The Irish poet Seamus Heaney died yesterday at the age of 74. My regrettable lack of curiosity with regard to contemporary poetry means that I am – to my shame – only now discovering Heaney’s work. I have spent the past hour or so attempting to remedy this and have read several obituaries with the greatest interest. Heaney comes across as a quiet, moderate man, acutely aware of the troubles besetting his native country yet refusing to embrace the headstrong violence many of his countrymen saw as the only solution. Heaney was not one to stir up trouble with rash words, but was lauded for his thoughtfulness and tact as much as for the clarity and readability of his verse. In his tribute to Heaney in yesterday’s Guardian, fellow Irish writer Colm Toibin extols the “shivering grace and honesty” of Heaney’s writing. Of his own relationship with words, Heaney wrote “I was in love with words themselves […] words as bearers of history and mystery” (“Feeling into Words”, Preoccupations, 1980). Anyone who can coin that lovely alliterative phrase “bearers of history and mystery” is well on their way to winning me over! So I am looking forward to getting to know Seamus Heaney a little better in the future, even if it is posthumously. In the wake of his death, I am sure all the major publishing companies will be rushing to edit new anthologies of his work, and I am counting on Everyman to produce one of their pretty pocket-sized hardback editions, which I will be able to slip into my briefcase and read in the train on the way to work of a frosty morning.
© Florence Berlioz 2013