Lori's Book Nook

Seamus Heaney, it’s about time

Posted on: February 1, 2007

Seamus Heaney recently won the TS Eliot Poetry prize.

Haven’t I written about Heaney before now? I know I’ve mentioned him, but I’ve yet to devote a whole post to the man.

So, you haven’t read any Seamus Heaney? Have you heard the man speak? He’s got the most beautiful, rich, rolling voice. I covet his audio recording of his recent re-working of Beowulf (have I mentioned it enough? Will I get it one day?)

Here’s a sample of his image-rich poetry, from the Internet Poetry Archive:

From Clearances

  In Memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984

When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives–
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

Now go back, and read it aloud. Trust me.

Now, go and hear him read it. And rejoice.

7 Responses to "Seamus Heaney, it’s about time"

Hear, hear, Loricat. And, as you say, It’s about time. Nobody working now does quite what he does with simple language and meaty good anglosaxon words. I could quote him right back to you, but you know what I mean. Thank you for the link to his own reading. (It was better than mine.)

Wonderful words, excellently spoken. And yet there was a tinge of disappointment. I wondered, as I listened, just how Richard Burton would have read it. Still, I must find more of his work as I am deficient in the modern poets.
Memo to self – time to listen to “Under Milk Wood” again.

“fluent, dipping knives”

I mean, really! That’s good use of words.

I’m glad you guys are with me on this. 🙂

Dear Loricat. Lovely poem. How nice of them to give Heaney the TS Eliot prize after he received the Nobel prize…
He really is marvellous. I think I have most of his books. I liked “Seeing things” very much.
What do you think about this one:

The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise
Were all at prayers inside the oratory
A ship appeared above them in the air.

The anchor dragged along behind so deep
It hooked itself into the altar rails
And then, as the big hull rocked to a standstill,

A crewman shinned and grappled down the rope
And struggled to release it. But in vain.
‘This man can’t bear our life here and will drown,’

The abbot said, ‘unless we help him.’ So
They did, the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed back
Out of the marvellous as he had known it.

Oooh…cryptic, spiritually adventurous (or adventurously spiritual?). Nice. I see how one suggested the other, the line “When all the others were away at Mass” almost repeating in “when all the monks of Clonmacnoise/Were all at prayers”. It’s a phrasing that has a great (useful!) rhythm to it, plus the repetition of the religious setting.

Thanks for dropping by, Jan. I’ll be checking out your website — “the common reader”. My kind of place.

although it is an elegy
i find this poem to be truly romantic
it’s wonderful

Julian, Thanks for stopping by. I’m totally with you. It’s a intimate poem, of a close moment. Did you go and listen to him read it? You really get the rhythm of the lines “Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying / And some were responding and some crying” when it’s read aloud.

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