One of the best poets of the last century, Seamus Heaney, died yesterday at 74. This is a great loss for the poetry community.
I will never forget sitting in Dr. King’s 20th Century British Poetry class in the fall of 2006 at Kennesaw State University, reading Heaney’s work. It was that class and the poets we read in there that really made me fall in love with poetry. (That class is responsible for my T.S. Eliot obsession.)
Here’s a section from one of my absolute favorite Seamus Heaney poems, “Part XII” of the “Station Island” sequence.
Then I knew him in the flesh
out there on the tarmac among the cars,
wintered hard and sharp as a blackthorn bush.
His voice eddying with the vowels of all rivers
came back to me, though he did not speak yet,
a voice like a prosecutor’s or a singer’s,
cunning, narcotic, mimic, definite
as a steel nib’s downstroke, quick and clean,
and suddenly he hit a litter basket
with his stick, saying, ‘your obligation
is not discharged by any common rite.
What you do you must do on your own.
The main thing is to write
for the joy of it. Cultivate a work-lust
that imagines its haven like your hands at night
dreaming the sun in the sunspot of a breast.
You are fasted now, light-headed, dangerous.
Take off from here. And don’t be so earnest,
so ready for the sackcloth and the ashes.
Let go, let fly, forget.
You’ve listened long enough. Now strike your note.’
It was as if I had stepped free into space
alone with nothing that I had not known
already. Raindrops blew in my face (Opened Ground, 244-245)
- Seamus Heaney’s death is a huge loss to the world of poetry (southbankcentre.co.uk)
- You Are Neither Here Nor There: Seamus Heaney (anniecardi.com)
- Seamus Heaney: 1939-2013 (whattheworlddoesnotneed.wordpress.com)
- In Memoriam Seamus Heaney (text-patterns.thenewatlantis.com)