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A Tribute To Seamus Heaney By Niamh Clune

1939 - 2013

1939 – 2013

I think of Poet Laureate, Seamus Heaney, as a family friend. I was blessed to have known him just a little and to have visited his home in Dublin.

He was a gentle giant of a man, one of those rare people that you loved instantly. I suppose when you are in the presence of greatness, you feel it. You are not threatened by it, nor diminished by it; rather it is captivating, inclusive, gives recognition to the spark of what is great in everyone else within orbit. That kind of greatness is intrinsically imbued with love. Seamus Heaney was a soul-infused being, someone in whom the  the soul had taken possession, flooding and lighting his every gentle, yet challenging thought. Challenging, Yes! Always challenging, but in a way that allowed space for others to grow in thought, word and heart. 

In his home,  I felt welcomed as if I were of interest to him, even though, I really was not, being a no one in the scheme of things. Even then, before he had received the Nobel Prize, before he had come so spectacularly to play such a role on the world stage, I knew how great he was. He was a lovely man, attractive in every way. 

His accolades are never-ending…a Poet Laureate, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, the T. S. Eliot Prize, Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service, Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, E. M. Forster Award, New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year, St. Louis Literary Award, Costa Book of the Year, Lannan Literary Award for Poetry. He was hailed as the most important poet since W.B. Yeats.

I was also lucky enough to hear him speaking at University College Dublin. He was chairing a conference on whether English is the language of colonialism.

We heard from poets and dissident writers from all over the world, some of whom had been imprisoned for speaking out against colonialistic or treacherous regimes. At the end of this wonderful event, Seamus Heaney summed up by saying he didn’t think English was a language of colonialism ~ oppression was not why, for example, the Irish learned to speak English so well and uniquely. English lanlordism, poverty and the advent of soup kitchens and such-like might have been a reason that people turned from speaking Gaelic to English, but in the long-run, people the world over speak English because it is a language in which you can dream, a language of beauty through which people might express a personal and collective soul.

I interpreted what Heaney was saying as follows: the breadth of English, the sound of its music is flexible enough to speak the soul of the rocks and mountains, the rain and sky, embracing  the thoughts and feelings of any people’s bloodied landscape or troubled heart. The language itself is personal and universal.

When I met Seamus Heaney, I was touched by his modesty, reason, temperance and wit. I am deeply saddened by his passing, as I know people whose lives he touched across the world will also be. I shall be inspired by the words he has bequeathed us all. I shall drink and devour them and try to be a better writer because of people like him.

Thank you, Seamus for all you have given to the world. Poetry will always live through people like you, through minds like yours that soar to the heavens and challenge even the gods – never though, with an arrogant heart, but with a god-given desire for freedom and soul-expression, a constant reaching for beauty, for the fire that might illuminate the world’s ugliness. And you did all this whilst never turning you back on suffering, fact, truth or reality.

 

 

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About Dr Niamh

When I was a little girl (a very, very long time ago), I used to love learning new, really big words like ‘discombobulate’. As I grew, my love of words grew too, until I loved them so much, I could not stop writing them down. One day, as I was scribbling a particular word, a very peculiar thing happened. The word shouted at me, “Stop! Don’t put me there!” As you can imagine, I was shocked and nearly fell off my chair. When I recovered somewhat, I said to the word, “Could you stop shouting, please? I am not used to it.” Can you guess what happened next? No! I thought not. The word said, “I might be small, but I will misbehave if you do not use me properly. I will not tell the story you would like me to tell. I will say something entirely different!” I dropped my pen. I hoped that by dropping my pen, the word would stop talking. Alas! It did not. It carried on chitterchobbling, even after the ink had dried. I was in a pickle. I could not allow my words to run away with my story, now could I? I don’t know about you, but when this sort of thing happens, there is only one thing left to do if you prefer not to spend your time arguing. “Very well,” said I. “I will do as you ask if you will just be quiet and allow me to concentrate.” Since that day, I have been paying special attention to every word I invite into my stories. After all, a story should say exactly what it means to say and not be led astray. With love from Dr. Niamh, Ph.D in Learning Through The Imagination and Founder of Dr Niamh Children's Books. www.drniamh.co.uk

21 comments on “A Tribute To Seamus Heaney By Niamh Clune

  1. the secret keeper
    September 1, 2013

    A loving tribute Niamh. Your words would make him feel such love. I believe he would remember you no matter how far into the heights he soared. I find you unforgettable, well, maybe he did, too, in his own way. People remember certain people for different reasons. You are a powerful presence. As a child, the adult in you resonated, waiting for the moment you would blossom. As you said, you first met Seamus Heaney long before he became a Nobel Laureate and you sensed in him his greatest. Well, think in return, with his perceptive eye what he might have sensed in you. It is a magical ability you have, I feel I have it, we see beyond what is visible to the eye which just sees the surface of the world. I think he thought more of you than you will let yourself know. You had the gift growing in you. It is like being an immortal. Other immortals sense a presence with such power. He is immortal. Certain people are immortal who live within human bodies. When they have them no longer, they still live on. Your friend, Seamus Heaney, is just such a person. He has cast off what held him to the ground and now flies amongst the great immortals of all time. Think and feel, you sat with him and heard his voice up close and felt his presence near you. Now he will always be with you in any way you choose. This is a beautiful tribute. I believe last night I listen to his Nobel Speech at least three times through. I loved the sound of his voice. The words he spoke. But most of all I felt his presence just by hearing him speak. It was the hearing I was listening to. I recommended to a friend the Nobel Speech to listen to, on a post she made on her FB page honouring Seamus Heaney, . She is going to do just that. She was one of the lucky Americans to attend a public event he was the guest to speak. She felt so honoured and lucky to have been in his presence.

    You did a great job in your speech to him, Niamh. Your words and feelings were heart felt and moving. I could feel the depth of your love for him. Hold him close to your heart always. a. l. Jennifer @>-;–

    Like

  2. BUTTERFLIES OF TIME
    September 1, 2013

    Deeply moving write. He will live on through his words, through the gift of talent he left behind and what a blessing to have known him! Niamh. So sorry for your personal loss. You have some beautiful memories to keep you going.

    Like

    • ontheplumtree
      September 1, 2013

      Many thanks for your comments, Butterflies. You are most kind.

      Like

  3. Shawn MacKENZIE
    September 1, 2013

    A beautiful testament to an extraordinary man. Thank you Niamh, for sharing your memories…His is a voice and presence that will be sorely missed.

    Like

    • ontheplumtree
      September 1, 2013

      Yes he will me missed, but he will never be forgotten. Thank you Shawn.

      Like

  4. Shawn MacKENZIE
    September 1, 2013

    Reblogged this on MacKENZIE's Dragonsnest and commented:
    A generous soul and monumental poetic force. Thank you, Niamh Clune, for your sharing memories of Seamus Heaney with us.

    Like

  5. Jamie Dedes
    September 1, 2013

    A beautiful and worthy tribute, Niamh, one that captures the man as I know him from his poetry and essays. Thank you for including his assessment of English here.

    Like

  6. davidprosser
    September 1, 2013

    You may not have had all the accolades of the wonderful Mr Seamus Heaney but I can just imagine him writing a very similar tribute to you Niamh. xxx Hugs xxx

    Like

  7. Mike
    September 2, 2013

    Lovely homage and treasured reminiscence – lucky you.

    Like

  8. thiskidreviewsbooks
    September 2, 2013

    He seems like a nice man, and a great poet. 🙂

    Like

    • ontheplumtree
      September 2, 2013

      A great man…his funeral was today, Erik. I am sure it will be televised around the world.

      Like

      • thiskidreviewsbooks
        September 2, 2013

        How sad. I didn’t realize he died so recently. Your post has inspired me to look up his works and read them!

        Like

      • ontheplumtree
        September 2, 2013

        Do read him. He is, and always will be, an inspiration.

        Like

  9. Patricia Tilton
    September 2, 2013

    What a beautiful tribute to a dear friend. I enjoyed reading about him and listening to the video. What a wonderful soul with so many gifts and passions in life.

    My husband’s uncle, Robert E. Ward, recently made his transition. He was a well-known contemporary American composer who also won a Pulitzer for his opera “The Crucible.” We attented a beautiful tribute and celebration of his life this past weekend in North Carolina. Many of the things you shared about Seamus reminded me of our Uncle Bob. I posted something short on my FB.

    Like

    • ontheplumtree
      September 2, 2013

      Many thanks Patricia. The funeral was today, and it looked like a beautiful send-off.

      Like

  10. connellykevin
    September 4, 2013

    Listening to the funeral Mass for Seamus Heaney on RTE 1.
    I love the fact that Irish people are moved, saddened, and bereft by the loss of a man, who despite never meeting,they felt they knew.
    There has been an outpouring of memory and poetry, they have spoken and quoted his words from every programme since his death on Friday. His photo is all over the internet, everybody remembering a line from their favourite poem.
    Standing Ovations from stages at the closing acts of plays when his poetry was read aloud at curtain fall this weekend.
    The church is packed.
    They remember a man who treated all he met the same,
    a Swedish King, Heads of State, Presidents and Pensioners and when remonstrated with about the enormous workload and readings he attended said – “Ah, lads, sure you have to give something back”.
    The only time he was ever flummoxed enough to be rendered wordless was when a man said to him on meeting for the first time –
    “Nice hair, Seamus”.

    They are piping slow airs,
    with the instrument of heartbreak,
    And a Cellist bends low over his bow
    And they will guide him home,
    silently lining the roads to Derry,
    their hats in their hands,
    their heads bowed.
    Sleep well and soft,
    File.
    I post this belatedly but I wanted to let you know how it went here in Ireland, all the national papers had it as lead story, editorials, reprints of poems, old photos, anything they could think of.
    Friday night we are having a tribute night at a gathering of local poets, that’s typical of what is happening. During the last Presidential Election here it was mooted that Seamus would make great President. Had he accepted everyone knew it would be a walkover. He declined and so we elected Michael D Higgins, also an accomplished and published poet.
    Sometimes Ireland makes me proud, Kevin

    Like

    • ontheplumtree
      September 4, 2013

      Sometimes, Ireland makes me proud too. And when I am brought low by it, and exiled by it, I remember the slow airs, the poets, the statesmen, the Seamus Heaneys. It is this I carry with me in my Irish soul when all else fails me. Thank you Kevin for your wonderful contribution.

      Like

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This entry was posted on September 1, 2013 by in Special Projects and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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