HURT INTO POETRY
The poet, and the poetry of, Seamus Heaney is not a product of the Northern Ireland conflict, except in the sense that his is a sensibility that seeks to assuage and to heal. It would not be true to say of Heaney, as Auden wrote of Yeats, that “mad Ireland hurt Heaney into poetry,” or that the conflict in his native province, as has been suggested, has significantly stimulated him as a writer. Unlike the early Auden, whose genius was sharpened by the revolutionary currents of the thirties, Heaney would prefer not to have lived in a time of violence.” On the other hand, if Heaney is seen as a symbol of rapprochement and healing, then the political symbolism of his Nobel Prize is brilliantly apt. -Richard Tillinghast, “Seamus Heaney’s Middle Voice” The Criterion Online, Vol. 17, No. 9, May 1999.
When Heaney was 14 his family left the farm where he had been reared from his birth in 1939. His life since then, since 1953, has been a series of moves farther and farther away from his birthplace. But these departures have been more geographical than psychological. Rural County Derry, the "country of the mind" is where much of Heaney's poetry is still grounded. Heaney's poems first came to public attention in the mid-1960s when he was in his mid-twenties. Heaney always had a deep preoccupation with the question of poetry's responsibilities and prerogatives in the world. His poetry was poised, such was Heaney’s view, between his need for creative freedom and the pressure he felt to express his sense of social obligation as a poet and as a citizen. –Ron Price with thanks to “Biography of Seamus Heaney,” Nobelprize.org.
I, too, moved further and further away
from my birthplace and, by the end of
my years, I was about as far away as I
could be and still be on the planet Earth.
The country of my mind was not the land
where I was born, though it often appeared
in my mind’s eye unannounced without even
knocking at the door and making its own cup
of tea in the kitchen before sitting down to chat.
My poetry came much later that yours, Seamus:
poured out of me about the time I was fifty and
still does in these early years of late adulthood1
And yes, it’s all about poetry’s responsibilities
and prerogatives and my social obligations in an
Order that is the structure of a moderate freedom2
for humanity in the tempest of this antediluvian Age.
And was I hurt into poetry as Yeats way back then?
Well, partly Seamus, partly--then there was healing
and the river flowed down to the sea quietly at times
often in swirling-white currents going every which way.
1 developmental pscyologists define late adulthood as the years 60 to 80.
2 Letter to the Followers of Baha’u’llah in the United States of America,” The Universal House of Justice, 29 December 1988
10 July 2007
married and a teacher for over 35 years; a Baha'i for 48.