Why are poets only in the news when they die? How I wish I heard the name Seamus Heaney this morning on the air waves because he had a new book coming out, or because he was reading poems at the United Nations, trying to bring some sense and sensibility to world affairs. Alas, the great Irish poet, successor to Yeats, made the news with a death too early.
Heaney’s work was borne of his deep awareness of and respect for the tangible world, the long reach of human experience, and our connection to all of life, a reality all too many of us take for granted. In reviewing his most recent collection, Human Chain, I wrote, “Nobel laureate Heaney is an earthy and mythic poet who channels the music and suffering of Ireland and, beyond that, the spiral of cultivation and destruction that sustains and endangers humankind. These are loamy, time-saturated poems, at once humble and exalted, taproots reaching into the underworld, flowers opening to the sun.”
Heaney’s poems span his life. In one of his most famous poems, “Digging,” from 1966, he writes,
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.
In a poem from Human Chain (2010), “In the Attic,”
As I age and blank on names,
As my uncertainty on stairs
Is more and more lightheadedness
Of a cabin boy’s first time on the rigging,
As the memorable bottoms out
Into the irretrievable,
It’s not that I can’t imagine still
That slight untoward rupture and world-tilt
As a wind freshened and the anchor weighed.