Seamus Justin Heaney, born on the 13th April 1939 was an Irish poet, playwright, translator and lecturer, and the recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature. In the early 1960s he became a lecturer in Belfast after attending university there, and began to publish poetry.
This post was going to be an obituary, regaling the life & times of a poet, acclaimed by many as the best Irish poet since WB Yeats, and of whom the actor Liam Neeson said that “Ireland has lost a part of its soul with his demise.”
But that’s not my connection with Seamus Heaney & to be honest it has been already done by far more accomplished writers, if what you are after are the facts & bones of this great poet’s life please look here
And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you'll park or capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open
Although I was aware of Seamus Heaney, as a poet it was merely that, I was of an age where my taste were more partisan and he just wasn’t where my tastes lay. This changed when in the late 1980s I purchased what was to become one of my favourite poetry anthologies The Rattle Bag, a book I still refer to even now. This book was compiled & edited by Ted Hughes, a poet who had written one of my favourite collections (Crow) and Seamus Heaney.
My father worked with a horse-plough,
His shoulders globed like a full sail strung
Between the shafts and the furrow.
The horse strained at his clicking tongue.
An expert. He would set the wing
And fit the bright steel-pointed sock.
The sod rolled over without breaking.
At the headrig, with a single pluck
Of reins, the sweating team turned round
And back into the land. His eye
Narrowed and angled at the ground,
Mapping the furrow exactly.
I stumbled in his hob-nailed wake,
Fell sometimes on the polished sod;
Sometimes he rode me on his back
Dipping and rising to his plod.
I wanted to grow up and plough,
To close one eye, stiffen my arm.
All I ever did was follow
In his broad shadow round the farm.
I was a nuisance, tripping, falling,
Yapping always. But today
It is my father who keeps stumbling
Behind me, and will not go away.
I lived in this book, it travelled everywhere with me and became a vehicle that showed me parts of the world then unknown to me, introducing me to poets not heard of before and in the process made me re-examine Heaney’s own work and to fall in love with it. But Seamus Heaney, to me will always be a guide who introduced me to poets like Miroslav Holub, & Vasca Popa. So although the world has lost one of its greatest poets, I personally have lost someone who guided me through some of the lesser known paths where poetry could be found.