Friday, 30 August 2013

Remembering Seamus Heaney

I was having a discussion yesterday with Colin Brown of Poetry Can about profundity and whether a poem can be great without necessarily having depth.  'What about Seamus Heaney?' Colin asked. 'His poems aren't always that deep.'  We considered 'The Skylight' and I had to concede that for all its breadth - moving from pitch-pine domesticity to the extravagance of the sky and the need for healing and renewal - that particular poem isn't all that 'deep'.  It is, however, great, and not just in the skill of its execution.

I don't really remember how we ended the conversation - maybe we just drifted onto something else - but now Heaney is dead, my mind keeps returning to it - in fact, I've done nothing but think about it since I heard the news, driving all the way home from town with my hand over my mouth in shock.  It's not just the passing of the man.  Seventy-four is no age, and as with Ted Hughes and Dennis O'Driscoll before him, I mourn the poems we might have expected but which will not now be written.

Heaney's poetic legacy will be debated for decades.  Poets of his calibre are rare.  But right now I'm still grasping for a handle on his greatness, even as I wrestle with the impossibility of there being no more poems.  For now a few words suggest themselves: generosity ... tenderness ... above all, wonder ...

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