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Seamus Heaney remembering a great craftsman

September 1, 2013


Seamus Heaney: poet, craftsman

It was terribly sad to hear the news of the passing to Seamus Heaney, a craftsman if ever there was one. As not only was he a master craftsman of the English language he embodied the other important characteristics of craftsmanship; granite like integrity, and a deep empathy of the world around him and the people in it. A quest for truth is always core to the purpose of a poet, to seek that which others do not see and to express it in a way that we can all understand. We often ignore the importance of language its ability to uplift us, or to shape the way we see and therefore act in the world. Heaney wrote,

What always will be to poetry’s credit, is the power to persuade that vulnerable part of our consciousness of its rightness in spite of the evidence of wrongness around it.

Heaney’s work faces the worst but then steadies itself against it – provides compelling reason as he wrote that ‘hope and history can rhyme together’, such a beautiful phrase. Goodness is often seen as weakness, beauty as frippery, yet are these not the very things we all strive for, should celebrate and work towards everyday? Heaney lived with a powerful awareness of social and cultural responsibility and that is why he is more than a poet he was a craftsman applying his craft to the collective good.

And to that end the precision in which he used language demonstrates a master craftsman in full command of his technique and his creative expression. Here is Heaney at his most creative, precise best.


There was a sunlit absence.
The helmeted pump in the yard
heated its iron,
water honeyed

in the slung bucket
and the sun stood
like a griddle cooling
against the wall

of each long afternoon.
So, her hands scuffled
over the bakeboard,
the reddening stove

sent its plaque of heat
against her where she stood
in a floury apron
by the window.

Now she dusts the board
with a goose’s wing,
now sits, broad-lapped,
with whitened nails

and measling shins:
here is a space
again, the scone rising
to the tick of two clocks.

And here is love
like a tinsmith’s scoop
sunk past its gleam
in the meal-bin.

By Seamus Heaney
From “North”, 1975


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