Saturday, August 31, 2013

R.I.P. Seamus Heaney

I was very sad to hear the news yesterday that Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney passed away at the age of 74. He was truly one of the greatest poets of our time, and his work was infused with the Irish lyrical tradition, rich in language and form. There was often a socio-political message, but he never let it get in the way of the beauty of his work. He was literary without being obscure, socially conscious without being polemical, and his poems sang like no one I have read since Yeats. I had the pleasure of seeing him read his work at the Princeton Poetry Festival a couple of years ago, and he was marvelous. If you haven't become familiar with his work by now, you should - check that: you must. One of my favorite poems by him is "Postscript", and I once based a writing prompt on that poem, which is to take a short poem by another poet and "answer" each line - that is, to write a "next line" as a sort of extension, as your impression and interpretation of the line, then when you're done, to delete the original poet's lines, leaving only your own. I think it speaks for the beauty of the source poem (which you can find here) that I was able to produce this one:

Slowing Down (I)
(after Seamus Heaney)

Keep the sun ahead of you, always the pursuer,
to where rocks and green collide recklessly,
and wind is substantial, an almost living thing,
the light and the ocean, in the dance of shortening days,

tearing, biting away at the season,
where stones are marble-polished from years at sea,
and further in, the lake moves with translucence,
where swans glide, uncovering the water in flashes.

They rear up and flap to protest the animal wind,
necks curling, uncurling, calligraphy S’s,
and thrusting underwater, where mud-bound frogs are not safe.
Even with your camera, that most imperfect eye, you will not capture this.

You are some place in-between, where time is on holiday,
and everything comes uninterrupted, not caring whether you understand,
and the wind rocks you, as though to tease the child in you,
and creaks your rusty hinges into service.

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