Happy birthday Mr Heaney
Happy (belated – oops!) birthday to a Nobel laureate with a fierce way with words. Attempting to choose a favourite from among Seamus Heaney’s offerings means finding all those perfect pinpointings of language once again, and revelling in them. So will it be Personal Helicon (“I rhyme / To see myself, to set the darkness echoing”) or Postscript (“You are neither here nor there, A hurry through which known and strange things pass / As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways / And catch the heart off guard and blow it open”)? Or Casualty, or The Skunk, or all the other possibilities, poems that move me newly on new readings? Today, I’m choosing (and pasting below) the first Heaney poem I ever met, the introduction, like that for so many Irish children, made in school when mid-term breaks were part of my lexicon. Now it’s your turn to choose a favourite. If you have one. If not, here’s mine.
I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close,
At two o’clock our neighbors drove me
In the porch I met my father crying–
He had always taken funerals in his stride–
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.
The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand
And tell me they were “sorry for my trouble,”
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand
In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o’clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.
Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,
Wearing a poppy bruise on the left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in a cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.
A four foot box, a foot for every year.