Nurses’ Songs

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.


§ 2 Responses to Nurses’ Songs

  • Matt Clegg says:


    One of the things I value most about Heaney was how he managed to keep his poems and process fresh. When I feel jaded, Heaney is a poet I feel I need to read.

    One collection, in particular, I return to when I’m thirsty for tonic, and that’s Seeing Things. Maybe it’s because it was the first Heaney collection I bought that was hot off the press, and not already absorbed into the old selected. I read through the Squarings sequence nearly every year, and it works on me a little like how I imagine Eno’s ‘Oblique Strategies’ working on musicians.

    It’s a fantastic prism, and under-rated in his body of work.


  • Rob says:

    Hi Matt

    I agree: though I have to admit I don’t know Seeing Things very well, I encountered the early poems through second hand copies of collections rather than the Selected, and feel the same affinity with Wintering Out – particularly A Northern Hoard and ‘The turnip-man’s lopped head’.

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