Odes to Seamus Heaney: readers pay tribute in verse
In recent days, dozens of Irish Times readers – from practised scribes to amateur versemakers – have written and submitted poems remembering the late Seamus Heaney. Here is a selection of their contributions
Seamus Heaney. Photograph: Neil Drabble/Camera Press
HEANEY AT GALLARUS
A long time ago I read Seamus Heaney’s poem
About Gallarus Oratory, then I thought I’d find
My way there when I was living at Dingle.
The “core of dark” which Heaney had spoken of,
Lying within its windowless pile of stones,
Somehow held the promise of illumination.
After a windswept, cliff-edged graveyard
(Which Brendan Behan had once joked
Was “the healthiest graveyard in Ireland”),
There rose a diminutive chapel with room
For few to do much in the way of orating.
This was Séipéilín Ghallarais,
‘The Church of the Place of the Foreigners’.
A tiny smudge on the horizon at Ard na Caithne,
Swelling up from the turf to a sharp point.
I entered, and I felt this black glow.
A few holy snatches came to mind.
I found myself testing the air with them,
For there was no one for miles around.
The stones’ structure held an empowering space.
A fruitful limbo that hovered between life and death.
It seemed a place where goodness could happen,
And also somewhere you could hear an inner voice
Getting louder, and resonating within the chamber
Until you had to apologize for talking to yourself
To a nebulous presence known to the cold air –
To the something that imbued this pile of stones,
And marinated them in prayer and reflection.
The Oratory has stood there since the sixth century.
It offers nothing: no food, no drink,
No mind-expanding chemicals,
Yet it feeds those entering its realm.
Heaney spoke of his being in it alone,
And of having the sense “of dropping
To the heart of the globe.”
That felt about right: a dark-age diving suit
In which to sink down, past the beaten earth floor
And then, reinforced, to ascend just as easily
To where the pointed roof indicated, and beyond.
I felt that Gallarus was there to teach silence,
And to offer the subversive reassurance
That there’s still something that’s not for sale.
– Heathcote Williams (The UK)
SEAMUS HEANEY, 1939-2013
Only memory can hold you now
That blood in fated stroke has shut the word-house
Down, poem-furrows left untilled, as plough
And flesh’s bone-house stilled can never rouse
The winged word, the thought on fire, or dream’s
Midwifery, poet’s ally hidden
Residual, the casual deeper than it seems.
Ireland north or south could not define
Your territories, the mind your wing spread,
World your only province. Who can confine
The eagle with lure of sky gone to its head,
To dig with quill and ink your sole intent
Your father’s spade, your pen, one instrument?
– Eugene Mahon, New York
EXEGI MONUMENTUM. HORACE ODES, BK 3 NO 30
(Seamus Heaney was a Latin scholar with a keen respect for and knowledge of the works of Horace, writes Seán Mc Cool, who has translated the ode from the Odes of Horace. “I find, in its words, an apt description of the perennial appeal that lies in store for the poetry of Seamus Heaney as well as the fame that works of Horace continue to enjoy,” he writes.)