Between my finger and my thumb,
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.
Under my window, a clean rasping sound,
When the spade sings into the gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down.
Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away.
Stopping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.
~ Death of a Naturalist (1966)
Seamus Heaney was born near Bellaghy in County Derry. He was educated at St. Columb’s College Catholic Boarding School and later studied at Queens University in Belfast. He would eventually settle down to call Dublin his home with many periods of teaching in the US. He married Marie Devlin in 1965, and would later have two sons, Michael and Christopher.
It wasn’t until the 1960’s when his first major collection appeared, The Death of a Naturalist, which gained the public’s attention. He quickly became one of the best-known poets around the globe.
Seamus Heaney’s works often dealt with the local surroundings of Ireland, particularly in the North, where he was born. His local upbringing helped him articulate much of his focus, even about the “Troubles.”
I remember reading a few of Seamus Heaney’s poems when I was a high school student on the Irish Life Experience. However, it took me awhile to appreciate how much he truly conveyed the Irish attitudes, their speech, and simply their way of life through poetry.
It wasn’t until many years later when I was living in Northern Ireland that I decided to hole myself up in a local pub with a pint of Guinness and some of Seamus Heaney’s “Bog Poems.” I’m not much of a poet, but his words truly spoke to me and released my imaginative powers. He described people’s lives, their voices, and the Irish landscape beautifully on paper. He truly struck a chord with me and from that point on, I was a Seamus Heaney fan!
Seamus Heaney texted his wife, Maire, “Noli Timere,” minutes before he died. He told her in Latin, “Do not be afraid.”
Thank you Seamus Heaney for your works and RIP. Noli timere – your poems will be remembered for many years to come. You are one of the greats in Irish language and literature, and will be cherished with the likes of Beckett, Joyce, and Yeats.