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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"

Edited by MisterHobgoblin

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What a wonderful story MH. Lucky you.  I only saw Seamus Heaney in the flesh once.  It was at my graduation ceremony at UCLan in 2003 when he presented the diplomas, so I only shook his hand.  A great honou and something to remembered always. Sad he's no longer with us, but what a great man.

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I'm very sad to hear that news.  You were fortunate indeed to meet Heaney, Mr HG.

 

He was a remarkable poet, drawing on the great tradition of the Romantics and exploring both himself and Ireland in honest, thoughtful, often painful ways.  His writing was accessible yet deeply intelligent and his incredible lyricism was beautiful.  His words were not florid, but earthy and rich, creating spellbinding tapestries in which you became immersed.  He could take you out of your world and into his within a few lines and unfailingly left you with things to think about.

 

Undoubtedly one of the twentieth century's finest poets; he's a great loss.

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Can this not go in the RIP thread?

 

I did wonder about that, but then I thought with the tagging system perhaps it would make sense to have individual threads for significant authors who die, then people searching with tags will find members' tributes.  I always prefer merging where it helps keep the board tidy, but this seemed worthy of a different approach.

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What a lucky man MrHG! When I was much younger, I worked in the west of Ireland in a house where Seamus Heaney was a good friend and a visitor. Sadly I always managed to miss these occasions. His first book "Death of a Naturalist" is always to hand. I love this short poem taken from it, it's sparcity is so evocative of the landscape and the people of the west.

 

Sygne on Aran.

 

Salt off the sea whets

the blades of four winds.

They peel acres

of locked rock, pare down

a rind of shrivelled ground;

bull-noses are chiselled

on cliffs.

 

Islanders too

are for sculpting. Note

the pointed scowl, the mouth

carved as upturned anchor

and the polished head

full of drownings.

 

There

he comes now, a hard pen

scraping in his head;

the nib filed on a salt wind

and dipped in the keening of the sea.

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Another anecdote pops into my mind. I was working as a civil servant in the Health Department in Belfast in the 1990s. The Chief Medical Officer, Dr Henrietta Campbell, was delivering a lunchtime seminar that she had called "Of Glimpse and Dapple". This was in the days before widespread internet use and we were speculating about what the title meant. We concluded that Glimpse and Dapple were My Little Ponies. 

 

When we got into the seminar, Dr Campbell read us a poem by Seamus Heaney:

 

Not an avenue and not a bower.
For a quarter mile or so, where the country road
Is running straight across North Antrim bog,

Tall old fir trees line it on both sides.
Scotch firs, that is. Calligraphic shocks
Bushed and tufted in prevailing winds.

You drive into a meaning made of trees.
Or not exactly trees. It is a sense
Of running through and under without let,

Of glimpse and dapple. A life all trace and skim
The car has vanished out of. A fanned nape
Sensitive to the millionth of a flicker.

 

A poem about the creation of order from chaos. We all felt really shallow - because this was a poem about one of Northern Ireland's most famous scenes: the tree lined road north from Ballymena that we would all have known so well

 

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We concluded that Glimpse and Dapple were My Little Ponies. 

 

I suspect the guiding influence here was the fact the Play School rocking horse was called Dapple.

 

I've not improved the situation, have I...?

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I hadn’t heard any news today (well yesterday now) and it was quite a shock to open BGO and see this thread. I had to leave the site and check before I believed it properly. It really does feel like a friend has gone . . . and I have never seen or met him. I love the anecdotes that people have given, especially Mr Hobgoblin’s book signing. He just seemed so modest and accessible as a person. In his writing he gave strong stories and messages firmly but gently.

 

I’ve seen hundreds of really unlikely teenagers surprise themselves by engaging in his poems and enjoying doing so - just a small sample of those who will be saying proudly, ‘I studied him for GCSE’.

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I’ve seen hundreds of really unlikely teenagers surprise themselves by engaging in his poems and enjoying doing so - just a small sample of those who will be saying proudly, ‘I studied him for GCSE’.

 

I'd say that's partly because of his subject matter - Vikings, Celts, dead bodies, sex and car bombs. Partly it is because he switches quickly from very deep, lyrical verse to conversational vernacular and back again. He seems to break the rules and schoolchildren like that. He also had a fantastic sense of humour which is not necessarily what you expect in a poet.

 

Also, having spent much of my life in and around Northern Ireland, I have seen how much it meant to have a famous son who was genuinely world class on a big stage. Seamus Heaney was not just one of many competent performers a la Liam Neeson. He was not the master of an esoteric field, a la Joey Dunlop. He was not a hanger on to the Troubles.

 

Seamus Heaney was a literary giant who changed the way people across the world think about poetry. I suspect his importance will only be realised slowly as there is no equal to fill the gap that he has left.  

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I think what is so beautiful (apart from the poetry of it) about Of Glimpse and Dapple is that it is both particular and universal. Many will have their personal tree lined road, I have mine, and theses words fit it perfectly, in a way that has only ever been an internal emotion before reading this, now I have words as well. Thanks for sharing it MrHG

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We got back from a week without media or Internet access to this sad news. Heaney (along with Ted Hughes) turned me on to contemporary poetry as an adult, having turned my back on verse following school years of soul destroying "death by analysis" classical poetry study.

 

Before dinner last night we raised a glass and recited some poems in celebration, including one of our favourites, Oysters.

 

 

We had driven to the coast

Through flowers and limestone

And there we were, toasting friendship,

Laying down a perfect memory

In the cool thatch and crockery.

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