This time last year, I heard Seamus Heaney read from his oeuvre at London’s Southbank Centre. After that hour, I remember feeling magnetized to the cadence of the nomadic strangers, hoary buildings, and white noise of the city. I was on a trip, I was in a state, all induced by poetry, induced by the quiet puissance of an Irishman.
On the evening of his reading, I willingly overdrew from my bank account to buy a signed copy of his recent collection Human Chain. A year later, that £25 overdraft fee is still waiting to be paid back in my UK bank account—acting now as tangible proof of Heaney’s imprint on my life, a debt (I’ll risk being precious) that can never be repaid.
I am drawn to Heaney’s uncanny ability to straddle the line between cerebral and visceral expression. However, in the wake of his passing, I am guided towards his more lustrous poems, specifically “The Railway Children.” In this poem, I am reminded of his evocative pathos and, most significantly, his identity as a rustic laureate. My Seamus Heaney will always be an excavator of being, a digger:
We were small and thought we knew nothing
Worth knowing. We thought words travelled the wires
In the shiny pouches of raindrops,
Each one seeded full with the light
Of the sky, the gleam of the lines, and ourselves
So infinitesimally scaled
We could stream through the eye of a needle.
He streamlines the whimsical imaginations of a young poet. These stories are out of his native Ireland, but his words are for everyone, traveling through water drops in faucets and skies and oceans. Seamus Heaney gives us a provincial scope into telluric ideas. He humanizes uncertainty, humanizes ignorance, and allows us the space to dream possibilities.