Saturday, August 31, 2013

Seamus Heaney

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 SHuniversity 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


New York Times



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.


Séamus Duggan said...

Heaney seemed to make the vocation of poet seem important to the man on the street as well as the literati. He always used his own popularity to push poetry rather than just his own poetry. Nice to see this side of him celebrated.

Meredith said...

That poem echoes my father's boyhood on the farm. Although he was not carried on his father's back, but rather expected to be the man himself, and his father followed no one around...still, the piercing quality of hard work, polished sod, fathers and sons who seem to be on parallel but not connecting paths is similar.

I can see why you would have carried this poet with you. It's quite powerful stuff, what I have read from this post.

Violet said...

I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall when Heaney and Hughes discussed poetry. I think Heaney would have been happy to know that he was instrumental in setting you on the path to discover other poets. May he be at peace.

Chad Hull said...

I'm a late comer to the poetry party and only discovered Hughes and Crow earlier this month. Based on that alone and your mention of Heaney and Hughes working together on a project, you can consider me interested.

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Seamus, love your piece on this man, as I say although he was a wonderful writer, to me he was always a guide, almost like some source to knowledge of pomes & their ilk.

Hi Bellezza, I bet if you could go back far enough there would be your father astride his father's shoulders riding him across that farmland like some great old horse, (as I have with mine), as moments of joy shining through that hard slog of daily toil,

Hi Violet, would have been wonderful, listening to the names & lines being bandied about, almost as much to find out who got left out & why.

Hi Chad, To me Crow, is like some great totem in my poetic life, I wrote about it on this blog (check pomesallsizes page if interest) so when I came across The Rattle bag, I had to have to see what Hughes liked & kind of re-found Heaney. The blurb on The Rattle Bag states it's not just poetry but charms, hunters prayers, oral poetry, incantations & what is considered literate verse, adding to its appeal immensely

Rachel Fenton said...

I think Hughes nature poems in particular nod to Heaney's - both men seemed, from their writings, to have been connected to the earth beneath their feet, anchored to it.

Brian Joseph said...

I had heard about and was saddened by his death.

I had previous read him a bit and found him very impressive. I have been meaning to get to his translation of Beowulf soon too.

Thanks for this post.

ds said...

The Rattle Bag is one of my favorite anthologies, too! Heaney is a great loss, for his own words, his translations, his profound belief in poetry and humanity.
Thank you for this.

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Rachel, I think they both shared that steeped in the soil feeling to a lot of their verse.

Hi Brian, have been meaning to read that myself, it's on my list :-)
thanks for your comment.

Hi ds, Rattle Bag, was my go to book for a long time & still amongst my favourites, I think as an anthology it was only topped by the combined weight of the 3 bloodaxe publishers anthology collection of Being Alive, Staying Alive & Being Human.

Meredith said...

Saw this on my friend Frances' blog ( about poetry and thought you would be as charmed by the article as I was:,0,6438656.htmlstory

Col (Col Reads) said...

There was a lovely piece on Heaney on the BBC World Service. My entire family is from Ireland, so I wish I was familiar with his work. But I am going to seek some of it out now. Thanks for your thoughtful remembrance.

Col (Col Reads) said...

Here is the link to the piece I mentioned, in case you didn't hear it:

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Col, thanks for the comment & the link,