Poet’s code of kindness, generosity and courage was theme of his last farewell
Emotion and love for an artist and ordinary man were at the heart of Heaney’s funeral
The wooden coffin was not draped in a flag, only a bouquet of white lilies and roses. Heaney traversed cultures, all tribal divides, grasped the meaning, the nuance of living.
He carried his learning lightly, looked to art, archaeology, history, the stories in stones, the mythology contained in a leaf. Lines from Shakespeare drift into one’s mind: “Come let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings.” Heaney was not a king; he was a warrior, far greater than Shakespeare’s Richard II. He fought a moral battle, summoning the collective classical spirits of Homer, Virgil, Ovid, Horace and Dante.
Heaney had foreseen the menace undermining society, the global as well as the local. Kavanagh had taught him well and Heaney detected the significance of place, while also shouldering the poet’s responsibility to his art and his time.
Seamus Heaney’s family stood in turns and read; his brother Pat, composed and able, read from The Book of Ecclesiasticus: “The Lord has created an abundance of glory, and displayed his greatness from earliest times. Some wielded authority . . . others composed musical melodies, and set down ballads . . . But here is a list of generous men whose good deeds have not been forgotten . . . ” It is true: Seamus Heaney composed his songs and he shared them with us, he also taught us, giving us subtle insights into the mysteries of the poetic impulse. Pat Heaney radiated a quiet strength, but then his brother-in-law, Barry Devlin, reading The Lord is My Shepherd, revealed the other face of grief. I have been at many funerals by now; the loss of dear ones, killed in accidents or by fear and despair, but few have been as affecting as this calmly dignified, heartfelt celebration of a rare individual.
The final words from the First Letter from St Paul to the Corinthians, were read by Heaney’s niece, Sarah, “And now there remain faith, hope and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity.” It made one think of the kindness of Seamus Heaney, who loved trees and flowers and collected postcards from galleries and historic sites.
“Anything can happen” warned Heaney in the poem of the same name – and it had. Seamus Heaney’s death was sudden and we were not prepared, and are still unprepared and will stumble in trying to accept this. “Anything can happen. You know/how Jupiter/Will mostly wait for the clouds to/ gather head/Before he hurls the lightning? Well,/just now/He galloped his thunder cart and/his horses/Across a clear blue sky. It shook the/earth . . .” Our earth has been shook.