I haven’t read much poetry in my life, outside the required English literature classes of my university days. And yet I was grieved to hear that Seamus Heaney had died. Many years ago I had gotten an audio of Heaney reading Beowulf. I had read Beowulf even more years before and fell in love with the story and the music of the language. But nothing had prepared me for Heaney’s rendition. Both of these clips are about an hour long. If you prefer simple audio, click here to go to Audible.com.
And why now? Why not this post in immediate virtual time after the announcement of Heaney’s death? Well, I had to think about it. In writing about Heaney, I am not trying to draw people to me. I don’t need to be the first or the second or even the thousandth to tweet his death.
This post was prompted by an essay in The New York Review of Books, a periodical that we have been subscribing to for years, that I used to read cover to cover upon arrival, that I used to use for research while I was a Lit major. I’ve missed the last few months, the awkwardly large newsprint strewn in piles across my house. And then recently I pulled out one issue at random, Oct. 10, 2013. On page 10 is a one-page essay by Fintan O’Toole, titled Seamus Heaney (1939-2013). This essay is my first introduction to Heaney’s poetry. O’Toole says, “Poetry is language held taut by being stretched between the poles of completing desires.” That alone is reason to read any poetry, but especially that of Seamus Heaney.