Seamus Heaney, 1939-2013

Irish poet Seamus Heaney died 30 August 2013, at age 74. His funeral was 2 September 2013, in Dublin, followed by burial in his native County Derry in Northern Ireland. Heaney won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995.

Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney

My wife and I have this memory of Heaney from our May/June 2012 trip to Ireland: We had spent the afternoon visiting with family in Dublin, enjoying lunch at the Gresham Hotel on O’Connell Street. In the evening we took the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl with our friends Nancy and Michael, both retired school teachers. The late May evening was dry and warm. We had a grand time.

As we were driving back to Navan, about 30 miles (45 km) northwest of the capitol, Michael tuned in a rebroadcast of Marian Finucane’s RTE’s interview with Heaney on the occasion of the poet’s 70th birthday. The four of us settled into the silence of rapt attentiveness for the duration of the drive.

Use this link to hear Heaney reading 11 of his poems.  And to make it an even dozen, here is his poem “Digging,” from his 1966  book Death of a Naturalist.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

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.