Seamus Heaney, Irish poet and Nobel prize winner for Literature, passed away on Friday. The outpouring of grief over the past two days has been extraordinary and comforting: his beautiful words of remarkable lyricism have been poured all over the media; his smiley eyes peering out from every newspaper.
We commemorated his passing last night by reading one of his poems before dinner; our listening children as they absorbed the words and meaning, silent and attentive: this was the first poem I ever truly heard; I was only seven or eight, and the depth of grief and sadness struck me then in the classroom, as though it were my sibling in the “four foot box, a foot for every year”
I remember realizing how profound a poem can be; and in the hands of a master, truly perfect: each word weighted and balanced, sparse lines painting an image so succinct and colourful.
Probably the loveliest thing over the past days has been the stories about Seamus Heaney: his humour, his generosity, his encouragement of other poets. Sadly, sorely missed, leaving an extraordinary legacy behind. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam
Mid-Term Break by Seamus Heaney
I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o’clock our neighbors drove me home.
In the porch I met my father crying–
He had always taken funerals in his stride–
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.
The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand
And tell me they were “sorry for my trouble,”
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand
In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o’clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.
Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,
Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.
A four foot box, a foot for every year.
You have summed him up beautifully. An incredible legacy indeed. I hope to be able to pass some of this on to my kids when they are ready.
Many people seem to remember this one from primary school. I must have had a different book. I’m ashamed to say – and me with an English degree from UCD – that I never studied any of his poetry at any level of my schooling. I read this for the first time yesterday – and it hit hard.
Gorgeous Emily. As usual!
I had forgotten that poem until I read it here today and it came flooding back – it certainly made an impact when we studied it, though I can’t remember now at what age or in which class. My kids are too small yet for this but what a lovely idea to read his poems for your family, will keep it in mind for the future
What a lovely post for a lovely man. I met him once, when I was a teenager, probably studying his amazing words in school and I remember blushing because i was just so in awe of him. He smiled at me and shook my hand and I never forgot it. He will be missed.
Oh wow! I don’t remember doing that poem in school either 🙁 Very profound, great post 🙂