I would like take this opportunity to pay tribute to the late Seamus Heaney – a worthy Nobel Laureate and undisputedly, the most globally renowned of modern Irish poets.
Comparisons to Yeats and descriptions of Seamus Heaney as the greatest poet of our age are by no means exaggerated and are, in fact, richly deserved.
Despite receiving the highest accolades by critics worldwide – Seamus Heaney notably never lost the common touch.
Indeed, former US president Bill Clinton, recently praised Heaney as “our finest poet of the rhythms of ordinary lives”.
Heaney’s poetry possessed an aural beauty and a finely-wrought texture through which he presented a coherent vision of Ireland, past and present.
His early poetry collections painted a portrait of family and farm life in Co. Derry evoking a hard, mainly rural life with rare exactness. Heaney possessed the rare ability to make you see, hear, smell and taste this life, illustrating that all parishes, rural or urban are equal as communities of the human spirit.
Seamus Heaney also used his work to reflect upon the troubles and sought to weave the on-going situation in Northern Ireland into a broader historical framework embracing the general human situation in the books Wintering Out and North.
Bill Clinton also described Seamus as a powerful voice for peace – and Heaney was undoubtedly a symbol of hope and inspiration to many during the troubles.
Heaney didn’t reduce political situations to false simple clarity and by all accounts, he didn’t believe his role was as a political spokesman – However, a line from from his play: The Cure At Troy is truly inspirational:
“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.”
Seamus Heaney’s works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth – like that of his fellow Irish Nobel Prize winners – Shaw, Beckett and Yeats are and will continue to be an enduring gift to the world.
I would like to conclude by offering my deepest and sincerest condolences go to Seamus Heaney’s wife, Marie, and his children, Christopher, Michael and Catherine Ann.
In tribute, I would like to read a short excerpt from “Seeing Things”, as I was down in Inishbofin in the days following his passing and I thought it fitting:
Inishbofin on a Sunday morning.
Sunlight, turfsmoke, seagulls, boatslip, diesel.
One by one we were being handed down
Into a boat that dipped and shilly-shallied
Scaresomely every time. We sat tight
On short cross-benches, in nervous twos and threes,
Obedient, newly close, nobody speaking
Except the boatmen, as the gunwales sank
And seemed they might ship water any minute.
The sea was very calm but even so,
When the engine kicked and our ferryman
Swayed for balance, reaching for the tiller,
I panicked at the shiftiness and heft
Of the craft itself. What guaranteed us
That quick response and buoyancy and swim
Kept me in agony. All the time
As we went sailing evenly across
The deep, still, seeable-down-into water,
It was as if I looked from another boat
Sailing through air, far up, and could see
How riskily we fared into the morning,
And loved in vain our bare, bowed, numbered heads.