Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Complete Seamus Heaney: A Beginning

With the passing of Seamus Heaney yesterday, there have been a good many tributes across the wires.

I find this one to be one of the most complete and compelling.

I had only two brief encounters with Heaney and more, which I realize only now, with his landscape (Dublin, Belfast, Wicklow, Donegal, Harvard Square, Lisdoonvarna).  Because the first time I encountered him was in Dublin, in 1984, all I could do was to play U2 (the music at that time) at high volume once I walked inside the house, after hearing the news about his passing over the radio, upon dropping off my son to catch his bus.

And then there's this (from the Independent article):

[A]s one critic wrote, “a culpable ambiguity in [his] responses to atrocity”. Such reservations were, I think, based on a misreading; Heaney was never an apologist for violence, despite the seeming drift of the much-quoted lines about “conniving” in civilised outrage, while understanding “the exact / and tribal, intimate revenge”. His brief was large enough to accord a right of expression to every variety of belief. And if “the dark matter of the news headlines” got into Heaney’s poetry, as it did at intervals from this time on - though always contained within an oblique and subtle, multi-layered and illuminating, modus operandi – the light he was aiming for, he said, “was the kind that derives from clarity of expression, from plain speaking.”

Perhaps the poet's task is always between ambiguities and formality, pursuits of clarity while experimenting on the expanding self-turned dial across traditions and utter awareness of individual witness--by ways of voice and ear, skin and bone, changing time, the news external and awakenings internal.