I am not generally given to writing about the newly dead. Public grief for public people is a strange phenomenon. I see an outpouring on Twitter and I am discomforted.
Seamus Heaney died today.
It has been a sad year for the writing community with the deaths of many who have gone before, ploughed deep, enduring furrows and influenced those of us who try to follow in their footsteps.
Seamus Heaney was different. He was other. He was the real deal.
I have a great deal of trouble with poetry, especially contemporary poetry, and, in particular, the current trend for performance poetry. It moves me only to embarrassment, I’m afraid.
Seamus Heaney was that rare phenomenon, a truly contemporary poet, whose poetry, nevertheless, transported us, demanded more of us and will still mean something in a dozen years, a score of them, a century, or even longer.
Today, it matters very much that Seamus Heaney has died, and it will matter tomorrow, and on the day of his funeral, which, I hope will be a day of real mourning for us all.
In the long run, though, it matters not a jot that Seamus Heaney died today, because he was that rare thing; he was a writer whose work will endure. Our children and grandchildren will read Heaney and learn his dates and the details of his life, and they will recite his verse and study him, and one or two of them in every generation will make his work their life’s work.
Seamus Heaney was the luckiest of men. He knew the work that he had done, and he knew what he had left behind.
So many of the lives of great artists, including writers and poets, have been tragic tales of men whose work was only appreciated after their deaths. Heaney’s work was praised and studied widely during his lifetime, and he was awarded any number of prizes, including the Nobel Prize for Literature (1995). His was not the life of a penniless writer in a cold garret, scratching away at his words, because he must.
Every writer opens a vein to produce his or her best work, and Seamus Heaney was no exception. I, for one, am consoled by the fact that Heaney earned some recognition for his pains. I hope it was worth it to him. I like to believe it might have been.