In Memoriam, Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney, the poet laureate of Ireland, died on Friday. As I’ve written about here before, Ireland is a very special place to me. For a while, I thought I was going to study Irish literature. That didn’t happen, but I’ve spent a lot of time reading Heaney, and Nuala ni Dhomhnaill, and William Butler Yeats, and Eavan Boland, and Paul Muldoon. I know contemporary Irish literature better than I know contemporary British literature, better perhaps than I know contemporary American literature. I’m an Irish American, and the literary tradition in Ireland moves me and wounds me and puts me back together again.

I can’t teach poetry without speaking about Heaney, without using examples from his beautiful oeuvre, without hearing his voice in my head.

I wouldn’t call romance a major theme in Heaney’s writing, but he did write several poems about his wife that I find deeply moving: “Night Drive” (“Your ordinariness was renewed there” makes me shiver) and “Honeymoon Flight” (which isn’t available online, but which ends, “Travellers at this point only can trust”).

When I write this week, I’ll be thinking of his words from, “The Flight Path”: “If I do write something, / Whatever it is, I’ll be writing for myself.”

Chuid eile i síocháin, Seamus.

Author: Emma

Emma Barry is a teacher, novelist, recovering academic, and former political staffer. She lives with her high school sweetheart and a menagerie of pets and children in Virginia, and she occasionally finds time to read and write.

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