I was shocked and saddened when I learned that Seamus Heaney died today (30th August 2013). He will be sorely missed and my thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends at this time.
I am profoundly grateful that his poetry became the doorway for me to appreciate and develop a love of poetry. As an early school leaver at the age of fifteen I was unable to understand or connect with any poets I was introduced to at school, When I left school in 1986 I had never heard of Seamus Heaney, I had to wait until 2004 when I was accepted into an Access course before I was introduced to his work.
When I read ‘Digging‘ and ‘Mid-term break‘ I felt a connection with poetry for the first time. The simplicity and power of language, the potency of images and the emotive undercurrents blew me away. Poetry was no longer out there for others, it now became something for me.
I was lucky enough to go onto UCD as a mature student and be exposed to more of his work, in particular his incredible reworking of Beowulf where his passion for Anglo-Saxon literature and culture pops off the page in time with the alliteration and guttural assonance.
So in closing I would like to share two of my favourite Seamus Heaney poems. Don’t ask me why but Mint from the Spirit Level collection always makes me cry. I believe it has something to do with the mint being almost forgotten and abandoned and yet at the same time symbolic of new beginnings, new starts and new hope. The other, again from the same collection is St. Kevin and the Blackbird. This for me is a poem about meditation, devotion and connecting with a higher source. So I hope you enjoy these two powerful, humble poems and I would like to close by saying thank you Seamus Heaney for bringing poetry into my life and may you rest in peace.
Mint – Seamus Heaney (from the Spirit Level collection and also available in Opened Ground)
It looked like a clump of small dusty nettles
Growing wild at the gable of the house
Beyond where we dumped our refuse and old bottles:
Unverdant ever, almost beneath notice.
But, to be fair, it also spelled promise
And newness in the back yard of our life
As if something callow yet tenacious
Sauntered in green alleys and grew rife.
The snip of scissor blades, the light of Sunday
Mornings when the mint was cut and loved:
My last things will be first things slipping from me.
Yet let all things go free that have survived.
Let the smells of mint go heady and defenceless
Like inmates liberated in that yard.
Like the disregarded ones we turned against
Because we’d failed them by our disregard.
St. Kevin and the blackbird (from the Spirit Level collection and also available in Opened Ground)