Seamus Heaney “Poet of Earth and Spirit”

Better late than never, a tribute to renowned Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, who died August 30 at the age of seventy-four. Though born in rural County Derry in Northern Ireland, Heaney chose to live south in the Republic. Yet he never forgot the bogs and fens, the rural life and landscapes of his childhood. “I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells of waterweed, fungus and dank moss,” he said and his body of work included “love poems, epic poems, poems about memory and the past, poems about conflict and civil strife, poems about the natural world, poems addressed to friends, poems that found significance in the everyday or delighted in the possibilties of the English language.”

A Catholic Nationalist, he nevertheless was suspicious of sectarian posturing. “Forthrightness is great,” he said in a 2006 BBC interview, “but it shades into triumphalism at times, it shades into obstinacy and it shades into vindictiveness.” In January of this year, in addressing the question of flying the Union flag over Belfast City Hall, he conceded gracefully that there was “never going to be a united Ireland, so why don’t you let them (loyalists) fly the flag?”

In 1995, he was awarded a Nobel Prize “for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past.” The last words he texted to his wife Marie were “Noli Timere” (Don’t be afraid). Here’s just one example of his outstanding talent. It’s called Bogland.

We have no prairies to slice a big sun at evening —

Everywhere the eye concedes to encrouching horizon.

Is wooed into the cyclops’ eye of a tarn. Our unfenced country

Is bog that keeps crusting between the sights of the sun.

They’ve taken the skeleton of the Great Irish Elk

Out of the peat, set it up an astounding crate full of air.

Butter sunk under more than a hundred years

Was recovered salty and white. The ground itself is kind, black butter

Melting and opening underfoot, Missing its last definition

By millions of years. They’ll never dig coal here,

Only the waterlogged trunks of great firs, soft as pulp.

Our pioneers keep striking inwards and downwards,

Every layer they strip seems camped on before.

The bogholes might be Atlantic seepage. The wet centre is bottomless.

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  • Copyright © 2011-16, Dianne Ebertt Beeaff. All Rights Reserved.
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