Friday, August 30, 2013

RIP: Seamus Heaney - Apr. 13, 1939 - Aug. 30, 2013

The first time I heard of Seamus Heaney was while listening to NPR in the spring of 1979; he was being interviewed, and he read a few poems from his recently published collection Field Work.  Then, in the early eighties, when he'd crossed the ocean to teach at Harvard, he actually came to Provincetown, where I was living, to give a reading at the Fine Arts Work Center.  I invited a friend to go with me.  He wasn't interested.  I said, "You could be seeing someone who might someday win the Nobel Prize for Literature." My friend remained un-impressed, but, there being not much else to do in February, did go with me.  We were part of a small crowd of twenty or so.  My friend didn't care for it at all.  Frankly, I didn't like it that much either; Heaney read mostly poems he'd translated from the Gaelic, published later as Sweeney Astray, and I was lost trying to make any sense of them; nothing charmed me -- plus Heaney had a really stupid hairstyle.

Eventually he wised up about the hair.  And, in 1995, he did win the Nobel Prize.  

And while I didn't care for Sweeney, I do love many of Heaney's poems, including one he read that spring afternoon in 1979. 


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.

1 comment:

  1. We each have some spade or other...perhaps we are entitled to at least one stupid hairstyle per lifetime...;-)