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.

a letter from the world

public domain

public domain

Dear Miss Emily D.,

OMG I almost missed your birthday! Well, I didn’t almost miss it, as I woke up this morning thinking of it, but then, well, remember that thing you said about “keep me from what they call households”? Yeah, well, I actually ended up with one of those (households, that is) so… well, never mind.

But anyway, for your birthday, I thought I’d write you a letter. From the world. That never wrote to you. Well, I guess I’m just one small voice in the world. But I think I speak for all of us when I say: about that Immortality you were so obsessed with? Yeah, you achieved it! Your collected poems is, like, 2.5 inches thick. Your house is a museum (and so is Susie‘s by the way). Your archive is online, which means, well, it’s hard to explain but let’s just say it’s available to anyone with an internet connection, which is, well, never mind.

Like I was saying, every high school student in the country learns your poem about “Because I could not stop for Death — / he kindly stopped for me –“ and if they’re lucky a few more besides. And, I don’t know how you’re going to feel about this but there’s this old TV show called Gilligan’s Island and most of your poems can actually be sung to the tune of the Gilligan’s Island theme song! It goes kind of: da da da da da da da da da da da da da daaaa. Well, never mind.

But people have devoted entire careers to you! They look at everything: your letters, your family, your little books (they call them fascicles), the evolution of your handwriting, pin holes in the corners of your manuscripts (don’t be mad; Susie put them there when she was trying to organize your work for publication), the shape and inclination of your dashes. In fact, there’s even an artist that has designed and made quilts from your different dashes and markings. I know, right!?

Where was I? Oh, yeah, I wanted to tell you that the bees are hanging in there. They’re still at it despite some not-so-minor setbacks. But don’t worry, a MacArthur genius is looking into the issue so that, when future generations of readers come across the word “bee” in your work, they’ll know what you were thinking.

Also, you may have heard a rumor about my son saying something like his mom is a world-famous poet, in fact his mom’s name is Emily Dickinson? I just want to tell you that I had nothing to do with that.

Back to the households and all that bread you baked — I’ve always wanted to ask you: did you learn anything from all that baking? I mean, was it edifying in any way now that you look back on it lo these many years later? Just wondering.

Oh and back to the dashes, we have these really cool things now called hashtags. They’re kind of hard to explain. We use them in what we call the Twitterverse (like a universe, kind of, but for really short attention spans. Well not really a universe. But, never mind.). A hashtag is a filter for directing short bursts of communication, but also kind of an abbreviation for telling a reader what to think of when you say something else. I say all this, but actually I don’t know for sure what a hashtag is, I just think you might’ve liked them.

I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, but I have a shirt with your likeness on it, and sometimes I even wear it. #poetcrush

But seriously, Emily (do you mind if I call you Emily?), I really do want to say thank you. For being born and for doing all your work. For showing up at your desk and keeping at it. And especially for the hour of lead, and the certain slant of light, for splitting the lark and for that thing you said about “Parting is all we know of heaven, / And all we need of hell.” And for feeling a funeral in your brain, and for the days when the birds come back, yes, definitely for those. For telling the truth but telling it slant. Also, thanks for keeping the sabbath at home sometimes; that really relieves a lot of guilt for me.

So, in closing, happy birthday! And thanks for being there for me. I mean, basically, you’re my oldest friend besides Jane, but you were right in the mix there with us! I’ll never forget your face looking at me from the cover of your Selected Poems and Letters. The way your eyes kind of said, I’m Nobody! Who are you? / Are you — Nobody — too? It’s like you knew or something!

In closing let me just add,

We waited while She passed —
It was a narrow time —
Too jostled were Our Souls to speak
At length the notice came.

Which, if it sounds familiar, is something you once wrote, and I just have to say, we still wait as She passes, it’s still a narrow time and our souls, yes, jostled. But now we know just a little more about what to say, or how to say it, thanks to you.

Keeping fast hold of hands! — forever your,