Seamus Heaney

by Maria on August 30, 2013

Seamus Heaney has died. He once said that poetry doesn’t change things, but can alter how we think and feel about them. He was a poet of all of Ireland, and a man who lived and spoke for our kindest and least sentimental selves.

In the days before everyone had Internet, I was working for a tv production company called Hummingbird. One day I was tracking down the source of an obscure couplet of Irish poetry. My boss, Philip King, handed me a phone number and said ‘Call Seamus Heaney. He’ll know it’. Heaney had only won the Nobel a few months before. I called, embarrassed to be troubling a Great Man. He picked up after a few rings, patiently listened while I recited the lines, thought for a moment and gave the answer. I wish I could remember who the poet was. Heaney was warm and generous that day, just as he was a few years later when my sister Nickie approached him, similarly starstruck, in Waterstones on Dawson Street.

All my books are in storage so I can’t find the poem I want. It’s about washing up after Sunday lunch, and reading it always brings me back to our old family home in Cashel. Everyone talks about writers finding the universal in the particular, but Heaney did it better than most. Anyway, here’s this:

Now it’s high watermark
and floodtide in the heart
and time to go.
The sea-nymphs in the spray
will be the chorus now.
What’s left to say?

Suspect too much sweet-talk
but never close your mind.
It was a fortunate wind
that blew me here. I leave
half-ready to believe
that a crippled trust might walk

and the half-true rhyme is love.