Such sad, sad news, just minutes after I posted the Friday Pleasings yesterday... the announcement of the death of Seamus Heaney, and I couldn't let the days pass without mention of it here. Perhaps I take their presence for granted, may never meet them, indeed may never even set eyes on them, but just to know the great poets are out there watching and translating so much that passes me by feels comforting, capturing it in words, pinning it on the page for me to read...and notice and understand.
Strangely, I had thought of Seamus Heaney only this week. We happened to catch a fascinating TV programme about The Tollund Man and it was enough to make me seek out his poem of the same name, so I have had the books off the shelf again...
and in particular have been reading Stepping Stones - Interviews with Seamus Heaney by Dennis Driscoll. This is a wonderful, very readable insight into the poet in conversation, his life and and his inspirations, and with the love of fishing that abounds in this house, Seamus Heaney's own recollections about never quite mastering the art, despite the best efforts of good friend Ted Hughes, made me smile...
'The trouble then was that I wanted to learn to fish with a fly and just never stayed at it long enough to learn to cast, so that effort fizzled out too. But inside my sixty-eight-year-old arm there's a totally enlivened twelve-year-old one, feeling the bite. And that's enough for a lifetime of poems...fleetness of water, stillness of air, stealthiness of action. Spots of time.'
Instead it was his pen that Seamus Heaney cast about for the catch of words passing upriver through those spots of time, as in the much-quoted Digging...
'Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it.'
And for those of us who love our fountain pens what better poem than this, the pen a gift from his parents, the parting... a young Seamus Heaney leaving home for boarding school..
The Conway Stewart
“Medium,” 14-carat nib,
Three gold bands in the clip-on screw-top,
In the mottled barrel a spatulate, thin
The nib uncapped,
Treating it to its first deep snorkel
In a newly opened ink-bottle,
Letting it rest then at an angle
Giving us time
To look together and away
From our parting, due that evening,
To my longhand
To them, next day.
What a legacy of the written word Seamus Heaney has left us and a chance to hear him read some of his work on BBC Radio 4's Poetry Please tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon at 4.30 pm.
May he rest in peace, this good and gentle man.