Requiem for Seamus Heaney

Sameer Rahim in The Telegraph:

Heaney21_2657363bIn January, I heard Seamus Heaney reading at the Tricycle Theatre in north London. At the time it felt like a special event – and with the news that the Nobel Prize-winning poet has died aged 74, I feel even more privileged to have been there. He read from his poem “Two Lorries” – “one of the least romantic titles for a poem ever”, he drily noted – which opens with a memory of his mother having coal delivered: “It’s raining on black coal and warm wet ashes.” The last two words echoed a passage from Joyce’s Ulysses he had read out earlier, in which Stephen Dedalus’s dead mother appears in a dream smelling of “wetted ashes”. Heaney's echo was surely deliberate. It felt like he was allowing us a private glimpse of his creative method.

…Works of art often sparked his imagination. There were fine translations of Dante and Sophocles and an acclaimed version of Beowulf. European literature was in his bones. In an essay on three English poets – his close friend Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin and Geoffrey Hill – he wrote of the “cultural depth-charges latent in certain words and rhythms, the binding secret between words in poetry that delights not just the ear but the whole backward and abysm of mind and body”. The phrase “backward and abysm” recalls The Tempest: Prospero’s question to his daughter Miranda about her early years. Heaney was in deep touch with his childhood memories out of which he made beautiful poetry. But he also plunged into dark corners of the human heart and the well of ancient literature. He felt like a wise sage as well as a great poet. Though I can hear him gently recoiling from such praise: “The gift of writing is to be self-forgetful,” he told me, ”to get a surge of inner life or inner supply or unexpected sense of empowerment, to be afloat, to be out of yourself.”

More here.

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