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At FSG: Frank Bidart, Tracy K. Smith, Henri Cole & Many Others Remember Seamus Heaney
Seamus Heaney’s death last week left a rift in our lives, and in poetry, that won’t easily be mended. A Nobel Laureate, a devoted husband, a sharp translator, a beloved friend, and the big-hearted leader of the “Government of the Tongue,” Seamus was a poet of conscience; his close-friend and fellow poet Paul Muldoon said, “He was the only poet I can think of who was recognized worldwide as having moral as well as literary authority.” Poetry was a vocation that he dedicated his life to, something he believed had “the power to persuade that vulnerable part of our consciousness of its rightness in spite of the evidence of wrongness all around it, the power to remind us that we are hunters and gatherers of values, that our very solitudes and distresses are creditable, in so far as they too are an earnest of our veritable human being.” Uncannily attuned to the voices of the world around him, his poems made both the personal and collective subconscious realms concrete in language.
In this time of sorrow for his family, friends, and the literary community, we would like to celebrate his remarkable life and work. Seamus Heaney was our Wordsworth, our Keats, our Hopkins, our Yeats. To commemorate this remarkable artist, we asked some of his friends and fellow poets to share a memory or a reflection on his work. We are grateful to Paul Muldoon, Henri Cole, Robert Pinsky, Frank Bidart, Maureen N. McLane, Michael Hofmann, Tracy K Smith, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, C. K. Williams and Paul Elie for their contributions.
Frank Bidart: The World Returned to You Returned No Where Else
Seamus Heaney had the uncanny ability to translate the being of the world into language. His words seemed to short-circuit the ego constructions, ego combats that make up so much of our speech. He invented a language that carried the weight of our physical beings, our existence as creatures on a physical earth. His language, at times autobiographical, modest or even seemingly tossed-off, was beautifully impersonal—instantly recognizable not only as his own, but as “the music of what happens.” It made inescapable not only the graces and pleasures of the earth, but (far rarer among poets) tragedy.
The moral insight and balance that his writing possesses he possessed as a person. It has become a commonplace to say this about him; weirdly, it’s true. Generosity and tact. The ability to see the necessities and accomplishment of writing very different from his own. His presence at any gathering of writers calmed the scene, as if briefly we were not a gaggle of competing egos but made up a genuine community.
You can find something in Heaney’s poems that you can find no where else. Part of the world is returned to you there that is returned no where else. The news, two days ago, was that Seamus “died.” People will never stop wanting to read Seamus Heaney.