Sunday, September 1, 2013

Remembering Seamus Heaney

On Friday we lost Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, who died in a Dublin hospital at the age of 74. He was considered to be the greatest Irish poet since W.B. Yeats.  The first time I recall hearing about him was in 1981. I was living in Hong Kong and teaching English at Hong Kong Baptist College. One evening I was listening to a fascinating program on BBC radio featuring Seamus Heaney (BBC Radio is one of the best things about the UK). The next day at work I was talking about it. “Oh yes!” a Chinese colleague told me, “He is a well known poet from Ireland.”  From that day onward, I always paid attention when I heard Seamus Heaney mentioned.  I read his poetry, and bought his translation of Beowulf.  Listening to an interview on NPR’s Here and Now, I heard Robert Pensky, former, U.S. poet laureate, remembering his friend and saying that not only was he a good poet, he was a good and generous man as well. (you can catch that interview here)

Here is a poem by Seamus Heaney that was featured in America magazine a few years back:

by Seamus Heaney

And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you'll park or capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.



  1. I heard him read twice. Once at Harvard and once at Pine Manor, and I met him at a reception in Cambridge Massachusetts where we talked briefly and he signed my coy of Opened Ground. I corresponded with him twice, inviting him to participate in a Poetry Rally at Massachusetts Community College. Although he declined, his response was gracious. I always thought I would have a chance to sit and talk with him longer, but it was not to be. The following is from my elegy for the Challenger crew, but I think it applies here:

    "That night I saw Orion rising overhead and knew
    That things exist beyond the meaning of the words we use.
    Some things are only light, or sound, or pressure on the skin.
    Some things inhabit space before the space where words begin."

    He was only 74, too young to be taken. He will be missed, but we are better for knowing him.

  2. Thanks for sharing your poem and your memories, Joe. My friend Mike sent this link to "Seamus Heaney with Dennis O’Driscoll," where you can hear Seamus Heaney read some of his poetry and you can also hear an interview with the poet:


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