Seamus Heaney – Digging and Remembering…

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

- Extract from Digging, by Seamus Heaney, from Death of a Naturalist (Faber and Faber, 1966)

The leaves on our damson trees are turning yellow; many have fallen already. White butterflies, like wind-blown petals trying to re-attach themselves to the desiccated whiteness of our buddleia, gather to its heady scent, richer than ever on the weight of September air. Beneath the warm sunshine, there is a whisper of cold – small gusts around my feet in grass grown lush after summer’s thirst.

And Seamus Heaney now lives on in words. Immediate as the heady scent that beguiles the butterflies, the words he leaves behind reach my senses – and hit my synapses. They surprise with truth. Dig deep, like Seamus’s pen, to turn over and expose to the air peaty layers of being; layers formed by years – and by words and poems fermenting in the soil.

Get an old book down from the shelf…

A gathering of poetry on my bookshelves

Selection of Seamus Heaney poetry collections, published by Faber & Faber

…and I’m soon digging up old strata of self and memory – turning over Seamus’s poems, and the times to which they first belonged in my life. And now, I also find that new layers have silted over the old, mixing to make a richer, though sometimes sadder, loam in which to reveal the bog body of accumulated life.

Back in the 1980s, Neil Corcoran, author of another reopened book from my shelves:

Seamus Heaney by Neil Corcoran, Published by Faber and Faber, 1986

Seamus Heaney by Neil Corcoran, Published by Faber and Faber, 1986

was one of my lecturers at university. I remember sitting in the lecture theatre, elbow to elbow with a hundred or so other eager souls, listening to how he had met Seamus Heaney. I remember it striking me how, as an academic caught in the fascination of research into contemporary literature, you might have within your reach the intriguing possibility of meeting your subject of study; a possibility that could, perhaps, add very immediate open doors to insight – or maybe keep them guarded by the constraints of, as yet, unfolded time. I remember thinking, “He’s met Seamus Heaney. He’s actually met Seamus Heaney!” He has shared thoughts with the poet about the very poem on the page in front me, its lines now surrounded by a crazy halo of pencil-scrawl annotation, my handwriting agitated by language-love and discovery.

And Heaney’s poems are poems to love, to add to the layers of self – to fold into that peaty mix filled with half-buried scents which, when the digging times come, we unearth and release; gazing into the slow burn of accumulated experience and fathoming, illuminating where we are now.

The first poem of Seamus Heaney’s I ever read was Blackberry-Picking, from his collection, Death of a Naturalist. With the blackberries fattening on our hedge, and the season of Keats’s ‘mists and mellow fruitfulness’ upon us, it seems apt to quote Blackberry-Picking here in remembrance of its author. I can recall that first reading, sitting in one of my earliest tutorials at university. Autumn sunlight, lazy in the slant of its highest hour, leant heavy and insistent against Victorian sash windows; squashing us into a shaded corner of the rug-softened room, pigeons tapping at the glass to be fed. Heaney’s words were passed around between us – and something ripened, like those ‘glossy’ blackberries, inside my head. I remember it as a discovery. A blackberry picking of words. A gathering of a new understanding into my life.

Blackberry-Picking

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk-cans, pea-tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.

We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.

By Seamus Heaney, from Death of a Naturalist (Faber and Faber, 1966)

Also powerfully apt for this time of year and of remembering, is Heaney’s poem, Postscript. I heard the wonderful Edna O’Brien reciting this on Radio 4’s recent Front Row tribute to the Nobel laureate – she said it was her favourite Heaney poem. I think it has become one of my most favourites too:

Postscript

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 lightning of a 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 and 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.

By Seamus Heaney, from The Spirit Level (Faber and Faber, 1996)

Seamus Heaney was one of those people whose death filled me with a sense of personal, as well as collective, loss. He was one of those greats whose contributions are like the propelling waves and clarifying sunlight on the literary ocean. On a personal level, those waves and sunlight feel like a connection to a never-ending voyage – compass points to follow, winds to capture in your sails, and glimpses of places where an anchor can reach down into depthless, and yet secure, moments of pause.

In his Nobel Lecture in 1995, Heaney spoke of how:

‘…poetry can make an order….where we can at last grow up to that which we stored up as we grew. An order which satisfies all that is appetitive in the intelligence and prehensile in the affections. I credit poetry, in other words, both for being itself and for being a help, for making possible a fluid and restorative relationship between the mind’s centre and its circumference….I credit it because credit is due to it, in our time and in all time, for its truth to life, in every sense of that phrase.’

And he shone a light on:

‘….poetry’s power to do the thing which always is and always will be to poetry’s credit: the power to persuade that vulnerable part of our consciousness of its rightness in spite of the evidence of wrongness all around it, the power to remind us that we are hunters and gatherers of values, that our very solitudes and distresses are creditable, in so far as they, too, are an earnest of our veritable human being.’

When I heard the news of his death, I was already heavy with the sadness of life’s cruel turns for one of the people I love most dearly – and Seamus’s passing added another sad acceptance to the fold of what is, and what will be. I never met him in person – and yet I have met him many times in his poems. And those poems have touched my life – they have helped, and still are helping, me to ‘grow up to that which [ I ] stored up as [ I ] grew.’

On a personal level, many more layers, I hope, will continue to form in my life – there are certainly many still to dig! To our collective cultural soil, other people, other generations, will add countless layers upon layers. And, within all that mix, Seamus’s poetry will live on, persuading ‘that vulnerable part of our consciousness of its rightness in spite of the evidence of wrongness all around it,’ – releasing crucial scents into times and lives beyond personal memory; into that timeless sense of personal knowing that buffets us softly, leaves us ‘neither here nor there’ and blows the heart open.

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73 thoughts on “Seamus Heaney – Digging and Remembering…

  1. It’s hard for me to write about Heaney without reaching for the familiar adjectives like ‘earthy’. Still, that is what he means to me. I discovered Heaney at school, like so many other people of my age. He seems to be universally read for GCSE, and still today I hope. Though his name inescapably evokes agriculture to me – those memorable phrases –

    My father worked with a horse plough,
    His shoulders globed like a full sail strung
    Between the shafts and the furrow.

    or

    At the headrig, with a single pluck
    Of reins, the sweating team turned round
    And back into the land.

    – I remember it was ‘Mid Term Break’ that moved me most of all, the poem about the death of his younger brother at the age of four. Sad that Heaney’s death should be the thing to motivate me to read his poetry again. The Front Row tribute programme was excellent, I thought.

    • Hi Gareth – thanks so much for these lovely, thoughtful reflections on Seamus Heaney’s poetry. I thought the Front Row programme was really special – there was so much warmth and affection for Heaney in the words and memories of those who knew him. A great testament to the man as well as the poet. There have been some wonderful radio tributes – an old episode of The Essay on Radio 3 was highlighted on the BBC iPlayer – an essay first broadcast back in 2011, The Feast of Language, by poet Thomas Lynch – a warm and beautiful appreciation of Heaney and his work.

      The lines you quote are stunning, aren’t they… Heaney’s words are just perfectly picked, perfectly placed. Not only stunningly visual in their imagery – capturing a precise, solid, exact image of life in all its beautiful familiarity of moment – but also allowing us to hear the movement of the moment in the rhythm of the words. The words rise, fall and turn with the movement of the horse and plough and man – suggesting the creak of the harness, the lean of the shoulder, the cut of hoof and plough into the land. And the sense of land and purpose and dignity – and of the sheer hard toil of necessity – fused into the moment captured.

      I think we tend to take it for granted that our living poets will always be there – that there’s always time to revisit a poem, that there will be a new poem in the pipeline to prompt us to go back to the old familiars. We carry poems – or snatches of poetry, or the feel of a poem around in our heads, so that often we forget the sheer out-of-time, and yet in time, feeling we get by taking those slim volumes down from the shelf, and really revelling in the visual form of the words on the page. As you say, it often takes the death of a poet, for everyone to jolt into a realisation of that closure on the body of work we now have – and to want to hold on to it, and focus on it to keep it even more steady in our gaze somehow… It didn’t surprise me that volumes of Heaney’s poetry began to sell out after the news of his death. I must revisit ‘Mid Term Break’ – so, so moving, as you say…

  2. Hello Melanie, this is a wonderful piece! I happened to see something about Seamus Heaney’s death on television and it was a sad surprise. Unlike those beautiful volumes you have, I only have two collections of his fine poetry. I’m not a great poetry reader, but when I first happened to read some of his poems in a book once I was compelled to buy it. HIs writing so clearly conjures up images of landscape and its elements.

    • Hello Lori, thanks so much for your kind words – so lovely to see you here… The news of Seamus Heaney’s death was a sad surprise for me too – an unexpected jolt…

      From the heartfelt reactions of so many people, it’s been heart-warming to see the place Heaney’s poetry has had in so many lives – and to see displayed how poetry is truly valued in the fabric of our days and culture. A loss like this often reminds and reveals just how crucially valuable the best literary voices are in our world… Heaney’s poetry seems to reach out and appeal to such a wide range of readers, whether poetry is their usual bookish diet, or just an occasional sprinkling amongst other forms of writing. I so agree – that sense of land, landscape and elements – and our relationship to our own tangible sense of ‘being’ in our environment – is so strong, accurate and immediate in Heaney’s poetry…

    • Thank you! So glad you enjoyed this – and the bookshelves! We got several of those bookcases for all round the house (bargain price at Ikea!) – and I loved filling them with higgledy-piggledy, spontaneous combinations that just feel right as I arrange them (my husband is always sceptical that I know where each book lives – but I do!) The shelf pictured is one of the few that has some kind of theme/ order, as it’s where lots of poetry has gathered. Each book seems to know exactly where it wants to live!

  3. What a lovely read – to be reminded of the essential earthiness of life; its depth and richness – the marvelous harvests at our fingertips. Somehow to think of life in that way is to be convinced that it goes on forever, constantly renewed, like the seasons.

  4. Wonderful, heartful, soulful read Melanie… As ever! And a request, could you write your next post about your bookcases… In your reply to lostandfoundbooks’s comment, they came to life and I wanted to read more about them and how every book knows where its home is… x

    • Amanda – thanks so much for your really kind words… I’d love to do a post about my bookcases – in fact, I might do several (maybe some regular feature posts about what’s on different shelves, what volumes are living next to each other, what spontaneous combinations of authors and subjects have gathered where etc.) I really need to get more shelving, as there are so many books around the house that are vagabond wanderers, shifting about the place in various temporary piles, tottering in corners – and still waiting to find their perfect home in the house! x

  5. Thank you very much for that lovely tribute to a wonderful poet. I did not know the poem “Postscript”. It really is tremendously moving. “The earthed lightning of a flock of swans” is magnificent.

    I love also that pasage you quote: “…the power to persuade that vulnerable part of our consciousness of its rightness in spite of the evidence of wrongness all around it … that our very solitudes and distresses are creditable, in so far as they, too, are an earnest of our veritable human being.”

    In an age when human beings are seen as mere machines, as no more than the sum of their constituent physical parts, we need poetry, and the poetry of someone like Heaney, more than ever.

    • My sentiments exactly, Himadri – I think this is right at the heart of the matter. Lately, I’ve been thinking more and more, and in an especially immediate way, how much our arts and culture are lifelines that keep us afloat and travelling on. Both in a personal and collective way, they have such power to keep us in touch with that ‘vulnerable part of our consciousness’ and to remain convinced of its ‘rightness in spite of the evidence of wrongness all around it.’ Wonderful how Heaney perceived, encompassed and expressed this so perfectly, proving how a voice like his is so crucial in our world…

      When I heard Edna O’Brien read Postscript on the Front Row tribute programme, I was so entranced – and I’ve been entranced and moved all over again, every time I’ve read it since. In her words about the poem, Edna O’Brien also highlighted the wonder that is that line ‘the earthed lightning of a flock of swans.’ Magnificent truly is the word to describe it. And the poem is just so evocative of the light and glitter of the water, the sky and the landscape. We see it all conjured before us – a whole wide expanse of place and being – in just a few perfectly placed words and lines. The true alchemy of language in the hands of a poet who, every time I read his words, opens up more and more of those crucial moments of valuing, anchoring and understanding ‘our veritable human being.’

      Thanks so much for your, as ever, very thoughtful comment…

  6. I was previously not familiar with the poetry of Seamus Heaney. Reading this, I want to pick up some of his work. Reminds me a bit of Wendell Berry, whose essays, poetry, and fiction I love.

    • So glad this post has inspired you to search out some of Heaney’s poetry! His work is wonderful – full of riches to discover. I’ve heard so many good things about Wendell Berry, and have loved the glimpses of his work I’ve read online. I’ve been intending for so long to investigate his writing further – I must follow up that intention soon!

      Happy reading! Thanks so much for your comment.

  7. “I never met him in person – and yet I have met him many times in his poems. And those poems have touched my life – they have helped, and still are helping, me to ‘grow up to that which [ I ] stored up as [ I ] grew.’ ” – yes, yes, and me too, and so (I suspect) many others who will read this and agree, and many more out there who might not come across this.

    I feel like I’ve read so little of his work, but what I have read seems so layered up with various parts of my life. Heaney was one of the first poets I really got the opportunity to study in depth at school – like you I began with ‘Blackberry Picking’ – and revisited again and again at different stages of education and otherwise. (see http://opencurtains.wordpress.com/2013/08/30/death-of-a-naturalist/)

    As you say, strange to think that won’t continue, but of course it will in a different way, because although he is no longer writing I am definitely still reading – and digging.

    • Thanks so much for your lovely comment – so glad this struck chords for you. Your ‘Death of a Naturalist’ post is great – just managed a quick dash over there this morning, and loved your exploration through all the years and layers of your own experiences of Heaney’s work. I will return to read it more deeply, when things are a bit more quiet around here! Seamus Heaney wasn’t on the English Lit syllabus when I was at school and F.E. college – or at least not on the ‘O’ and ‘A’ Level courses I was studying (many moons ago!) – but through the years since then, so many people have studied his poetry at school. There must be so much layering and folding in of his work through so many lives and memories – so much digging going on, and still to come!

      Thanks again for reading and commenting!

      Melanie

  8. “I never met him in person – and yet I have met him many times in his poems.” I love this idea, but would also challenge that we meet the poet’s projection, his or her persona in his or her work. Appreciate your deep thought and sense of loss and exploration of Heaney’s work. – Renee

    • Hello Renee – thanks so much for your comment; yes – it’s a lovely idea, isn’t it, that we meet someone in their work. Your challenge is correct, of course (and I would never get away with such a sweeping statement in a piece of literary criticism!) – but, somehow it didn’t seem to fit the writing of this piece to pause and qualify that feeling of kindred knowing we, as readers, often feel for writers and poets. This piece was a bit stream of consciousness – more feeling than cerebral, I guess! Whether we meet someone in person, or through their written work or art, we never really meet or know the true person – but, on so many changing levels, and according to so many variables, we meet instead a projection of a personality. And, in poetry, the persona of the poem will always depend on the poet’s and poem’s intention. But often – and like nowhere else perhaps – it is in literature, poetry, art where glimpses of the truest self are given, at least, some expression… Maybe we can never truly authenticate that – but that kindred feeling so often carries that sense of ‘rightness’ Heaney talked about in his Nobel laureate speech – that essence that always seems to reach our deeper sense of shared human being.

      Thanks again for reading and for your thoughtful comment, which has helped me to clarify my thoughts further today!

      Melanie

      • Melanie, I truly enjoyed your writing and like you I enjoy my blog space as a departure from the confines of academia–a place where I play with instinct, free from academic stricture… and enjoy your expression of such in this explanation! Congrats on your great post, and I’m sorry for the loss of your page-bound kindred spirit. Stay in touch, Renee

        • Renee – thanks so much for this lovely message. I love your blog – and will definitely stay in touch. As soon as things get quieter, and my brain is fully in gear, I’m very much looking forward to settling down properly to read your posts. There’s so much in your writing, and the insights on your blog, that has opened up deep thought and very much drawn me in to explore more. I love your description of blog-space being ‘a place where I play with instinct.’ Yes – that’s exactly how I feel too! I’ve been away from academia for a very long time – so literary discussion has tended to be online for a number of years now. All the old discipline loves to respond to deep critical thinking and debate (I do hanker after the old days sometimes…) – but at the same time, I’m finding more and more as I get older, the rebel in me likes to revel in breaking loose from those confines. Not sure how much of that is laziness, a response to the baggy roominess of possibilities coupled with the restrictions of time – or the “Now I’m older I’m going to wear purple” syndrome!

          Looking forward to more chats in the future!

          Melanie

          • Melanie,

            yes! And love this: “Not sure how much of that is laziness, a response to the baggy roominess of possibilities coupled with the restrictions of time – ” Do! Stay in Touch! More soon,- Renee

  9. Thank you so much! As a blogger who has only recently begun to explore poetry, this couldn’t have been more timely. His reasons for writing poetry could apply to all literature. Love, love, love it. Your writing is sublime and deserves the Freshly Pressed – congratulations, and thanks for sharing Seamus Heaney with us. Lovely.

    • Melanie – thank you so much in return! Your words are so kind – and I’m so glad this post has formed a timely stepping stone on your journey through poetry! I’m totally amazed, over the moon – and slightly overwhelmed – that I’ve been Freshly Pressed! Thanks so much again for your lovely message. It’s a real boost to know that people are enjoying this post.

      Happy poetry exploring!

      Best wishes,
      from another Melanie!

  10. Thank you for your words. I am glad that you were freshly pressed so that I could read them. There are many who die that leave marks behind. I am sure that Seamus will be affecting a lot of us for a long time yet even though he is no longer “with” us.

    • Thank you – I’m really glad that you’ve visited here and read this post today! You’re right – there are so many people whose influence just keeps on resonating for us through our lives, and through the years… It’s so brilliant to see the good effects of their work relived again and again over time, as it is constantly rediscovered by the generations. Thanks again for taking the time to read and comment – it’s much appreciated.

    • Thank you so much! Seeing my words beside a master’s made my own efforts look especially tawdry to me! It’s lovely to hear that you found reading them worthwhile. I wish the writing came as easily as the inspiration! Thanks again for taking the time to read and to comment – it’s much appreciated.

  11. I am just making baby steps into the world of blogging and one of the first things was finding this post. I went to school before Seamus Heaney was on the curriculum. Your post introduced me to him and to you so I am doubly blessed. I love words, and poetry, and life explored. I will surely be back.

    • Thank you so much for your lovely message. Such kind words! How wonderful that some of your first steps into blogging led you here – I feel so honoured to be one of the first ports of call on your blogging journey! And I’m delighted that finding your way here has introduced you to Seamus Heaney’s poetry. His work is so life-enriching; each poem just keeps on opening and opening for further discovery. Welcome to Bookish Nature – and to the blogosphere! I look forward to further conversations and life explorations…

      Melanie

      • Reading your post with its accompanying replies left me so refreshed. Much of what I have read on the net is vulgar in the traditional sense of that word, causing me to feel despair over the future of civilized discourse. So hope and joy are rising once again.

        • So lovely to know that you have found a haven here – and that your visits have restored hope and joy! Happily, I’m certain that you will soon discover many more places on the net where you will feel at home and further refreshed.

  12. This was wonderful to read! It is quite true to experience sheer delight at meeting a person for whom you have dedicated a career or subject. It is strange to think but in this modern day and age Rowling is quite a figure, and to think that kids of tomorrow, with a thirst to learn literature will be reminiscing over a chance meeting with this loved author. It is very enlightening.

    • Thank you so much – I’m so glad you enjoyed this. It’s wonderful to think, isn’t it, of all those special moments being stored up for the future. My daughter and I love J.K. Rowling’s work. We’ve never been lucky enough to attend any of her very special readings of Harry Potter (which must have been so magical for the kids who were there) – but my daughter and I have been able, over the years, to attend lots of children’s literature festival events, where we have listened to an enthralling array of talks and readings by authors such as Shirley Hughes, Julia Donaldson, Francesca Simon, Michael Rosen, Meg Rosoff, Geraldine McCaughrean, Angie Sage and David Almond. My daughter has grown up meeting her writing heroes – and I often think of how such opportunities would have seemed an impossible dream when I was a child. I wonder what special memories she will dig up when she thinks of those times…

  13. Isn’t it funny how powerful poems can be? How they say one thing to us, and years later say something more. Thanks for the well written words. I wish I had cherished his work more while he was alive. I think “Blackberry Picking” was one of the first poems I read of his, and I loved it. But there is so much more richness that I missed, and have been going back to dig up.

    • Hello David – ‘powerful’ is the word, isn’t it – it’s always amazing to think of how much alchemy can be contained in those magical combinations of words – and how much power they can have to transform, in so many ways. There are Heaney poems that are, for me, old familiars (and constant transformers!) – and others which I don’t know so well, and some which I have yet to visit. It’s such a rich seam to dig, isn’t it – both the old layers and those that are new to us. I very much enjoyed my visit to your blog today – and am so looking forward to returning to explore your prose and poetry further when things are less hectic around here!

      Thanks so much for your comment – it’s much appreciated.

      Melanie

    • I’m always so in awe of how many facets are revealed in the apparent simplicity of his words. The choices he makes are just so subtly brilliant – and seem to turn every word into ever-expanding conduits of magic! Unbelievably special…

      Thanks very much for reading, and for taking the time to comment, Elaine. Very much appreciated.

      Melanie

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    • Hello Katherine – thanks so much for your very kind words. So glad you enjoyed the post – and the photos. It was lovely to revisit those old favourite volumes whilst I was photographing them!

      Melanie

  15. Back for my second read of this wonderful, enriching post, Melanie, and I’m so pleased to see you’ve been featured on the Freshly Pressed pages. I hope more and more readers discover your lovely way with words throughit. Like you, I’ve long felt Heaney’s poems (probably more so than those of any other poet) were a part of my life, remembered at odd moments while out in the landscape or glimpsing a certain cast of light. They dwelled inside, to rise up from time to time.

    Thanks for this wonderful evocation of his work, and the relationship that you forged with it.

    Best wishes,

    Julian

    • Julian – thank you so much for your lovely, encouraging words – I’m so pleased you enjoyed this post.

      I was amazed and over the moon to be Freshly Pressed! I’m still working on trying to find my equilibrium again after the experience – the numbers of people visiting/ following/ commenting etc. on the blog just rocketed over night! Really good things have come out of it, in lots of great ways…

      So lovely to hear about your own connection to Heaney’s poetry. I can so imagine those moments where the remembered words and the landscape fused, and took shape in a new or echoing thought or experience. Your own beautiful use of language and descriptions of the natural world contain such a sense of poetry, and of all that awareness of connection, and deepening interpretation. Thanks so much for taking the time to read this post (twice!) – and to comment. It’s very much appreciated – I know you must be so busy preparing for the ever-nearing publication date of your book! Exciting times! I can’t wait to read it.

      All the very best,

      Melanie

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  17. I’ve been meaning to read some of Heany’s poetry, but had never, for one reason or another, given myself the time to do so… And here I am, meeting him thanks to your lovely post. I do too think of poets/writers/singers as close ones, as if creating a more personal bond between us and them was actually possible in the end, almost as friends – so I’m thankful you’ve introduced me to a such a dear friend of yours.

    I’m sure I’ll be reading more by him.

    Thanks again.

    • Thanks so much for your lovely response! I’m so pleased that this post has given you a chance to meet Heaney’s poetry, and to begin a new journey to discover more. When we love an author’s work; when they manage to express something we have felt (perhaps something we haven’t even managed fully to absorb until that moment…) – we feel such a link of recognition, don’t we. Even if we and the writer are very, very different people, we find that link of shared, human experience which resonates so strongly. I love the work of some writers so much (Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen for instance) I feel as if there is a living, immediate connection with them – even though centuries separate our lives…

      Thanks again for reading and for your kind comment. It’s much appreciated.

      Melanie

  18. Reblogged this on The (S)AGE of Youth and commented:
    After getting a better look at Seamus Heaney’s poetry, I now wish I had known him better before he passed. The great thing is that his essence still surrounds us and everything marvelous in him survives in all aspects of life. Thank you, Seamus Heaney.

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  20. Thank you for opening Seamus Heaney’s poetry to me.
    English is my fifth language but I enjoyed your piece and his poetry greatly.

    • Hello Jeffrey – I’m so pleased you enjoyed this post and that it has opened a doorway into Seamus Heaney’s poetry for you! To have so many languages must be such a bonus. Wonderful to be able to read a writer’s work in the original, without translation. An ability that can open so many doorways into the literature of the world.

      Thank you so much for your comment. It’s much appreciated.

      Melanie

  21. Pingback: I AM NOT IRISH | closetoeighty

  22. I am from Ardboe; about 15 miles away from Seamus’ home town of Belaghy; and the Parish rivals of Moortown. (Where his wife Marie was originally from, her Sister Polly Devlin wrote a book my Mum always read and their Brother Barry played Bass for the Horslips)

    Funny, I know sweet damn all about anything when I entered School; I have Asperger’s syndrome and was isolated and a loner; and when I first heard of Heaney it was in English Class; I struggled with Comprehension as a Child due to my Autism; and our Teacher gave our class hell for not knowing him. This was in 1992; 3 Years prior to his Nobel Prize for Literature; and I felt like such an idiot.

    I have written poetry since 2007 and have developed various forms, but I was more into UK Hip-Hop and Indie Music as influences rather than Heaney. I try to avoid being compared to Heaney as that would be the number one question people would ask you.

    btw, I sent a mass card for Seamus and addressed it to Belaghy Bawn.

    • I grew up in Lissan, outside Cookstown. I keep Polly Devlin’s ‘All of us there’ and Seamus Heaney’s ‘Death of a Naturalist’ together on the same shelf in honour of the small but powerful literary dynasty that our small Mid Ulster plot somehow managed to produce. I wish you good luck with your poetry.

      • Thanks for the good wishes. I’m writing this and any poetry here in Australia. I’d need some luck. If you look also at the “Catullus Redux” poem of the August blog you can see how well I get on with the kind of Irish literary establishment Heaney belonged to. The notes don’t give the name of one of the Irish poets who was insulting and rejecting but one could work it out. I’ve had a whole Celtic drama broadcast here on the ABC. What I sent to Ireland after that they wouldn’t consider. I’ve had a leading Shakespeare actor in London trying to get me published in London without success. This whole poetry thing is trends and in groups and a lot of nonsense, I’m sorry to say.

        I came across this really amusing, meaningful and true article re Heaney only yesterday

        http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/seanthomas/100233782/seamus-heaney-the-nelson-mandela-of-irish-poetry-just-wasnt-that-good-sorry/

    • desstorage – Thanks for your comment. It’s interesting to hear about your experiences in Ireland. It’s such a shame that your teacher’s approach to teaching you English made you feel like an idiot. Back in the 1970s and 80s, one of my maths teachers made me feel like that – so I know how demoralising it is. I’m sure writers and poets are appalled whenever they learn that their work has been taught in a way that has made schoolchildren feel like this. I was at the Bath Children’s Literature Festival at the weekend, and I was so inspired by the wonderful writer Sally Gardner. She talked about her dyslexia and how she struggled at school due to the way she was taught (she didn’t learn to read until she was 14). She has won several prestigious awards for her writing, including the Carnegie Medal.

      Good to hear you’re enjoying writing your poetry and developing various forms. I don’t know much about Hip-Hop, but I do really enjoy the work of Akala.

      Sending a mass card for Seamus Heaney was such a nice thing to do. I’m sure it was much appreciated by his family.

  23. Nice piece. You know I was born ten miles up the road from him and never met him. But I was so captured by Death of a Naturalist at aged fifteen, it left such an indelible mark, I somehow felt I never needed to meet him, in fact I shouldn’t. He would be like some many other local people. I believed that knowing him only through his poetry kept him special. Now I’m not so sure.

    • Thanks, Jackie – my apologies that I’ve taken a while to reply (life’s hectic at the moment, and I feel so slow catching up with everything!) You know, I really recognise the feelings you describe – I feel that too a lot – that sense of, in a way, guarding a piece of work we love. Our personal reactions to a text makes it a little bit our own; we each have our own individual relationship to the life that a poem or novel has taken on for itself, independent of any knowledge of its author or their life. My reaction to a text, first and foremost, comes out of what that text says to me, directly, irrespective of the personality/ life of the author who created it. In that time of reading, it’s just me and the poem/ novel. But then, as time passes and I read more from that poet/ author, I suppose a sense of being intrigued by the mind behind the work begins to develop. It’s sad to know that the person who created something so special, which touched so many lives, has left a gap in the world – both in a personal way for those who knew him, and a literary way for his readers. But a beautiful piece of literature does stand out there in the world, on its own two feet – and keeps all that sense of relationship to the work living and growing. Meeting people we admire always feels like a bit of a risk, doesn’t it. From what I’ve read about Heaney from the people who knew him well, I’m taking a good guess that, if you had met him, that specialness would have remained very much intact.

      Thanks again for your comment!
      Melanie

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