friday roundup: all seamus, all the time edition

My well-loved copy of Seeing Things

My well-loved copy of Seeing Things

Reader. Oh my goodness, it’s a sad day. Seamus Heaney has died.

Strange, isn’t it, how one can feel true sadness at the death of someone one doesn’t even know?

Nobody at my house shares my grief.

Me: Oh no. Oh no. Seamus Heaney died.
Them: Who?
Me: (depressed sigh)

So I hope you’ll indulge me and let me share my grief here.

What to say of Seamus Heaney? I feel like, as Miss Emily D. is my poetry godmother, Seamus Heaney is my poetry godfather. He was one of the first living poets whose work I studied — or I should say, because this was years ago and I was just a baby poet, struggled through. And I mean struggled like read an re-read and re-re-read; looked things up (and this was before The Google was mainstream, so I mean I *really* looked things up). I mean struggled like wrote notes in the margin, underlined circled, question marked, crossed out notes in the margin and wrote new notes in the margin. I mean struggled like “cut my teeth upon.” Etc.

It was a joyful struggle that helped define my writing life.

I love his embrace of his origins, his tender treatment of the domestic, the swirl of the personal and political in his work. I love his use and re-use of the old stories — myth and folklore; history and sacred texts. And I love (and by love I mean LOVE) his crunching, grinding Anglo-Saxon diction.

If you’ve never read his work, his selected is a good place to start.

And to usher him along his path to the next realm, let’s read a few of his poems today. Here are three of my favorites:


Wedding Day

I am afraid.
Sound has stopped in the day
And the images reel over
And over. Why all those tears,

The wild grief on his face
Outside the taxi? The sap
Of mourning rises
In our waving guests.

You sing behind the tall cake
Like a deserted bride
Who persists, demented,
And goes through the ritual.

When I went to the Gents
There was a skewered heart
And a legend of love. Let me
Sleep on your breast to the airport.


A Pillowed Head

Matutinal. Mother-of-pearl
Summer come early. Slashed carmines
And washed milky blues.

To be first on the road,
Up with the ground-mists and pheasants.
To be older and grateful

That this time you too were half-grateful
The pangs had begun — prepared
And clear-headed, foreknowing

The trauma, entering on it
With full consent of the will.
(The first time, dismayed and arrayed

In your cut-off white cotton gown,
Your were more bride than earth-mother
Up on the stirrup-rigged bed,

Who were self-possessed now
to the point of a walk on the pier
Before you checked in.)

And then later on I half-fainted
When the little slapped palpable girl
Was handed to me; but as usual

Came to in two wide-open eyes
That had been dawned into farther
Than ever, and had outseen the last

Of all those mornings of waiting
When your domed brow was on long held silence
And the dawn chorus anything but.


Lustral Sonnet (from Glanmore Revisited)

Breaking and entering: from early on,
Words that thrilled me far more than they scared me —
And still did, when I came into my own
Masquerade as a man of property.
Even then, my first impulse was never
To double-bar a door or lock a gate;
And fitted blinds and curtains drawn over
Seemed far too self-protective and uptight.

But I scared myself when I re-entered here,
My own first breaker-in, with an instruction
To saw up the old bed-frame, since the stair
Was much too narrow for it. A bad action,
So Greek with consequence, so dangerous,
Only pure words and deeds secure the house.


Rest in peace, Seamus Heaney. And thank you.

6 thoughts on “friday roundup: all seamus, all the time edition

  1. For me, “Mid-Term Break” remains heartbreaking and memorable, quiet and unnervingly accurate on many levels. And beautiful–no matter the subject matter, Heaney’s work stays beautiful. I came to his work through Station Island, which I found challenging at the time (it was new then, and so was I), but gorgeous. I wanted to speak those lines out loud, even when I had to go to the Oxford Unabridged Dictionary to find the meanings of some of the words commonly employed in 1950s Ireland but not here in the USA.

    Then, North. And The Spirit Level. So much tremendously well-grounded, glorious work.

    I was lucky enough to attend a couple of readings he gave. We are all lucky enough to have so much of his work to read and re-read and, as you put it, re-re-read. Thanks for this post.

    • “challenging… but gorgeous” — yes! In fact, I think that’s my favorite kind of poetry across the board.

      I’m so happy for you (and totally envious) that you’ve actually heard him read. Thanks for sharing your Seamus memories here.

  2. That is sad. I was introduced to him in high school by an exceptionally literate and erudite English teacher…. While we’ll miss the words he’ll never write, the ones he has written are much sweeter and precious now.

  3. So sad indeed. An amazing man with a real gift for language and life. First discovered him when I lost a child and reading A Pillowed Head still makes me cry, but the words are prosaic and timeless. A big loss.

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