New Update -Tribute to Nobel Prize Winning Irish Poet Seamus Heaney Who Died Today, 30th August 2013

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Born in Castledawson, County Derry, he was a teacher before embarking on a career in poetry, and won the 1995 Nobel Prize for Literature " for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past ". It is believed he had been suffering ill health for some time and had been living in Dublin.


 Ireland's Arts Minister, Jimmy Deenihan, praised Heaney for his work as a literary great but also for promoting Ireland. "He was just a very humble, modest man. He was very accessible," he said.

 Writer and literary critic Ola Larsmo said of Heaney's writing in 1995 :
" it reveals "a profound experience ... that a gap exists between the totality of what can be said and the totality of all that can be witnessed, between the limits of languages and the margins of the actual world in which we live. 

For Heaney 'poetry' is a means of measuring this gap – if not bridging it."

His 1966 piece Digging, from Death of a Naturalist, was particularly famous, ending with the words: 'Between my finger and my thumb the squat pen rests. I’ll dig with it'.

Very sorry about the annoying ads at the start of these videos. I can't remove them

Guardian Obituary here

Sydney Morning Herald Tribute here.

PBS Video Interview with Heaney On the Wideness of Language


He has left us so many wonderful poems so here are just a few of my favourites :-

The  poignant poem Mid-Term Break is the true account of the tragic incident that happened Heaney's younger  brother Christopher aged 4, while Heaney was away at boarding school.

Click here to read Mid-Term Break, along with some responses to the poem.

 Click here for my 2011 post which begins :

"The West coast of Cornwall where I live has some similarities to the West coast of Ireland and my birth county of Clare, and so I can easily imagine myself in Seamus Heaney's poem titled"Postscript" on the Craggy coastal road in Clare even when I drive out on the road from Portreath to Gwithian and Godrevy in Cornwall."


 Mindfulness Ireland on FB did a gorgeous poster for this poem today, so I've added it below. Thanks so much !!

Source Mindfulness Ireland Facebook Page

Seamus Heaney,
The Spirit Level (Faber and Faber 1996).

Thanks to Noirin Lynch for reminding me of this one via FB today, 
a prescient poem for our times. 

It is an extract from the poem Cure At Troy, credited by many as a thoughtful meditation on the conflict in Northern Ireland, and as a sort of “history” of Northern Ireland. The poem is a translation of Sophocles’s classic Greek play, Philoctetes, but, as this excerpt shows, the connections to Northern Ireland are there for the reader and listener to find. But it's also a poem that applies to many global conflicts.

“Human beings suffer,
They torture one another,
They get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong

Inflicted and endured.
The innocent in gaols
Beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker's father
Stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
Faints at the funeral home.

History says, don't hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.

Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracle
And cures and healing wells.

Call miracle self-healing:
The utter, self-revealing
Double-take of feeling.
If there's fire on the mountain

Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
Of new life at its term.”

 Then there's St Kevin and the Blackbird . If you want to know more on the background to the poem, Click here for my 2012 post on St Kevin of Glendalough, from which I have reposted this video of Seamus Heaney reading his poem on Gay Byrne's Late Late Show shortly after he won the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature.

And then there was St Kevin and the blackbird.
The saint is kneeling, arms stretched out, inside
His cell, but the cell is narrow, so
One turned-up palm is out the window, stiff
As a crossbeam, when a blackbird lands
and lays in it and settles down to nest.

Kevin feels the warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked
Neat head and claws and, finding himself linked
Into the network of eternal life,
Is moved to pity: now he must hold his hand
Like a branch out in the sun and rain for weeks
Until the young are hatched and fledged and flown.

And since the whole thing’s imagined anyhow,
Imagine being Kevin. Which is he?
Self-forgetful or in agony all the time
From the neck on out down through his hurting forearms?

Are his fingers sleeping? Does he still feel his knees?
Or has the shut-eyed blank of underearth
Crept up through him? 
Is there distance in his head?

Alone and mirrored clear in Love’s deep river,
‘To labour and not to seek reward,’ he prays,
A prayer his body makes entirely
For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird
And on the riverbank forgotten the river’s name

                   From The Spirit Level Faber 1996. copyright Seamus Heaney 1996.

In contrast to the statue of Kevin standing above, Heaney's Kevin is sitting, but whatever position he was in, the metaphor of waiting is strong and beautiful.

The artist Clive Hicks Jenkins has done a series of fine paintings to illustrate Heaney's poem of St Kevin and the blackbird. This was the first of his Saint Kevin paintings, titled Tender Blackbird.

    The one below shows a youthful Kevin.
     Image Source

Nine days before the announcement that he had won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995, President Bill Clinton, at a state banquet in Dublin Castle quoted the closing lines from The Cure At Troy, as Northern Ireland crept tentatively towards peace:
Now it's high watermark
And floodtide in the heart
And time to go...
What's left to say?
Suspect too much sweet talk
But never close your mind.
It was a fortunate wind
That blew me here. I leave
Half-ready to believe
That a crippled trust might walk
And the half-true rhyme is love.

and another personal favourite is Scaffolding
again with the annoying ads at the start !

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