Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Death of a Poet

The Death of a Poet

Not long awake, I sat my first mug of coffee down and unfolded the still warm newspaper, wincing a little as I turned my eyes to the front page.  I was unsure of what fresh hell would stare up to greet me.  The march to another war?  The raging wildfire?  No.  It was a bittersweet surprise to see the clear eyed gaze of the poet, his photograph significantly large, above the fold, its sheer size regulating all other stories to lesser importance on this day.  Seamus Heaney had died.  

The loss of so monumental a poet is a sad fact indeed.  His absence will leave a hole in the culture few if any can fill.  But strangely, staring down at the paper, I found myself flooded with hope.  In a world so fraught and torn, where every news story seems unrelentingly bleak and art often feels corporately designed for the lowest common denominator, that the death of a poet should be considered the dominant news of the day, was wholly uplifting to me.   I saw it as an affirmation of sorts, a declaration to the world that thoughtful words and the recognition of beauty still deserve our greatest attention.

Here in the states it has been difficult, if not impossible, to have spent the last week unaware of the fracas over the performance of another one of our manufactured pop stars on the stage of a televised awards show.  Apparently hoping to catapult herself to adulthood in the eyes of her fans, the former teen darling attempted a romp of blatant sexuality that unfortunately succeeded in being a cringe-worthy spectacle so repellent and laughable that it managed to convey to the world merely that she’d gone off the rails in spectacular fashion.  Parents were up in arms.  Prayers were requested.  And, as her agents and managers knew full well, the result was that she remained the top story all week long, grabbing both the number two and number three spots for iTunes sales in exchange for her sacrificed dignity.

When one looks at the top of the charts it is easy to slide into cynicism.  Badly written books soar to the stratosphere on the wings of vacuous vampires and half-naked, lamebrained ingenues.  Popular music seems merely a vehicle for ego; films are unoriginal and calculated.   Technology has cluttered modern life in ways unimagined even a few years ago.  Just as the robber points and shouts, “Look Over There!” while he slickly steals our wallet, we are bombarded with meaningless diversions at every turn in the road.  
But wait. Not so fast. There is still hope.  

If we can manage to stop up our ears and pick our way through the detritus of commerce, it is possible to break free to travel a clearer road.   The quest for truth and beauty is still a noble one and when we occasionally uncover a gem that makes our heart sing and our soul lift, the reward is pure joy and, dare I say, a little bit of wisdom.  I was reminded of this the other night as I watched Cate Blanchett’s transcendent performance in the new movie, Blue Jasmine.  She breathes such life into her fictional character that one is able to feel oneself lifted up in understanding and empathy, which is, I suppose, the ultimate purpose of art. 

As The New York Times declared by its coverage of the death of Seamus Heaney, poetry still matters.  Art occasionally still trumps war, politics and even commerce.  It remains the best route to a sapient comprehension of our common humanity; a way to illuminate beauty as well as to better comprehend pain; a path that can lead to the discovery of truth.
 Rest in peace, Mr. Heaney.  God rest your soul. 

And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you'll park or capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.
by Seamus Heaney

Portrait of Seamus Heaney above by Peter Edwards


  1. You must have been reading my mind! Well said to all points addressed, yes - there is still hope! Ani in NC

  2. Beautiful poem about County Clare.
    I felt that way on the moon like
    surface near Connemara.
    It's true, every time I
    see the news it's anything but beauty.

  3. Reading the peom reminds me. Surely it must be time for Hebridean travels ?

  4. Good old NY Times. Yes, we don't need to pay attention to ridiculous pop culture phenomena when there's so much that's better and more worth our time. Thanks for that poem. I may need to buy a book of them!

  5. Well said, Thank you for your reflections. Modern life is so soul robbing sometimes.

  6. He was one of my favourite poets Pamela - also I admired him for his dignity during the troubles in Northern Ireland. As and Irish Catholic and, I believe, the youngest of nine children, he could have come out strongly but he didn't - he maintained his dignity and became a much respected figure throughout the world. His funeral has been today and was reported on our news a few minutes ago.

  7. I am so sad to hear he has passed. What a poet. His language always manages to uplift the soul, no matter what it is about. Your tribute is wonderful. Thanks for this post.

  8. I agree with you, somehow it is heart lifting to see a poet celebrated, even in his death.

  9. You write, what I am feeling..So up lifting.. Who said?? without art,(poetry, music,all art) we are just monkeys with car keys..

  10. A beautiful post reminding us that although tawdriness seems to prevail in popular culture, there is abundant hope and beauty for those who take time to look.
    Lovely poem, the last line caught my breath.

  11. Lovely.I stopped reading the paper years ago as there was nothing "HAPPY" or "Good" ever printed!Maybe I will take another look.You are a beautiful writer yourself and that DOG of yours!!!!!!!DELICIOUS!

  12. Beautiful, well written post. Thank you Pamela, but I still want to run off and live in a cottage somewhere in Scotland...away from it all.

  13. Pamela...as always, a thoughtful post and so encouraging to read as well that poetry still matters. When I settled into the USA for my two month stay this past summer, I wavered on whether to have the TV reception hooked up an decided against it. I had a few movies for those quiet nights, music, books...and good conversation. I felt the news could wait until my Sunday ramble through the NY Times. The only other newpaper I picked up was the local one..because they are always so much fun to read. This post, this poem..your thoughts on life is what I enjoy so much about your blog. Kindred spirts..I have always felt it. You always catch my heart with your words and blow it open..I call it positive energy. Thank you... xx

  14. Pamela, what a lovely tribute to Seamus Heaney. Yes, our artists do matter, and it was gratifying to see that the New York Times put his passing on the front page. The poem took my breath away. Thank you!

  15. Thank you dear Pamela, these words of 'encouragement' are just what I needed to read and yes we have been on the same page but then I am not surprised at that.

    Apart from the loss of Seamus Heaney which touched me greatly it has been such a sad week for me as I had to lay my dear dog to rest.

  16. and how interesting to me . . .
    that too totally disparate types of men have now said something about what we look forward to . . . in each of their 'last words' before dying.
    steve jobs said "oh wow. oh wow. oh wow."
    and seamus heaneny said to his wife "there is nothing to fear."
    and . . . to a commenter here. . .
    cait o'connor ... my heart goes out to you. the saddest of losses is a darling dog. a sword straight to the heart.

  17. Seamus Heaney was one of those very rare people who seemed to be loved and respected by everyone. His words certainly spoke across the great divides. I wonder if you ever came across "The Rattlebag"?

    On another note entirely, we recently visited the London home of Emery Walker. I feel you will already know about it? If not, add it to your list.

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  19. I saw his obituary in the NYT too. It's sad about his death but nice to see him remembered there and here. What a lovely poem! Yesterday I reviewed/interviewed a WWII novel that I think you'd like. The female protagonist is a pilot and a poet. Rose Under Fire is beautifully written.

  20. A wonderful tribute.
    Having just returned from a few wet and blustery days on Skye, the poem gains extra relevance!
    Cheers, Gail.

  21. It is so promising and encouraging when front page news is about respect and celebration...
    A lovely tribute Pamela... xv

  22. A great loss, but his poetry is eternal.

  23. Very sad news for book lovers..we miss these kinda poets in the book world.:(

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  24. Sorry to hear this news.Very bad news to all the book lovers.Thanks for sharing this news..

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I love to read your comments! Each and every one! Though I'm always reading your comments, I may not respond in the comment section. If you want to write me directly, you may do so at pamela@pamelaterry.net. Thank you for reading!