I was very sad to read of the passing of Seamus Heaney this evening.
I first encountered Heaney as an English Literature A Level student in 1987, being introduced to the novel concept of studying a writer who was still alive. I loved North.
Then, on going up to college, on my first evening in the bar there was an awed atmosphere as Seamus Heaney himself stood at it, downing pints whilst brave dons joined him for a drink or two. After a fair while, I summoned up the courage to approach him and said I hoped I wasn't commiting some kind of heresy by speaking to him. Oh no, he said, why would it be a heresy? I told him that he was one of two writers I had really enjoyed at A Level. Who was the other, he asked. I replied that it was Chaucer. Ah well, it sounds like I'm in good company, he said. I still can't believe I actually met and spoke to one of my A Level authors.
I met Heaney a few weeks later and he remembered me.
Then years later, at the Edinburgh Book Festival I wanted to get a book signed and dedicated. Alas, he was not doing dedications - one book only, one signature. I mentioned that I had met him years earlier and he had spoken to me - would he write a dedication in the book. Oh no, he said. No dedications, them's the rules, he said loudly as he wrote me a dedication.
The world was brighter for Seamus Heaney's presence. He was a gentlemen and a scholar, but also very down to earth.
"This is my pen, I'll dig with it"
After Antigone's brothers' deaths in battle, the new king, Creon, has ordered that one of them is not to be given a burial because he considers him a traitor. Antigone sees this edict as going against the gods' laws and defies Creon, burying her brother so that he can find his way to the underworld. When Creon discovers what she has done, he orders her put to death.
Antigone's defiance of state law is a powerful allegory for rebellion against patriarchy. The fact that a woman carries out this rebellion and is later esteemed for it is a strong image for women and is one of the reasons I like this play. It's resonant for women who have sought equal rights and recognition by men, but Heaney's adaptation is resonant from the perspective of the Northern Ireland conflict also in its depiction of the stoicism of women who have lost loved ones in the violence.