View RSS Feed


Tribute to Seamus Heaney

Rate this Entry
I suppose most have heard the great Irish poet Seamus Heany passed away yesterday. Here's a little tribute.

The BBC obit seems to focus on the Catholic/Protestant conflicts that has consumed Ireland. I did not really see that side of his work, since I’m neither Irish nor British ethnicity. My appreciation of Heaney’s poetry really focused on his nature and rural life themes. Here’s a poem that highlights for me what makes his poetry unique and spectacular. In regard to the copywrite laws, I’ll only post the first half of this two part poem.

Mossbawn 1. Sunlight
By Seamus Heaney

For Mary Heaney
I. Sunlight
There was a sunlit absence.
The helmeted pump in the yard
heated its iron,
water honeyed

in the slung bucket
and the sun stood
like a griddle cooling
against the wall

of each long afternoon.
So, her hands scuffled
over the bakeboard,
the reddening stove

sent its plaque of heat
against her where she stood
in a floury apron
by the window.

Now she dusts the board
with a goose's wing,
now sits, broad-lapped,
with whitened nails

and measling shins:
here is a space
again, the scone rising
to the tick of two clocks.

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

Notice the unique but simple diction, a farmer’s diction but stilled charged with freshness. There is nothing in there that smacks of cliché, even though it appears to be describing a common activity. I love the short lines, suggesting a simple person. I love the cacophony of hard sounding consonants: pump, bucket, griddle, bakeboard, plaque, scone, tick, scoop. Short words with hard consonants suggest an elemental simplicity, recalling early English or Gaelic roots. Mary Heaney is his wife, and in her simple rural baking he sees love.

You can read about tributes here and obits from The Independent and The New York Times, each with some more information.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that Heaney had a fine translation of Beowulf in verse, which I enjoyed reading very much.

Finally, here is a nice video memorial to him.

May he rest in peace.


  1. Helga's Avatar
    A wonderful poet, and a nice tribute. He wrote this poem about a place in Iceland


    The three-tongued glacier has begun to melt.
    What will we do, they ask, when boulder-milt
    Comes wallowing across the delta flats

    And the miles-deep shag ice makes its move?
    I saw it, ridged and rock-set, from above,
    Undead grey-gristed earth-pelt, aeon-scruff,

    And feared its coldness that still seemed enough
    To iceblock the plane window dimmed with breath,
    Deepfreeze the seep of adamantine tilth

    And every warm, mouthwatering word of mouth.

    you have one guess what the place is called..
  2. qimissung's Avatar
    Thank you, Virgil. He's another of those poets whose works look simple, but of course, are not. HIs stuff is gritty, deep, and warm. Thank you for digging deep, Seamus Heaney. RIP.
    Updated 09-02-2013 at 01:28 AM by qimissung
  3. Virgil's Avatar
    Wonderful poem Helga! Thanks. And thanks to you as well Qimi for commenting.
  4. prendrelemick's Avatar
    The dotted line my father’s ashplant made,
    On Sandymount Strand,
    Is something else the tide won’t wash away,

    Three lines that have stuck with me over the years. The simple, direct imagery opening up a world of thoughts.
  5. Virgil's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by prendrelemick
    The dotted line my father’s ashplant made,
    On Sandymount Strand,
    Is something else the tide won’t wash away,

    Three lines that have stuck with me over the years. The simple, direct imagery opening up a world of thoughts.
    Not sure I understand what Heaney's lines mean out of context but thanks for mentioning that.
  6. Ron Price's Avatar

    Part 1:

    More than 16 months ago, on hearing of the passing of Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney1, widely regarded as the greatest Irish poet since William Butler Yeats, I put together the following 50,000 characters but this site only allows 10,000 per post, and so I will delete the last 80% of my 24 A-4 pages, of several prose-poems, one of the main genres in which my literary oeuvre is now composed. All of the following examples of this genre of prose-poetry in which I write found their inspiration in the last years of my student-working life, 1949-1999, and the first years of my retirement from FT, PT and most volunteer work: 1999 to 2015.

    Readers are advised to read just to the extent that their interest is maintained. I stop reading all the time when I lose interest, and I advise readers to do the same. I have revised the text of this somewhat lengthy thread of writing several times in the first year-and-a-half2 that it has been in existence.------1Heaney died in Dublin on 30 August 2013, aged 74, following a short illness; and 2from 31/8/’13 to 8/1/'15 in George Town, Tasmania, Australia.
    What follows is not a detailed and thoughtful examination of the canon of Seamus Heaney. Readers wanting such a comprehensive, critical and integrated study can go to other sources like Michael Molino's book: Questioning Tradition, Language and Mth: the Poetry of Seamus Heaney, Catholic University of America Press, 1994.

    Part 2:

    In 1999, just as I was taking a sea-change and an early retirement at the age of 55, and beginning to enjoy my new roles, the reinvention of myself from teacher and tutor, adult educator and lecturer, to poet and publisher, writer and author, editor and researcher, online blogger and journalist, reader and scholar, Heaney translated a much-praised version of the medieval epic Beowulf. Heaney(1939-2013) was the last of the poets from the Silent Generation, the poets, entre deux guerres, poets born from 1919 to 1939.

    Heaney was an Irish poet, playwright, translator and lecturer, and the recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature. In the early 1960s, just at the start of my own writing-life, he became a lecturer in Belfast after attending university there, and he began to publish poetry. He lived in Dublin from 1972 until his death.-Ron Price with thanks to Wikipedia.

    “The strengths and limitations of poets,” wrote the former American poet laureate Robert Pinsky back in 1980, “seem to come from intensity of focus.”1 The insights and ideas that are at the base of their expression grow somehow from the complex, subterranean roots of their concern with composition, its circumstances, its rationale, its connection to mind and spirit and with the most urgent and painful questions of the past, the present and the future. The result as at times, an immensely complex poetic. This was the case with my poetry in the first years of my writing. Like the poet W.B. Yeats, I live off prose2 and, so it is, that my poetry is essentially prose-poetry.

    I remember a close friend saying "I like you Ron, but I have no idea what you are writing about in your poetry." Because of this early experience with complexity and others not understanding what I wrote, I developed, among other things, an interest in the vernacular. I have now been immersed in the vernacular for at least two decades and, unlike the poet Robert Frost who tried to get out of that poetic style, I am happy to keep it at the centre of my manner and mode of writing.-Ron Price with thanks to 1Robert Pinsky, “The Prose of An Irish Poet,” The New York Times on the Web, 21 December 1980, and 2 Tom Paulin, "The Influence of Robert Frost on Irish Poetry", Columbia University Seminar on Irish Studies, 6/12/'02.

    Whatever vitality and seriousness
    readers find here in this poetic
    derives from a particular soil, and
    the unique and moving narrative
    that arose meteorlike, traversed
    a somber sky and burned itself out.

    With Seamus my ambitions have
    always been more private, but my
    gift, whatever it may be, is more
    analytic than lyric, more narrative
    with place a part of personal drama,
    with analysis of the heart & the mind
    & communal drama following behind
    & its commentary on the human-social.1

    I have inherited a two-humped tradition:
    a long one back to the Hebrews & Greeks,
    essentially intellectual, books and ideas;
    and a second of shorter thinner-vein, of
    place, town, country, globe and universe.

    I draw from a multitude of poetic modes:
    one that got me jump-started back in 1980
    thanks to Roger White who put my life
    in poetry for the first time; another thanks
    to Wordsworth, the first poet in retreat
    from society, its disorienting forces that
    had beset my spirit for many a year, to
    solitude’s restoring, refreshing, bastions
    so my psyche could find its sacred place
    and develop the poetic self’s sensitivity.

    I should not forget my mother whose
    poetic influence will always remain
    a mystery but, when she passed away
    two years before my own poetic began
    its journey, she may just have become
    a leaven that leaveneth the world of my
    being and furnisheth a certain power!!!

    Many others, too, gave to me a structure
    and sustaining landscape, not imprisoning
    but liberating and distancing so I could be
    opportunistic, unpredictably susceptible.

    1 J. D. McClatchy, “Minds Beyond Themselves,” The New York Times on the Web, December 24th 1995. ---Ron Price,12/3/'06 to 7/1/'15.
    __________________________________________________ ____
    end of document