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
Poetry and posy
In that Catholic church in Donnybrook yesterday as a volume of Heaney’s poetry and a small posy of flowers from his Sandymount garden were brought to the altar as offerings, I remembered Heaney’s response on the eve before it was announced on June 3rd, 1989, to how he felt about being named professor of poetry at Oxford University. “I’m a teacher,” he had said, “my professional life has been about teaching and the pleasure I have got from opening poems to people.” Even in a country with as formidable a poetic tradition as Ireland, Heaney stands tall as he does throughout the world. He “opened” poetry to millions; Opened Ground was indeed an apt name for the 1998 collected poems that spanned the first 30 years of his career.
Poet Peter Fallon read Heaney’s astonishingly revelatory early poem The Given Note, from his second collection, Door into the Dark (1969). In it a poet discovers “this air out of the night”. It is a quest poem that explains how art is won: “For he had gone alone into the island/And brought back the whole thing./The house throbbed like his full violin . . . He took it/Out of wind off mid-Atlantic.”
It is almost six years since Heaney and his friend, fellow Ulster poet Michael Longley, stood in Carrowdore churchyard, on the Ards Peninsula, at the grave of their shared mentor Louis MacNeice, honouring his centenary. In 1963, they had also been there as much younger men, with Derek Mahon. The three were aspiring poets, wondering who would write the elegy. Mahon did and Heaney, recalling that day, had said: “I was the one with the car.”
End of earthly journey
But yesterday, after his family carried his coffin from the Dublin church, it was at another churchyard, at Bellaghy, Co Derry, where Seamus Heaney’s earthly journey was to end.
“ . . . I park, pause, take heed./Breathe. Just breathe and sit/And lines I once translated/ Come back: ‘I want away/ To the house of death, to my father/Under the low clay roof.’/And I think of one gone to him,/A little stillness dancer –/ Haunter-son, lost brother –/Cavorting through the yard,/So glad to see me home,/My homesick first term over . . . for a second/I’ve a bird’s eye view of myself,/A shadow on raked gravel . . .” (From The Blackbird of Glanmore in District and Circle, 2006)