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Seamus Heaney




             Seamus Heaney                    Photo by © Alberto Morante/DPA


 INTERVIEW WITH HEANEY/ Agallamh leis in 2013 anseo

Athens 30.8.2013

Letter to the poets

I suppose you have by now received the news that Seamus Heaney died after a short illness in a hospital in Dublin. He was 74 years of age.

When he received the Nobel Prize in 1995, he stated in Oslo that "I stand here because of three generations of Irish poets." That says already something about not only his modesty, but equally what insight he had in what it takes to become not only a good poet, but a world wide recognized one.

Heaney is considered to be more a rural poet. He comes literally from a farm and carried that heritage in so many words throughout his poetry.

Here in Athens we got to know him thanks to Emer Ronan whose father had been the first Irish Ambassador to Greece after the Junta fell. He was a close friend to Heaney, and when posted to Japan, had invited him to that country as well.

Repeatedly our poetry group called at that time still 'Touch Stone' (before becoming Poiein kai Prattein) tried to invite him to join our poetry discussions and festivals. He was always busy but then promised the next time that he would come to Greece, he would let me know in advance.

Then, in the middle of the night in 1995, it must have been around two in the morning, I received a phone call from Ireland with the voice on the other end asking me with some excitement in the voice, if I would know where Heaney is? All what person knew was that Seamus Heaney was in Greece. The reason for that phone call became evident the next day when the announcement was made that he had won the Nobel Prize and they had tried to find him, in order to convey the great news to him. Practically it meant Heaney was caught like a 'red herring' in Greece, and that in a double sense, if you know what is meant with this expression. Indeed, he was in Greece and had not informed us about his coming but who would not forgive him not only because of having won the Nobel prize, but also in understanding what he was seeking, namely to be left alone so that he could enjoy the rural countryside. He had wanted to spend some quiet time, some holidays only with his wife and another couple in the Pelopponese.

After he had received his Nobel Prize and after Katerina Anghelaki Rooke had translated his latest works, he did come to Greece when it was published. It happened to coincide with St. Patrick's Day and so we all gathered at the Irish Embassy in Athens to mark this special day. It was then that Heaney reaccounted what had gone through his mind prior to receiving the news that he had won the Nobel Prize.

In 1995 he had gone out for an early walk through the Greek countryside and on the way back they took a road which a farmer had just used. He could tell that he had collected a lot of oranges from his field full of orange trees since one word came to his mind. For the moment he saw so many oranges which had fallen off the farmer's vehicle and after hitting the ground, burst open, Heaney thought of one word which has a striking resemblance with life when more than just full: a b u n d a n c e. And that story happened just before the returned to the hotel where he received finally the news that he had won the Nobel Prize.

Mark my words, someone would say, and behold that is not a state of affairs or of mind being described, but a real condition of life. For once you see all the beauty and richness this world has to offer, then you are also prepared to give something truthful.

In the case of Seamus Heaney, it has been his poetry.

I suppose beauty can only be seen once deeply in love, for then everything shines. Love is like the sun which paints everything, including houses, trees and the children playing in the street, with bright colours. It marks a difference to those streets in Dublin where many walk without coat or take with them an umbrella since it rains almost every day, and they do so in the thought if you are strong enough to ignore the rain, you shall not get wet!

Theo Dorgan told once the story of a translation workshop Poetry Ireland had organized with Heaney. Many translators from different cultures and linguistic backgrounds gathered in Dublin to translate just one of his poems. To the surprise of all, it proved to be an almost impossible task to find afterwards something corresponding between these poems to what the original version contained. It seemed as if his poetry, as clear and ethical true he can be in his poetic language, would send out its seeds into the different languages and there let something else bloom. For his poetic gifts were free from any insistence of knowing only one version of what is true about life.

I have beside me his translation called 'Boewulf'. Thus it might be best to let this poet speak himself about translation and what it takes for poetry to stay alive, on this side, and not to give in to shadows seeking to instil fear or to humiliate. The greatness of his poetry lies in this humbleness but also directness which he loved to speak about or to speak to him. It is what ressonantes within that brings out the best in us:

"I came to the task of translating Beowulf with a prejudice in favour of forthright delivery. I remembered the voice of the poem as being attractively direct, even though the diction was ornate and the narrative method at times oblique. What I had always loved was a kind of foursquareness about the utterance, a feeling of living inside a constantly indicative mood, in the presence of an understanding that assume you share an awareness of the perilous nature of life and are yet capable of seeing it steadily and, when necessary, sternly." (p.xxvii)

Let us see how we shall together and alone remember this poet in the years to come, and what those rural metaphors can do with our urban minds most often not sure about the kind of understanding we can share.

Hatto Fischer

Athens 30.8.2013



I have a heavy heart too - today after hearing the news. I last heard him in Boston in March this year -- he was
in conversation with a chosen speaker alongside Derek Walcott. I really wanted to hear him read and felt
he too was constrained by just answering questions although he was such a gracious man that he didn't let on.
I was placed to sit next to him once too at a dinner and then had to read after the meal!
His humility and curiosity in everything is what made him such a wonderful person-- and in times like these -- we need reminding of how important he was in making poetry-- matter.
Dr. Menna Elfyn
Cyfarwyddwr Ysgrifennu Creadigol
Prifysgol Cymru Y Drindod Dewi Sant
Campws Caerfyrddin SA31 3EP

Director of Creative Writing
University of Wales Trinity Saint David
Carmarthen Campus SA31 3EP


From Satchid Anandan in India:

Heard the news yesterday and I was deeply pained as I have been an avid reader and admirer of Seamus Heaney for years and have his Collected Works in my poetry library. Ireland of course has produced a lot of good and some great poetry and Yeats and Heaney are easily among the greatest and rank with any poet from any part of the world for their profound insight, concern with form and with the destiny of humanity.



Philip Meersman

I saw this story on the BBC News iPhone App and thought you should see it:

Obituary: Seamus Heaney

Irish poet and Nobel Laureate who wrote some of the most evocative verse of the 20th century

Read more:


Bernard Conlon in Belfast

I ve just heard about the death of Seamus Heaney and heard a lovely interview with  Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland
Seamus Heaney RIP
Let the spade sink into sodden island soil and
make a bed for the poet's sleep
Let the poet take his rest and his words resound,
Let Seamus now, be with Ireland' s boggy ground.
Bernard Conlon
29 August 2013


Bernhard Beutler, former director of Goethe in both Lyon and Brussels, now retired and living in Munich, received the news from a friend in Toronto with following lines:

“The poet is on the side of undeceiving the world,” he said. “It means being vigilant in the public realm. But you can go further still and say that poetry tries to help you to be a truer, purer, wholer being.”
The loss of a great voice and a true man....

Martha Deed

Seamus Heaney Reading at Canisius College, Buffalo, New York

It begins with a miracle – the suddenly vacated parking space in the tiny lot 
closest to the Montante Center where the entrance I remembered was
suddenly blocked by a fountain erected in the last building flurry, the curb cut
– gone – and I, a Protestant unused to theological manifestations left puzzled
at 30 mph in dense traffic where everyone it seemed was after the same event,
and I inhaled as I squeezed past the don't walk signal and turned into the dead
end of the once-familiar lot but while preparing to back out and I am not good
at driving in reverse I happened to see out of the corner of my eye – the one
not prone to misleading lightening flashes – red lights which in any case are
not a part of my malady and these red lights had yellow lights underneath
them and the bumper beneath both sets of lights reflected the four lights and
thus caught my attention – of a car backing out of its space and must have
been driven by someone who was no poetry aficionado even of Irish poetry
and Heaney the greatest living of that sort, but this car was departing which
was bad for the driver's cultural education but quite wonderful for mine and
even better the car that was leaving did so in a manner which prevented any
competing poetry lover from entering the lot and achieving the space that I
now had set sight upon and thus as the driver did its backing and shifting and I
did my backing and shifting – two ships at sea in too narrow a channel for
comfort as it were – and gained the space somewhat crookedly with a pang it
must be admitted of regret for not giving way to the other supplicant for that
space but also assured in my own mind of the primacy of that space for me as
I am the owner of eight Seamus Heaney books and so I continued out of the
car and through the rain and across the street to the too small assembly hall
where I took one of the last seats ten minutes after the doors were first opened
and soon I stopped remembering a parking space dispute which I won on
Riverside Drive near Columbia some years ago at 9:30 at night and dumbtired 
did not yield to the thug who left his car to pound with his fists on my
roof and then my windshield before regaining his vehicle and driving on and I
found all four tires slashed the next day which cured my guilty conscience in a
hurry of any regret either that day or now.

October 28, 2012

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