Seamus Heaney – A Writer’s Poet

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Of all contemporary poems, those by Seamus Heaney have been my favorites. Especially such poetry as he penned on the vocation of writing itself, like “Digging,” published in his first collection, Death of a Nauralist in 1966.

Here’s an excerpt from “Digging” to whet your appetite or, better yet, listen to an audio recording of the poet himself and follow along with the text by clicking here:

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
….
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.

Seamus Heaney is considered by many critics the most important Irish poet since W.B. Yeats. He won the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature and wrote prolifically, not just poetry but prose, and translations including that of Beowulf. He lived in Dublin until his death two years ago.

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I still remember the sixteen-year-old me who first “dug” into a slim volume of Death of a Naturalist, feeling the thrill of discovering what poetry written in the vernacular, common everyday speech, could do, really do, to stir your imagination, your universe, your heart.

In 2008, Heaney told All Thing Considered that “I have always thought of poems as stepping stones in one’s own sense of oneself. Every now and again, you write a poem that gives you self-respect and steadies your going a little bit farther out in the stream. At the same time, you have to conjure the next stepping stone because the stream, we hope, keeps flowing.”

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5 thoughts on “Seamus Heaney – A Writer’s Poet

  1. Pingback: Writer’s Quote Wednesday Weekly Wrap-Up from 3/11/15 | Silver Threading

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