I’d been working on another blog post today, but have just heard the sad and shocking news of Seamus Heaney’s death. Along with many others, I feel as if I have lost a friend. Seamus Heaney walked alongside us for many years — through his poetry, his activism, his human presence.
The photograph above is one that I treasure. It’s a photo of my son, as we waited to hear Seamus Heaney read his poetry and weave his wonderful stories at the Cúirt Festival in Galway earlier this year. I hear Seamus’s voice in my head and my heart when I look at this photograph.
Favourite poems leap to mind… Postscript, Clearances, Anahorish, Song, Helmet, Digging, Mid-Term Break, A Call, Blackberry-picking, and so many more. The poems and the poet weave connections among many loved ones… Mary Cronin, Pat Byrne, Elizabeth & Graham Stewart, Mary Loftus, Pam Moran, Ira Socol, Leigh Graves Wolf, Pamela O’Brien, Mary Ann Reilly, Ali, Jim & Deborah, Hamish, Sarah and James and many more.
And I remember the first time that I heard that unique voice. It was in Stirling, Scotland in 1996, a story I shared in an earlier blog post:
In June 1996 I attended a poetry reading by Seamus Heaney at the University of Stirling. The Principal of the University gave a short introduction, saying that we would remember the next hour for the rest of our lives. I believe he was right. There were many reasons that Seamus Heaney connected with and elevated us that evening. One was that Heaney was speaking to a community deeply shocked by the tragedy of the school shooting just 3 months earlier in neighbouring Dunblane, where I also lived. We were still shocked, still grieving, emotionally wide open. I remember thinking at the time that, somehow, Seamus Heaney met us in that space. Without addressing that pain directly, his poetry, his tone, his truth were like lifelines to us. He began and ended with his poem “Song” (from Field Work, 1979):
A rowan like a lipsticked girl.
Between the by-road and the main road
Alder trees at a wet and dripping distance
Stand off among the rushes.
There are the mud-flowers of dialect
And the immortelles of perfect pitch
And that moment when the bird sings very close
To the music of what happens.
Lifelines, words, music, peace. Thank you for these and more, Seamus Heaney. Rest in peace.