RIP: Seamus Heaney
(13 April 1939 − 30 August 2013)
Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney, born Castledàwson, County Londonderry, was that rare writer, even rarer poet, who produced work with political content that was actually readable. It lacked the shrill, pedantic, humorless tone that so often gives such work a justifiably bad name. He was, simply, gifted in a way that made the reader nod in agreement when running across a marvelous passage that evoked truth in graceful, pleasingly patterned, numinous language (his later work) or wrested great emotion in lines of earth and torment (his earlier.) And, he had a well-developed sense of humour. A few years ago he received a pacemaker for his ailing heart. He loved saying, “blessed are the pacemakers,” and you might have had to think for a second trying to figure out whether that Irish voice had said pace or peace.
“Terraced thousands died, shaking scythes at cannon.
The hillside blushed, soaked in our broken wave.
They buried us without shroud or coffin
And in August… the barley grew up out of our grave.”
— “Requiem for the Croppies”, 1966, on the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. Printed in Door into The Dark, 1969.
“Be advised my passport’s green.
No glass of ours was ever raised
to toast the Queen.”
— Untitled, written in 1982 as an objection to being included in an anthology of British poetry.
From The Frontier Of Writing
The tightness and the nilness round
that space when the car stops in the road, the troops inspect
its make and number and, as one bends his face
towards your window, you catch sight of more
on a hill beyond, eyeing with intent
down cradled guns that hold you under cover
and everything is pure interrogation
until a rifle motions and you move
with guarded unconcerned acceleration—
a little emptier, a little spent
as always by that quiver in the self,
subjugated, yes, and obedient.
So you drive on to the frontier of writing
where it happens again. The guns on tripods;
the sergeant with his on-off mike repeating
data about you, waiting for the squawk
of clearance; the marksman training down
out of the sun upon you like a hawk.
And suddenly you’re through, arraigned yet freed,
as if you’d passed from behind a waterfall
on the black current of a tarmac road
past armor-plated vehicles, out between
the posted soldiers flowing and receding
like tree shadows into the polished windscreen.