Seamus Heaney and his poetry have been weaving in and out of my life for over 25 years now. I remember celebrating wildly with my mother in 1995 when news came through that he had won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
It seemed so right that he was star poet reading at the Kilkenny Arts Festival in 2009, just a few short weeks after Mother had died. Kilkenny was the place where my parents first met in the early 1940s and I felt their happy youthful presence all round me as I made my way to St. Canice’s Cathedral for the performance.
Nothing could ever have prepared me for the impact which Seamus Heaney and his poetry had on me that balmy August evening. It was as if he knew that Mother had just died and was trying to comfort me by telling me that I was not alone in my sadness. The emotion with which he read about his own mother penetrated my sorrow and his words were like empathetic arms around me:
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.
Last week, I spent a few days in Co. Clare which was my father’s native county. He had been thrilled to hear about my expedition to Kilkenny in August 2009 and he talked of how complicated and time-consuming it had been back in the 1940s to get from Kilkenny to Kilrush, especially when one was the junior in the bank. One of my reasons for visiting Co. Clare last week was to go and see some of the ‘special’ places that Father told me about before his death in September 2010. I was also inspired by Seamus Heaney to take the time to visit Flaggy Shore in the Burren Region, just a few miles from Ballyvaughan.
And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.
(from The Spirit Level)
The swans were just as he described and more than anything I knew that Seamus Heaney would fully understand when I felt, yet again, my heart being caught off guard and blown open.
18 thoughts on “Seamus Heaney ~ Weaving Words within my Heart”
What a remarkable journey, Jean, with both your parents and the connection to Seamus Heaney and poetry as the bridge……beautifully written.
Nancy, thanks for writing. Yes, an amazing journey but how fortunate to have great memories, beautiful places and poets like Seamus Heaney to bridge past and future.
Thank you, Jean, for sharing this poetry and your personal experiences with the death of your parents. My mother is quite elderly, and I’m aware of the gift each day gives as she nears the end.
Judith, I really appreciate your comment and I think, like you, that treasuring the moments is crucially important ~ sometimes the small, apparently insigificant can turn out to be those that are most memorable.
I like the first poem very much and agree with the previous comments.
Angie, many thanks for writing, I agree that Seamus Heaney’s poem about the connection to his mother is totally special.
Reblogged this on A SILVER VOICE FROM IRELAND and commented:
Today a Nation mourns the loss of our Nobel prize winning poet, Seamus Heaney. A generous, unpretentious, uplifting man whose legacy will live on. I am very fond of this post from Social Bridge in which he features so beautifully, a beautiful tribute to a celebrated Irishman.
Reblogged this on Social Bridge and commented:
I feel deeply saddened at hearing that Seamus Heaney died earlier today. His family, Ireland and the World has lost a man with a warm, warm heart, incredible poetic talent and humility.
I was fortunate enough to hear Seamus Heaney read his work at the Kilkenny Arts Festival in 2009. It was an indescribable experience.
I would like to repost a piece I wrote about him here on Social Bridge just over a year ago and in doing so, extend my sympathy to his family, and thank him for the precious memories he has left us as well a such a wonderful legacy of poetry.
Thank you Jean, beautifully written. I knew little of Heaney, not being a poetry fan, but your words have brought his poetry to life.
Thanks for your kind words, Roy. I’m so glad to have brought Seamus Heaney’s words to life and I hope that maybe, just maybe, you’ll read some more as they are so amazing.
A beautiful tribute. I learned of his death yesterday from your post – before I’d had a chance to see the newspaper. I have been moved and inspired by not only his poetry, but by who he was. I feel such a sadness and loss.
Hello Lois, thanks for writing. Yes, I agree that the man behind the poetry was a true inspiration, especially at a very difficult time in Ireland’s history.
May thanks for posting this link to what is a beautiful ‘Farewell to Seamus Heaney.’ Such a sad time and poignant time.
Seamus’ poems always stole into my heart,, esp ..”my heart being caught off guard & blown open ” bed of heaven to him .. helen,
Helen, many thanks for writing. Yes, I think ‘Postscript’ and especially that last line is one of his most brilliant.
Beautiful post and beautiful memories. A woman came on Liveline just after he died to say that Seamus Heaney let them use the Flaggy Shore line on their ice cream pots, made in that part of Co. Clare, for free. They’d already put the poems on the pots before they realised they needed to ask for copyright, but he wrote them a letter himself to say he had no problem with them using it.
Hi Derv, thanks for writing and for your kind words.
Yeah I had the pleasure of indulging in some of the ice-cream when over that part of the world ~ which is like a second home to me. I actually kept one of the ice-cream tubs from my first visit as they are so beautifully made.