Happy Birthday Seamus Heaney!
Today is the birthday of Irish poet Seamus Heaney (b. 1939 Northern Ireland) Born into a farming family, Heaney went to the Queens University of Belfast where he studied English Literature and the English Language. He was to graduate in 1961 with a first class honours degree. It was during this time that he became interested in poetry. His head master Micheal Mac Laverty was a writer and he introduced Heaney to Patrick Kavanagh’s poetry, encouraging the young Heaney to publish his own poetry in 1962.
In 1963 Heaney became a lecturer at St Joseph’s Teacher Training College in Belfast. Phillip Hobsbaum who was then an English lecturer at Queens University noticed him and as he had already set up a young poets group in London which was proving successful, Hobsbaum then set up a poets group in Belfast where he was to include Heaney, Derek Mahon and Micheal Longley. Heaneys’ long and interesting career can be read here. He has received many prizes for his poetry (including the T.S. Eliot Prize (2006) and the Nobel Prize in Literature (1995) and two Whitbread prizes (1996 and 1999). He is regarded as an elder statesman of poetry. His work sells very well – two-thirds of sales for the work of living poets in the UK are for Heaney’s poetry.
The poem ‘When all the others were away’ (featured above) is about a treasured memory the poet has of his mother. Sometimes the quite simple everyday things in life turn out to be the most treasured – and the most poignant.
Another earthy poem by Heaney is simply called ‘Digging’ and is about the poet’s father. Heaney has also wrote poems about the Bog men (see my Bog men posts over on Echostains) Bog Bodies speak beyond the grave, Preserved in Time – Otzi the Iceman, More Bog Bodies – Ireland, Preserved in Time – Peruvian Mummies, More Bodies from the Bog – Grauballe Man,
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.
Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down
Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.
The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.
By God, the old man could handle a spade,
Just like his old man.
My grandfather could cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, digging down and down
For the good turf. Digging.
The cold smell of potato mold, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.
Poem from Seamus Heaney website with thanks!
Video by sacroom91 thanks!