I received this note from our Poetry Editor, Jim Gustafson today on the passing of Seamus Heaney.
“This morning I learned that Seamus Heaney died at 74 years old. He was just seven years older than I. He was an important poet to me and to the world, for that matter. I would not have any enthusiasm to argue against those who would say he was our greatest living poet.
News of his death stirred that something that makes me want to try to write a poem. I thought of his 1995 Nobel Lecture which I occasionally listened to as I walk. In that talk he says, “I credit poetry for making this space-walk possible.” With that in mind, I began to write. I watched my words come out in the slow sentimental drips that come in mourning and thought it best to move-on in prose, where sentimentality is allowed to whisper.
Heaney was never far from the shadow of his father. Like Roethke and others, there is a connection between poet, father, and earth that cannot be shaken. In his book Death of a Naturalist, his poem “Follower” recalls how, as he father plowed the Irish field, he followed behind “tripping, falling and /yapping always.” The poem ends with the lines:
It is my father who keeps stumbling
Behind me, and will not go away.
Perhaps I feel close to Seamus Heaney because we share fathers who won’t go away. Perhaps it is our mutual awareness that our fathers’ toil made it possible for us to escape the fields. Whatever it was, he is the sort of poet who enters the room with his words. And in all the days ahead, when we read his poems, he will be behind them. He will not stumble, nor will he go away.”