldwide
Heaney industry continues unabated.
Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company is currently staging The Burial at Thebes, Heaney's 2004 translation of
Sophocles' Antigone. The play describes the clash between Creon, the Theban king, and Antigone, the daughter
of Oedipus, that unfurls after Antigone's brothers Eteocles and Polyneices die fighting one another. The
plot seethes with timeless questions about the conflict between public order and private honour.
Heaney's translation was originally commissioned by
Dublin's Abbey Playhouse, just as what Heaney calls 'the deplorable Iraq/Bush business' was underway,
and inevitably the poet glimpsed parallels between Creon's blinkered rigidity of purpose and the stance
of President Bush.
'The New Yorker
was looking for something to publish so I gave them the chorus and called it Sophoclean, but it could equally have
been called An Open Letter to President Bush.'
Heaney is wary, however, of labouring the application.
'I didn't want Creon to be a figure of mockery, because in the end there's a kind of head prefect in
me, too. But Antigone goes too far and Creon goes too far. I have a kind of Sophoclean position in between
It is small wonder that
Heaney is so expert at navigating the play's shades of grey in Sophocles: its matter - honour, death, the
friction between family custom and the mores of the state - has been the very stuff of his life and poetry.
He was born on a farm in Mossbawn, County Derry, the
eldest of nine children, at a time when Catholics were conscious of being politically marginalised in
a Unionist state. Did that unease act as a spur to poetry?
'Inner division of some kind is what delivers a lot of it. It didn't have to be sought in Northern
Ireland. You were handed that situation. To go back to Creon and Antigone, nationalists - the minority
within the state - were handling that question: to what extent your family or household gods were not
recognised by the polis [the Greek body of citizens] and yet you were in the polis, getting your scholarships
from them and reading their literature. I don't think I would claim any great hurt from that: it was a
solitary self: that's where poetry comes from, and it gets isolated by crisis, and those crises are often very
Indeed they are:
some of Heaney's most powerful poems spring from exactly those intimate crises: in 'Mid-Term Break', recalling
the death of his four-year-old brother when he was 14; or in 'Clearances', after his mother Margaret's
death, tenderly remembering the time 'When all the others were away at Mass/ I was all hers as we peeled
Politics was more contentious.
Although an avowed Irish nationalist, throughout the Troubles Heaney, like some elusive salmon, avoided
being netted as a spokesman for violent republicanism. He and his family left Northern Ireland in 1972 for Wicklow,
and then Dublin, but he says of his birthplace: 'I am always in it, in a way. I just was dwelling elsewhere.'
His 'Requiem for the Croppies' - a 1966 homage
to the dead of the United Irishmen's 1798 rebellion - was a frequent choice at poetry readings until the
IRA campaign rendered history freshly combustible. 'For nearly 30 years and more I didn't read it, because
I was aware that it would always have been taken as a coded IRA poem,' he said. He found himself sifting
the factual detail of poems about sectarian killings, in order to carry the essential truth without inflaming
the political situation.
'North', he wrote of 'weighing and weighing/ My responsible tristia'. That volume, somewhat ironically, drew
the greatest weight of criticism for its perceived ambivalence about violence. Some of it came, I think,
because his critics scented Heaney's essential responsibility, like the school prefect who is caught and
caned the one time he smokes behind the bike sheds, while others flout the rules daily.
Yet as a Protestant teenager in Belfast in the 1980s,
and one who admired Heaney's poetry, I absorbed with a sinking heart his depiction of strutting Orangemen
beating on drums 'like giant tumours'; and in 'Docker', his description of a taciturn Protestant bigot: 'The only
Roman collar he tolerates/ Smiles all round his sleek pint of porter'. Here, surely, was the caricature
of the inarticulate, thuggish Ulster Protestant that was already all-too firmly entrenched abroad.
Yet even early on he could be capable of grace,
too, in depicting 'the other side': a poem of that very name describes a Protestant neighbour gently tapping
out a tune with his stick as he waited outside for the Heaney family to finish their murmured rosary before
he knocked on the door.
his 1995 Nobel address, Heaney related a story about the 1976 Kingsmills massacre, at which masked men stopped a
bus full of workmen going home, lined them up outside, and asked each to declare their religion. There was
only one Catholic in the group, and it was presumed that the gunmen were loyalists.
One Protestant worker squeezed the Catholic's hand, as if to
say 'we'll not betray you' but he declared himself anyway. He was promptly thrust aside, and the Protestants
were gunned down: the gunmen were from the IRA.
Heaney remarked that the future of Ireland lay, not in the gunfire, but the hand-squeeze. I
suggest that he has moved from often seeing Ulster Protestants as a source of apprehension, to a greater
understanding of their fear, and the potential for mutual affection.
' "Docker" was the wrong word,' he says, laughing. 'I found out later that it should have been
''shipyard worker'', because all the dockers were Catholic. I was writing from within a kind of nationalist
collective sense of things, yes. So yes, I became far, far more alert to that. How and ever I felt that
it was important, as Beckett said, to 'vent the pent', to draw the boil and get it out. So I don't feel
too bad about it, because if it was a stain then it was a stain that was in the fabric.'
Journalists and politicians, who were wont to
quote Yeats's 'Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold' in the worst of the Troubles, grabbed for Heaney
instead as the 'peace process' got underway - in particular, the lines from his translation of Sophocles'
Philoctetes, 'The Cure At Troy': 'But then, once in a lifetime/ the longed-for tidal wave/ Of justice
can rise up./ And hope and history rhyme.'
Heaney scrunches his face up slightly in recognition when I cite the lines, as though they are
too artlessly positive to feel entirely comfortable: 'That at least is choral stuff. I would never have
allowed myself that in propria persona. It's a chorus speaking so you have to have that class of rhetoric and uplift
and so on. Hope. I quoted with great pleasure Vaclav Havel on hope. His view is that it's not optimism
but it's something worth working for.'
does he make of the new set-up in Northern Ireland, I ask, with Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness in
government together? 'It's the best that can be managed, and possibly workable,' he says, cautiously. 'Nobody's
going to start being amorous with each other, but institutions, the polis, might have a chance.'
There are now no poets, in either
Ireland or Britain, to touch Heaney's standing internationally: it must be both an enjoyable and slightly
lonely position. I wonder if he misses Ted Hughes, his mentor and friend. In many ways they were opposites.
Hughes was the Poet Laureate; Heaney an Irish nationalist. Hughes had a complicated love life that twice
- with Sylvia Plath and Assia Wevill - slipped beyond turmoil into tragedy; while Heaney found a calm
harbour early on with his wife Marie (they have three children), and has stayed there happily ever since.
But they were both strong country
boys who rescued poetry from any whisper of the effete. Heaney, speaking at Hughes's funeral, said: 'No
death outside my family has left me more bereft.' Today he recalls: 'Ted Hughes was like a gable, a psychic gable
that you could put your back to. He had a brotherly status in that way. He was important to me to begin
with, to start the writing, and then that he commended the work was very important, and then I got to know
him and felt - as so many, many people did - that there was an element of care for you.'
Now that Heaney is at home more, in the house where
he has lived for 30 years, one suspects that he is the frequent object of poetic pilgrimages from far-flung
places: a Japanese academic writing a thesis on Heaney is arriving later that afternoon. The place has
the romance fitting to a poet's house, with a triangular garden blazing with summer flowers tended by Marie,
and the walls either crammed with books or hung with paintings and drawings.
In Antigone, it is Tiresias, the blind seer, who points out to
Creon the error of his ways. Is that the role of the poet, and of Heaney himself?
'Oh, I would never claim Tiresian authority,'
he says quickly, 'but Tiresias is that sixth sense in everybody: you're always being stalked by intuition.
Tiresias is voicing what is unconscious: the shadow recognition that haunts the action. It is the poetic faculty,
Tiresian authority has been thrust upon him: does it feel like a weight?
'I don't see it as a weight, I don't acknowledge it as a weight. I suppose I have internalised a kind of caution.'
He looks at me like a wily badger delicately sniffing out a trap: we are approaching the dangerous territory
of his eminence. 'I can't really talk about it,' he says, finally, 'although you're right to ask the question.'
If Heaney's early life was entangled in an
argument about a border, he has repeatedly ignored them in his relentless exploration of the English language.
His translation of 'Beowulf' prised open the Anglo-Saxon treasure-hoard of language for a wider audience.
Now he is working on a 'version, translations really' of the 15th-century Scottish poet Robert Henryson:
in its way, it is his healing together of the Ulster-Scots and Irish cultures.
'My point is there's a hidden Scotland in anyone who speaks the Northern Ireland speech. It's
a terrific complicating factor, not just in Northern Ireland, but Ireland generally. Scottish music was
indigenous to us, so Henryson's speech is part of my inner acoustic. I absolutely love it.'
He plans to do a 'poet to poet' book with translations
of Henryson next year, and to see published an extended interview with the poet Dennis O'Driscoll 'called
something like A Life Re-viewed. It's not inward, particularly. Maybe a short inwardness would do no harm
at some point,' he muses. Then Heaney laughs, and quotes one of his own best-known lines, on the charged
silences among Northern Irish people during the Troubles: 'My son Michael said, "Dad, whatever you
say say nothing, that will be operating with you.'' ' Despite the jest, Heaney is always saying something:
it is just that his yearning for precision, his wariness of misrepresentation, means he is supremely careful how
he says it.
As I leave, he is
offering advice on where in Dublin to eat good mackerel, and asking, 'Have you euros?' while preparing to
rummage in his pockets, just in case I have stumbled up without the currency to make it back to the city
A generous poet, then, and
most generous of all is his parting benediction: 'Write whatever you like!' There it is, a gift from the
Irish poet whom the world watches: an exultant setting-free from the fetters of responsibility.
Click here to read an interview with Seamus Heaney at the Paris Review
Poem - Bio - Interviews - Eulogy
Seamus Heaney's Beauty by
Paul Muldoon, first published by The New Yorker
This text was delivered as
the eulogy at Seamus Heaney’s funeral, which took place in Dublin on September 2, 2013.
I called the Heaney house once years ago. Maybe thirty years,
now. The phone was answered by one of the boys. Michael, I’m pretty sure. He was a teen-ager at the time.
Having known him since he was a kid, I was glad to have a chance to have a chat and hear what he was up to. After
a while, Michael ventured, “I suppose you’ll want to speak to head-the-ball?” Not being a parent
at the time, I was a little taken aback by the familiarity, perhaps even the over-familiarity, of this nomenclature.
Even if Michael didn’t call Seamus “head-the-ball” to his face (which I’m pretty sure he
didn’t), I realize now that it was a very telling moment. It was a moment that suggested a wonderfully relaxed
attitude between father and teen-age son, one I now see as highly difficult to establish and maintain.
The Seamus Heaney who was renowned the world over was never
a man who took himself too seriously, certainly not with his family and friends. He had, after all, a signal ability
to make each of us feel connected not only to him but to one another. We’ve all spent many years thinking
about his poetry. We’ll all spend many more years thinking about it. It’s the person rather than the
poet I’m focussing on today. The person who did everything con brio, “with vigor.” This
was, after all, the Seamus Heaney who repurposed Yeats’s description of a bronze chariot in his poem “Who
Goes With Fergus?” and referred to his B.M.W. as a “brazen car.” However the Seamus
Heaney we’re here to celebrate today might be described, “brazen” is hardly a word that comes
to mind. Anything that smacks of ostentation would be quite inappropriate. As would anything that smacks of meanness
of spirit. A word that might come to mind is “bounteous.” And, while I’m in the realm of the “B”s,
maybe even “bouncy.”
This last may seem
a bit strange, but I have a distinct memory of playing football with Seamus, Michael, and Christopher somewhere
in or around Glanmore. When I say “football,” I need to be clear, particularly when this could well
have been in an era when soccer was perceived as a foreign game. Let’s put it like this. It was not a game in which
Seamus’s talent for heading the ball was ever called on. It was Gaelic football, and I have to tell you that
I speak as someone who’s been shoulder-charged by Seamus Heaney. He bounced me off like snow off a plough.
Benignly, though. “Benign” is another word that comes to mind.
Actually, “benign” is somewhat inadequate. “Big-hearted” is coming closer. On
the subject of the heart, when Seamus was fitted with a monitored electronic device a few years ago he took an
almost unseemly delight in announcing, “Blessed are the pacemakers.” Seamus’s big-hearted
celebrity attracted other celebrities, of course. Movers and shakers always attract movers and shakers. Was it
a young Michael (or a young Christopher, perhaps?), who was introduced to a couple of dinner guests and inquired
of each of them in turn, “What is it you’re famous for?” To return to Seamus’s
capacity to act con brio, I don’t think I’ve ever seen another human being, with the possible
exception of Usain Bolt, move with such speed and accuracy as did Seamus when he heard the then toddler Catherine-Ann
cry out in distress after falling in the yard. He positively sprinted, swept her up in his arms, brought her to
a safe place.
It was Seamus Heaney’s unparalleled
capacity to sweep all of us up in his arms that we’re honoring today. Though Seamus helped all of us develop
our imaginative powers we can only imperfectly imagine what Marie is going through. She above all recognizes that
other great attribute of Seamus Heaney. I’m thinking of his beauty. Today we mourn with Marie and the children,
as well as the extended families, the nation, the wide world. We remember the beauty of Seamus Heaney—as
a bard, and in his being.
Poem - Bio - Interviews - Eulogy