Seamus Heaney, 13.04.39-30.08.13
August 30, 2013 5:29 AM   Subscribe

The poet Seamus Heaney has died aged 74. "There's a summons in those first words; they're like a tuning fork": a long interview from 1997. Metafilter's 70th birthday celebration. Some poems.

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

I came to Metafilter to read more Heaney and found that no-one had posted this yet. Please post some more.
posted by unless I'm very much mistaken (102 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite

What an enormous loss. He will be sorely missed.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:31 AM on August 30, 2013

posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:31 AM on August 30, 2013

Ugh. This ruins my Friday. I'd share a verse by him, but he was too prolific to sum up with one line.
posted by Think_Long at 5:31 AM on August 30, 2013

posted by Faint of Butt at 5:31 AM on August 30, 2013


Very sad news. I love his BEOWULF.
posted by lucien_reeve at 5:31 AM on August 30, 2013 [10 favorites]


Seek out some Paul Muldoon for solace.
posted by Brodiggitty at 5:32 AM on August 30, 2013

Goodbye and thank you.


Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

Make sure the planks won’t slip at busy points.
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.

Yet all this comes down when the job’s done,
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

So if, my dear, there sometimes seems to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me,

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall,
Confident that we have built our wall.

He reads it gloriously here.
posted by rahulrg at 5:37 AM on August 30, 2013 [33 favorites]

I was lucky enough to meet Heaney once. He was reading from his reworking of Beowulf in Copenhagen, a city where he had many friends. I do not remember much except he was warm and witty.

I heard stories about Heaney from one of my university professors who was a close friend of his. Stories about how Seamus Heaney and my university professor had once been young men gad-flying about London on the poetry circuit of the late 1950s and how a chance encounter led to them going a pub crawl with one TS Eliot. Just imagine that scenario..

.. I am so sad to hear of Heaney's death. He was one of the titans of his craft. Today I am also thinking of his family and friends.
posted by kariebookish at 5:39 AM on August 30, 2013 [6 favorites]

posted by boofidies at 5:39 AM on August 30, 2013

My very favorite. And not one who shied away from the subject of death.

I had breakfast with him once. He was quite gracious to me as a 19 year old wannabe poet.
posted by spitbull at 5:41 AM on August 30, 2013

I'm glad I got to see him read, once. I love his poems.

posted by ocherdraco at 5:41 AM on August 30, 2013

Seamus Heaney lived down the hall from me in college. This interview with the Paris review was conducted after I graduated but it looks like he was still living in the rooms at Adams house since they ask him about his impression of American students and of Harvard: "..the self-esteem of American students tends to be higher. They come to college with positive beliefs in their abilities, whatever they are."

This was years before the Nobel so to us he was just the crazy Irish poet down the hall. He kept odd hours. A slamming door in the middle of the night was most likely to be his. We had a nickname for him and treated him as a bit of a mascot. I have some good stories to tell but it feels improper to repeat them. Shamefully, they only highlight what nasty, self-obsessed kids we all were.
posted by vacapinta at 5:43 AM on August 30, 2013 [11 favorites]

My (now) fiancée and I heard him read at the 92nd Street Y in October 2011. It was great. I was lucky as it was the 2nd time I'd heard him read; he also read at my high school back in the 90's. A helluva way to make "the poet" a real person to us.
posted by Jahaza at 5:46 AM on August 30, 2013

He was one of the rare truly great AND culturally significant poets.
I look forward to his return in 2000 years as a legendary bog man.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:47 AM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

. / .
posted by jquinby at 5:49 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by Kitteh at 5:50 AM on August 30, 2013

posted by mfoight at 5:53 AM on August 30, 2013

vacapinta, Adams House 1983?

Small world.
posted by spitbull at 5:55 AM on August 30, 2013

posted by Cash4Lead at 5:57 AM on August 30, 2013

vacapinta, Adams House 1983?

The Adams House wikipedia page lists him as a notable resident.
posted by vacapinta at 5:58 AM on August 30, 2013

posted by paperpete at 5:59 AM on August 30, 2013

posted by fistynuts at 6:04 AM on August 30, 2013

I thought of walking round and round a space
Utterly empty, utterly a source
Where the decked chestnut tree had lost its place
In our front hedge above the wallflowers.
The white chips jumped and jumped and skited high.
I heard the hatchet's differentiated
Accurate cut, the crack, the sigh
And collapse of what luxuriated
Through the shocked tips and wreckage of it all.
Deep-planted and long gone, my coeval
Chestnut from a jam jar in a hole,
Its heft and hush became a bright nowhere,
A soul ramifying and forever
Silent, beyond silence listened for.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
posted by nfg at 6:04 AM on August 30, 2013 [6 favorites]

He was a big part of rekindling my love of English-language poetry after some years spent with the Greeks and Romans.

posted by gauche at 6:09 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


A latch lifting, an edged cave of light
Opens across the yard. Out of the low door
They stoop in to the honeyed corridor,
Then walk straight through the wall of the dark.

A puddle, cobble-stones, jambs and doorstep
Are set steady in a block of brightness
Till she strides in again beyond her shadows
And cancels everything behind her.

...Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
posted by unbearablylight at 6:11 AM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

posted by activitystory at 6:12 AM on August 30, 2013

Something that flashed to my mind through the sadness at seeing this post: how amazing it must be, now, with poetry so far removed from the daily life of most of the world, and how much hard work and revision and scrapping it, starting fresh it must take for a person's obituary to read "poet."

posted by Ghidorah at 6:14 AM on August 30, 2013 [10 favorites]

This set from 'From Lightenings' has always been a favourite.

The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise
Were all at prayers inside the oratory
A ship appeared above them in the air.

The anchor dragged along behind so deep
It hooked itself into the altar rails
And then, as the big hull rocked to a standstill,

A crewman shinned and grappled down the rope
And struggled to release it. But in vain.
'This man can't bear our life here and will drown, '

The abbot said, 'unless we help him.' So
They did, the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed back
Out of the marvellous as he had known it.
posted by halcyonday at 6:15 AM on August 30, 2013 [9 favorites]

posted by kewb at 6:15 AM on August 30, 2013


Must you know it again?
Dull pounding through the hay,
The uneasy whinny.

A sponge lip drawn off each separate tooth.
Opalescent haunch,
Muscle and hoof

Bundled under the roof.

posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 6:16 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

posted by From Bklyn at 6:22 AM on August 30, 2013

posted by that's candlepin at 6:22 AM on August 30, 2013

posted by Iridic at 6:22 AM on August 30, 2013

We were drinking as usual after work at the Plough down the street a few decades ago the one time I can tell you I saw Famous Seamus. There he was of a sudden, or had been all along, all alone in a corner, a pipe and a book, under the Irish for women and men.
posted by pracowity at 6:25 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

I just came back from Denmark and every time I heard the name of "Aarhus" mentioned I immediately snapped to the beginning of Tollund Man:

Someday I will go to Aarhus...
posted by escabeche at 6:26 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by NordyneDefenceDynamics at 6:28 AM on August 30, 2013

Thanks, everyone. (More than six years as a member and that was my first post; I'm relieved to know I'm in good company.) I always liked

And here is love
like a tinsmith's scoop
sunk past its gleam
in the meal-bin.

From Mossbawn
posted by unless I'm very much mistaken at 6:33 AM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

It feels weird to favorite a post about someone dying, but I know there are going to be a lot of great quotes in here by the end of the day, and I'm going to want to have them all handy to binge on.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:36 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

I love "The Railway Children":
"When we climbed the slopes of the cutting

We were eye-level with the white cups

Of the telegraph poles and the sizzling wires.

Like lovely freehand they curved for miles

East and miles west beyond us, sagging

Under their burden of swallows.

We were small and thought we knew nothing

Worth knowing. We thought words traveled the wires

In the shiny pouches of raindrops,

Each one seeded full with the light

Of the sky, the gleam of the lines, and ourselves

So infinitesimally scaled

We could stream through the eye of a needle."
A brilliant, subtle man. What a terrible loss for all of us. :(

posted by zarq at 6:39 AM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

posted by dlugoczaj at 6:46 AM on August 30, 2013


There's too many quotes that are appropriate here. I've heard 20th century Irish poetry broken into two parts: post-Yeats and post-Heaney. A gross oversimplification, certainly, but his impact and brilliance can't be denied.
posted by ocular shenanigans at 6:50 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

posted by rosary at 6:54 AM on August 30, 2013

...please everyone do keep releasing the wonderful quotes!

posted by Jody Tresidder at 6:59 AM on August 30, 2013

The Tollund Man. I was introduced to Heaney in my senior seminar for English Lit. I have been so thankful ever since.

All of the bog poems. All of Opened Ground.

Mid-Term Break
I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o'clock our neighbours 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.

posted by custardfairy at 7:00 AM on August 30, 2013 [17 favorites]


What a giant he was.
The Telegraph does a decent obituary.
As this is death and rememberance, here is what he wrote on the death of his mother:
posted by adamvasco at 7:07 AM on August 30, 2013

posted by Cookiebastard at 7:12 AM on August 30, 2013

Shit, custardfairy, that made me cry.
posted by kenko at 7:16 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


posted by Smart Dalek at 7:18 AM on August 30, 2013

posted by thelonius at 7:25 AM on August 30, 2013

posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:30 AM on August 30, 2013

Human beings suffer,
They torture one another,
They get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured.

The innocent in gaols
Beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker's father
Stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
Faints at the funeral home.

History says, don't hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracle
And cures and healing wells.

Call miracle self-healing:
The utter, self-revealing
Double-take of feeling.
If there's fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
Of new life at its term.

posted by kmz at 7:30 AM on August 30, 2013 [14 favorites]

A shared experience I relived this morning as I thought of my mother's recent passing, and the time we shared in the kitchen...

From Clearances:

In Memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984

When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other's work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives--
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.
posted by TomSophieIvy at 7:32 AM on August 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


So good, but also so accessible. I suppose if you have particular poetry tastes, you might not like Seamus Heaney. But if you think you don't like poetry at all but then you also don't like Seamus Heaney either, I don't know what to tell you. Except maybe I'm sorry.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:38 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I didn't know much of his work, but I quite enjoyed his translation of Beowulf.

posted by Chrysostom at 7:41 AM on August 30, 2013

posted by ugf at 7:41 AM on August 30, 2013 has a good tribute.

(Readers after 30.08.13: I'm sorry, this was a series of tweets and I don't have time to storify them to make sure they're available in future.)
posted by unless I'm very much mistaken at 7:48 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by Woodroar at 7:52 AM on August 30, 2013

posted by fingers_of_fire at 7:53 AM on August 30, 2013

posted by brujita at 7:57 AM on August 30, 2013

posted by El Brendano at 8:00 AM on August 30, 2013

Very simple, for the season that's in it:

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.

posted by distorte at 8:01 AM on August 30, 2013 [12 favorites]

I've been dreading three: Heaney, Pratchett, and Le Guin. I didn't think he'd be first, not at 74. Time to pull his whole section down off the shelf. Whenever I read Heaney he's stuck in my head for weeks, rhythm with no words under it, like a current.

I saw him read at the 92nd Street Y in 2006 when a guy in my writing workshop bought a ticket and then couldn't go. (Thanks, Peter, for making me take it.) It was the sort of thing I told myself I didn't care enough to bother doing, but when the ticket fell into my lap that way I seized up with joy.

A Dog Was Crying Tonight in Wicklow Also
In memory of Donatus Nwoga

When human beings found out about death
They sent the dog to Chukwu with a message:
They wanted to be let back to the house of life.
They didn’t want to end up lost forever
Like burnt wood disappearing into smoke
Or ashes that get blown away to nothing.
Instead they saw their souls in a flock at twilight
Cawing and headed back to the same old roosts
And the same bright airs and wing-stretchings each morning.
Death would be like a night spent in the wood:
At first light they’d be back in the house of life.
(The dog was meant to tell all this to Chukwu.)

But death and human beings took second place
When he trotted off the path and started barking
At another dog in broad daylight just barking
Back at him from the far bank of a river.

And that is how the toad reached Chukwu first,
The toad who’d overheard in the beginning
What the dog was meant to tell. ‘Human beings,’ he said
(And here the toad was trusted absolutely),
‘Human beings want death to last forever.’

Then Chukwu saw the people’s souls in birds
Coming towards him like black spots off the sunset
To a place where there would be neither roosts nor trees
Nor any way back to the house of life.
And his mind reddened and darkened all at once
And nothing that the dog would tell him later
Could change that vision. Great chiefs and great loves
In obliterated light, the toad in mud,
The dog crying out all night behind the corpse house.
posted by little cow make small moo at 8:06 AM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

I still have the very first one, too, a clipping I cut out of the New Yorker fifteen years ago or during my high school cutting-things-out-of-the-New-Yorker phase: The Perch.
posted by little cow make small moo at 8:09 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Human beings suffer,

Lovely. That poem reads like the perfect counterpoint to Larkin's This Be The Verse
posted by forgetful snow at 8:21 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

posted by immlass at 8:25 AM on August 30, 2013

posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:28 AM on August 30, 2013

posted by arcticseal at 8:53 AM on August 30, 2013

that blackberry poem, he might be the perfect poet of colour...i mean there is so much else that he is there, but i don't know anyone with such observable skill of how colours are, how they shift and change, what light means in them...
posted by PinkMoose at 9:01 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


There are never enough wonderful poets in the world. Fare well, Mr. Heaney.
posted by bearwife at 9:03 AM on August 30, 2013

posted by Diagonalize at 9:09 AM on August 30, 2013

posted by Lynsey at 9:11 AM on August 30, 2013

So I was in an Irish lit class, taught by an Irishman, full of American-Irish students, in NY. We were taking turns reading poems. We had to read the title, author, and poem. The turn comes for one guy to read, whose name is Sean. He has to read a poem by Seamus Heaney.

"Poem X, by see-mus hee-ney."

The teacher said "Wait, wait, wait. What is your name?"

"Sean," he said, pronouncing it "shawn."

"Ok, if your name is Sean pronounced 'shawn,' how would you say Seamus?"


The professor answered with a huge, heaving sigh, somehow issued with a brogue. "Just read the poem."

That being said, huge loss: .
posted by nevercalm at 9:19 AM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

posted by KingoftheWhales at 9:20 AM on August 30, 2013

The most Anglo-Saxon of all poets. Blunt and subtle and rich and tough.
posted by kozad at 9:28 AM on August 30, 2013

Typo in the title. It should read 13.04.39-30.08.13

One of my earliest memories is my father reading one of his translations to me. It must have been Sweeney Astray. All I can remember is a passage about a swan and being puzzled about watercress. I should really revisit it.
posted by frogmanjack at 9:31 AM on August 30, 2013

My favourite, always, as a California kid transplanted to the Irish secondary school system, was The Skunk. I read it and thought - 'Oh! he's been where I've been.' It was my first 'in' to his poetry. Now as an adult, on re-reading, it's so quietly loving and sexy:

Up, black, striped and damasked like the chasuble
At a funeral Mass, the skunk's tail
Paraded the skunk. Night after night
I expected her like a visitor.

The refrigerator whinnied into silence.
My desk light softened beyond the verandah.
Small oranges loomed in the orange tree.
I began to be tense as a voyeur.

After eleven years I was composing
Love-letters again, broaching the word 'wife'
Like a stored cask, as if its slender vowel
Had mutated into the night earth and air

Of California. The beautiful, useless
Tang of eucalyptus spelt your absence.
The aftermath of a mouthful of wine
Was like inhaling you off a cold pillow.

And there she was, the intent and glamorous,
Ordinary, mysterious skunk,
Mythologized, demythologized,
Snuffing the boards five feet beyond me.

It all came back to me last night, stirred
By the sootfall of your things at bedtime,
Your head-down, tail-up hunt in a bottom drawer
For the black plunge-line nightdress.

My mother is in mourning; he was one of her college professors and had a profound influence on her.
posted by DSime at 9:37 AM on August 30, 2013 [8 favorites]

History says, don't hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

A dear friend died of breast cancer the day after Obama's first election, and her husband asked me to read this at her service a few days later, which I did. It was a moment of grief, but it always reminds me how damn happy she was to have lived through election night, how firmly she believed that this was the start of a great sea change in America, the start of a(nother) golden era.

My son is obsessed with Beowulf. We read a couple children's versions to him, then a Victorian translation, but now (at 7) he begs to listen to Heaney reading his translation while we're in the car. I know that to my son this irishman represents the soothing voice of a thousand years of storytellers sharing this same tale, and I suspect he will hear Heaney's voice in his mind as the teller of the tale until he dies.

You can spend a couple of hours listening to him read his Beowulf on YouTube.
posted by anastasiav at 9:40 AM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

God, I'll never forget how that one stanza from "Digging" showed me so forcefully what poetry can do:
Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.
That second line, the cinematic grandeur of it, just floored me when I first read it. It's still one of my favorite moments in poetry. RIP Mr. Heaney.
posted by invitapriore at 9:42 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by scody at 9:43 AM on August 30, 2013

posted by homunculus at 9:44 AM on August 30, 2013

I remember reading Blackberry Picking in high school English and getting our asses handed to us when we couldn't grok the symbolism. Heaney has always been lodged in my mind since. So sad to see him go but what a legacy.
posted by Doleful Creature at 9:55 AM on August 30, 2013

posted by juv3nal at 10:21 AM on August 30, 2013

I saw him lecture in Oxford in the early 90s, at the end of his stint as Professor of Poetry, and at events there a few times afterwards. He was a master craftsman and a life-long teacher of the craft, and it's perhaps that which will be his longest and broadest legacy. (As vacapinta hints, he was at home on academic territory, but he wasn't an academic.)

There have been few modern poets with the same capability to show the heft of words, the planed edges of consonants, the rendering of stuff in language, and to explain what's going on behind the scenes. No mysticism there: the process is the work of hand and ear and brain.

The centre established in his name at QUB has been the catalyst for some incredible work; a friend who's one of those brilliant young poets from Northern Ireland described him as the "leading light of our generation", and I can't add to that.
posted by holgate at 10:44 AM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

posted by but no cigar at 11:15 AM on August 30, 2013

wood s lot's tribute with a link to the Irish Times obituary.

from North

...‘Lie down
in the word-hoard, burrow
the coil and gleam
of your furrowed brain.

Compose in darkness.
Expect aurora borealis
in the long foray
but no cascade of light.

Keep your eye clear
as the bleb of the icicle,
trust the feel of what nubbed treasure
your hands have known.’
posted by islander at 11:33 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

In the 12th grade I wrote my IB extended essay on Heaney's metaphors. It was an intense and beautiful experience, and over a decade later I still feel his effects on my views and love of poetry.

The end of art is peace...

The Harvest Bow

As you plaited the harvest bow
You implicated the mellowed silence in you
In wheat that does not rust
But brightens as it tightens twist by twist
Into a knowable corona,
A throwaway love-knot of straw.

Hands that aged round ashplants and cane sticks
And lapped the spurs on a lifetime of game cocks
Harked to their gift and worked with fine intent
Until your fingers moved somnambulant:
I tell and finger it like braille,
Gleaning the unsaid off the palpable,

And if I spy into its golden loops
I see us walk between the railway slopes
Into an evening of long grass and midges,
Blue smoke straight up, old beds and ploughs in hedges,
An auction notice on an outhouse wall—
You with a harvest bow in your lapel,

Me with the fishing rod, already homesick
For the big lift of these evenings, as your stick
Whacking the tips off weeds and bushes
Beats out of time, and beats, but flushes
Nothing: that original townland
Still tongue-tied in the straw tied by your hand.

The end of art is peace
Could be the motto of this frail device
That I have pinned up on our deal dresser—
Like a drawn snare
Slipped lately by the spirit of the corn
Yet burnished by its passage, and still warm.
posted by ipsative at 11:38 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by Vibrissae at 1:27 PM on August 30, 2013

Now Lycidas the Shepherds weep no more;
Hence forth thou art the Genius of the shore,
In thy large recompense, and shalt be good
To all that wander in that perilous flood.
Thus sang the uncouth Swain to th'Okes and rills,
While the still morn went out with Sandals gray,
He touch'd the tender stops of various Quills,
With eager thought warbling his Dorick lay:
And now the Sun had stretch'd out all the hills,
And now was dropt into the Western bay;
At last he rose, and twitch'd his Mantle blew:
To morrow to fresh Woods, and Pastures new.
posted by ersatz at 2:54 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


On hearing the news, a friend of mine shared this story of an encounter with Heaney:
Vale Seamus Heaney.

When I worked at the Lincoln Inn in Dublin 2000/01, they told me he drank in there. I said bullshit.

Then, one quiet Saturday afternoon, he came in. Sat in the window drinking small whiskeys and halves of Guinness.

We had these lovely heavy-bottomed Baileys glasses that I was putting his whiskey in.

He came to the bar holding his empty one.

"Do you think if I ordered another whiskey, you’d notice if I pinched one of these very nice glasses?"

I told him I would never know, the place was so busy. (He was the only one in there.)

"I’ll have a small whiskey please."

Half an hour later, off he went with a wave and a smile and a bulge in his jacket.

And he left me a pound.

What a great man.

I told my fellow barman. His response: “Million dollars for the Nobel prize and he’s robbing our glasses? Bastard.”
posted by robcorr at 4:08 PM on August 30, 2013 [20 favorites]

And this is my favourite of his poems, "The Underground":
There we were in the vaulted tunnel running,
You in your going-away coat speeding ahead
And me, me then like a fleet god gaining
Upon you before you turned to a reed

Or some new white flower japped with crimson
As the coat flapped wild and button after button
Sprang off and fell in a trail
Between the Underground and the Albert Hall.

Honeymooning, mooning around, late for the Proms,
Our echoes die in that corridor and now
I come as Hansel came on the moonlit stones
Retracing the path back, lifting the buttons

To end up in a draughty lamplit station
After the trains have gone, the wet track
Bared and tensed as I am, all attention
For your step following and damned if I look back.
posted by robcorr at 4:10 PM on August 30, 2013 [7 favorites]

The interviews/letter exchanges in "Stepping Stones" offer some humble insights into the life experiences grounding parts of his work. Spent a quiet Christmas in Ireland greatly enjoying reading his own words and reflections on various times in his life.
posted by recklessbrother at 7:19 PM on August 30, 2013

posted by TwoStride at 8:01 PM on August 30, 2013

I met him in San Francisco. This was a strange exrience, but because could read his work, and he was a brilliant writer. Trua Gear! He was young.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:20 PM on August 30, 2013

He could read his own work so well. His poem about his car getting searched is my favorite. I was in Dublin for a little bit of 2000-2001.

I definitely respected him as a writer.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 3:56 AM on August 31, 2013

posted by axon at 7:20 AM on August 31, 2013

The various metaphors Heaney used in his poems to suggest excavation, archaeology, reaching into darkness, dirt and detritus to describe his craft are my favourite thing about his poetry. In 'Personal Helicon' a little boy leaning over wells, watching their various mysteries, becomes the adult who looks deeply into the human condition : "I rhyme/
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing."

As a child, they could not keep me from wells
And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.
I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.

One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.
I savoured the rich crash when a bucket
Plummeted down at the end of a rope.
So deep you saw no reflection in it.

A shallow one under a dry stone ditch
Fructified like any aquarium.
When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch
A white face hovered over the bottom.

Others had echoes, gave back your own call
With a clean new music in it. And one
Was scaresome, for there, out of ferns and tall
Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.

Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,
To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.

Slan abhaile Seamus. This is a sad day indeed in the world of letters.
posted by honey-barbara at 7:57 AM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

It said, ‘Lie down
in the word-hoard, burrow
the coil and gleam
of your furrowed brain.

Compose in darkness.
Expect aurora borealis
in the long foray
but no cascade of light.

Keep your eye clear
as the bleb of the icicle,
trust the feel of what nubbed treasure
your hands have known.’
-From North

Alas I never met the man but my ole prof wrote a book about him and his work.

posted by clavdivs at 7:36 AM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's one that seems fitting:


Green froth that lathered each end
Of the shining bitIs a cobweb of grass-dust.
The sweaty twist of the bellyband
Has stiffened, cold in the hand,
And pads of the blinkers
Bulge through the ticking.
Reins, chains and traces
Droop in a tangle.
His hot reek is lost.
The place is old in his must.
He cleared in a hurry
Clad only in shods
Leaving this stable unmade.

posted by spitbull at 4:08 PM on September 1, 2013

I somehow missed this news until today. I remember that he'd had a heart attack years ago and finding out about that made my breath catch a little, but I was put at ease by a card he sent my father (who teaches and writes about Irish poetry and literature, and who, incidentally, is only a few years younger) saying that he while he was still recuperating, he was now "blowing the froth off his medicine." I'll probably go searching for another of his turns of phrase to remember him, and to reassure myself again in his absence.

posted by en forme de poire at 4:25 PM on September 24, 2013

(Reading the NYT obit, it was of course a stroke, not a heart attack, and it was in 2006. Memory is fragile.)
posted by en forme de poire at 4:35 PM on September 24, 2013

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