Saturday, August 31, 2013

Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney, a celebrated and grand Irish poet who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995, sadly died yesterday in a hospital in Dublin at the age of 74. 

Irish Poet And Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney
To say that Heaney had a way with words is an understatement.  His powerful verse transported readers around the world to Ireland and sometimes to its rural landscape and the grind of its daily responsibilities.  To me, his phrasing always felt magical and lyrical no matter what subject he addressed. 

As a tribute to Heaney's great talents, here is Digging, one of my favorite poems that Heaney wrote in 1966.  Every time I read it, I feel as though I am right there with him in the bogs, smelling the wet dirt and watching as turf is cut for fuel.

Cutting Turf In Ireland

By Seamus Heaney 1939–2013
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
Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds   
Bends low, comes up twenty years away   
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills   
Where he was digging.
The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft   
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.
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, "Digging" from Death of a Naturalist. Copyright 1966 by Seamus Heaney. Reprinted with the permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC.
Source: Death of a Naturalist (1966)

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