Saturday, 31 August 2013

Seamus Heaney: RIP

I don't think my meagre words can add very much to the many tributes that people far more erudite than I have paid to Ireland's most prominent poet since Yeats. I was lucky enough to hear the great man reading at York University just a couple of months ago; and it was an extraordinary experience.

Some poets are performers. They accompany their words with dramatic and flamboyant gestures, music, rhythm, sound effects, or multi-media installations. I have huge respect for those that can do this well. But there is something uniquely awe-inspiring about the quiet simplicity of a single poet reading their words, without embellishment, to a still, rapt audience.

That is my defining memory of Seamus. That, and his self-deprecating answer to the questioner who told him "By brother says that your work can be summed up in the words 'death and potatoes' - how would you describe it?" He simply smiled, and told the questioner that he couldn't describe his work any better.

My final comment on the loss of Seamus Heaney is a wry tribute from the Yahoo! news page which reported his death. A commentator with the alias "Taylor Swift Rules" had made a disparaging remark about how this was typical of Yahoo!, advertising the death of "someone nobody has ever heard of." There's a thesis that could be written about what a sad state of affairs it is that there are English-speaking people who haven't heard of Seamus Heaney. But the best riposte was the one from the wag who replied, "Who's Taylor Swift?"

(photo taken from Wexford Festival Opera)

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