November 13, 2013 § 2 Comments
A friend said recently how lucky he felt we were to be alive at a time when Seamus Heaney was writing. We have all begun to take measure of a poet who, while he was alive, always working, always present, was in some ways contingent: part of the process; a contributor to the conversation.
Not that his death changes this, really. His work will continue to be a part of those discussions about what poetry is and does. The difference, now, is that the work stands: not as an edifice – it will continue to change its value and currency as we change and as poetry changes; but as a body of poems. And knowing this allows us to return to the work with our familiarity of them undiminished by an expectation that there is more to come.
Heaney’s death was more of a shock to me than I had expected. His poems – and his sharing of them – were a great gift: a well-spring of that life in poetry which deepens immeasurably our understanding of the world. I can’t remember not knowing the squelch and slap, the frogs in the flax-dam, the smell of churning day. They form a liturgy: a sustaining magic that for earlier generations would have been found in the Book of Common Prayer or the King James Bible; or in the whispered incantations of lullabies and nursery rhymes.