Seamus Heaney, Simply RIP

I found out this morning that the prolific Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, has passed. I’m not one for waxing lyrical on such things, but as my very first literary influence I cannot stop myself from recognising this Nobel prize-winner’s effect on me and the loss he is to Irish literature.

Compared to the greatness of Yeats, Beckett and Shaw on numerous occasions, his writing was described by the Nobel committee as “works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past”. Always the humble gentleman, your spectacular prose will live on in the hearts it has touched, Mr. Heaney, and of course, in the Irish educational curriculum for generations to come.

I leave you with the very first poem that changed my perspective on literature forever.

 

Mid-Term Break

I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o’clock our neighbors drove me home.

In the porch I met my father crying–
He had always taken funerals in his stride–
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were ‘sorry for my trouble,’
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o’clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.

Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

A four foot box, a foot for every year.

Seamus Heaney
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13 replies

  1. He was a treasured talent and a caring person who will be greatly missed both on and off the island of his birth.

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  2. Seriously, I am not a follower of poetry and reading the first few verses wasn’t making me change my mind but once I got to the end I was so compelled to read it again. I have now read it four times and am now changing my perspective on poetry based solely on this poem. A moving piece of art!

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    • How wonderful to hear! He was very much regarded as the working man’s poet; his early work reflected his family life and the hard slog on the farm. I think he’s the perfect poetic tool to introduce people to poetry. He was the first poet we learned about in school (compulsory!) but the only one that all the children actually didn’t mind reading!

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  3. Lovely poem to choose. Very moving.

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  4. it’s coming up to that time of the year when we think about who we’ve lost. Heaney, Lou Reed, James Gandolfini, Dennis Farina, Mel Smith, Richard Briers, Karen Black, Ed Lauter, Roger Ebert, Phil Chevron, Richard Griffiths, Eileen Brennan, yesterday we heard about Lewis Collins (still reeling a bit from that) … but of all of them, Heaney’s death fell like a hammer blow, and I’m still upset thinking about it. I was moved by the fact that RTE decided to broadcast his funeral live, and the outpouring of sentiment from around the world was amazing. The response in Ireland, from what i could judge from 4000 miles away, was incredible (I can’t think of another country that would come to a standstill to honour a poet)

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    • It really was an incredible response. In Ireland especially, but I was surprised and humbled by the worldwide reaction. I’d had no idea just how far Heaney’s reach had extended.

      RTE played some wonderful interviews and showed so many clips on the day of the announcement. The whole country, people of every age were feeling the weight of the news. I remember sitting with friends that evening and each of us discussed our first encounters with Heaney’s writing, what it had meant to us and how it had made us feel. For so many of us his was the first poetry that ever had any influence on us whatsoever. Even those not inclined toward literature had a special place in memory for Heaney. A great man.

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