Friday 30 August 2013

The Pen Is Mightier…

The death has just been announced of Seamus Heaney, that amazing Irish poet. He visited Oxford in the mid 70’s when I was a student – but I had a really bad cold and could not go with my friends to hear his poetry reading. I should have loved to have heard him.

The portrait on the left is by Edward Maguire – painted in 1974– the one on the right by Tai-Shan Schierenberg was done 30 years later.

Seamus Heaney. maguire

Tributes have poured in from all over the world – but especially from Ulster. Former SDLP leader John Hume, who was a close friend of Mr Heaney, has said: "His poetry expressed a special love of people, place and diversity of life. That profound regard for humanity has made his poetry a special channel for repudiating violence, injustice and prejudice, and urging us all to the better side of our human nature.”

Here are two of my favourite poems by this Nobel Laureate, 


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 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, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.
The cold smell of potato mould, 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.


Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.

And yet all this comes down when the job’s done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.

RIP Seamus Heaney 1939-2013

1 comment:

  1. Wow.

    I can see those diggers and hear the sounds they make.

    Thank you for posting these - I had not heard of him. What a great God-given talent.


Always glad to hear from you - thanks for stopping by!
I am blocking anonymous comments now, due to excessive spam!