Friday, August 30, 2013

Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney
(public domain image)
We learn this morning that Seamus Heaney has died.

Heaney's poems inspired by the discovery of Iron Age bodies preserved in Irish bogs were among those included in the Norton Anthology of English Literature when I was a pup English major in college. They made a huge impression on me. Later, as my interest in literature grew, so did my appreciation of Heaney's work.

He gave a talk at the University of Iowa in which he told us stories. One of them was about his youth and his lunch breaks sitting by the bogs where he worked cutting peat. After his talk he took questions. The comments he made about Yeats that day inspired the title for this blog.

I was much cheekier in those days than I am today. An apprentice confronting the sorcerer, I asked him to instantly deliver the secrets of his spells. "I really enjoy your bog poems and how you are able to braid the present and the past together to tightly in your language. I think many people here would also like to be able to write poems like that. How did you do it?"

His reply: "When I was a boy I worked cutting peat. And during lunch we sat by the bogs...." Yes, he repeated what he had already told us. A cheeky answer for a cheeky question. But he delivered the correct answer, the best answer anyone can generally give to a writer. What you write, how you write, how authentic it is, depends upon its relationship to your life as you have lived it.

And now there is one less of these writers' lives. We pay attention to the moment.

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