Friday, August 30, 2013


Seamus Heaney,  13 April 1939 - 30 August 2013

Saddened and surprised to hear of Seamus Heaney's death today.  I still have the much-annotated A-level Selected poems 1965-1975*, and have continued to read and collect his poems and essays over the nearly 30 years since.  Stepping stones is still sitting on the "unread" pile on the piano.

I have too many favourites; but I love the last lines of this, as someone who spends too little time living in the moment.


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 

From The spirit level, 1996.

*One of the first things I knew about Heaney was that he was prepared to engage with his readers; my English teacher had been to several talks he'd given, and when we had a somewhat lively dispute in one lesson on what was meant in a particular poem, Mr Doyle wrote to Heaney asking which version was right, thinking that he might answer.  A month or two later, there was a reply; neither version was what Heaney had been thinking while writing the poem, but both were really interesting interpretations; and he added that we sounded like a fun group to teach.  Lessons learned: a) authors are actual people who sometimes write back; and b) this writing and reading thing is a two-way street. Now, in the age of interactivity, both are somewhat taken for granted; then, it felt like a total revelation.

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