The Death of an Artist? On the Passing of Seamus Heaney

Today saw the passing of the great Irish poet, Seamus Heaney.  It is only in the last couple of years that I have come to Heaney’s work, being introduced to ‘The Bog Queen’ by a friend.  It was a poem that gave me some extraordinary images that stuck fast, most notably the closing idea of the woman’s plaited hair as a ‘slimy birth-cord / of bog’, which cord was cut by the turf-cutter who discovered her, precipitating her birth from the mire.  As soon as I could thereafter I sought out North, which I bought in an edition which also contained his three prior collections: a great voyage of discovery to be had.  Sadly, the secondhand copy slightly marred my discovery of Heaney, many of the poems being annotated, often only briefly, by the previous owner, whether by a mere tick or more effusively with sporadic very goods or fabulouses.  For me, perhaps bizarrely, this mars my experience: I like to feel like I am on a private voyage of discovery and am the first to live these words.  Comment from another on the page from which I am reading is too invasive.  But I digress.  My point is, that while I have much still to read of Heaney’s work, the place of Heaney and the originality of his voice and his portrayal of his homescape (sic), has already become apparent.

I have this evening begun to contemplate the question of the death of an artist.  While Heaney’s loss undoubtedly leaves a great void for his family and friends, and secondarily for the literary world and the Irish nation in which he played a prominent part, he has left an important piece of himself behind in his work, which work will never die.  In fact, as one who still has so much of Heaney to discover, being in the early stages of that path of discovery, Heaney has only recently arrived: he is still in his infancy and will, for me, grow and join me on new journeys and experiences for some years to come.  Unlike so many who pass anonymously away, he remains with us, with great strength of personality and vision, and will be reborn again and again.

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