As this week draws to a close it seems two major stories are on most people's minds; the terrible events unfolding in the Middle-East and the performance of a pop-star. So it goes. Large scale tragedy competes with entertainment spectacles for our attention. Sadly, this week also saw the passing of a great poet as Seamus Heaney died yesterday. In the clamour of our busy lives, the passing of a poet does not register on the consciousness of most of us, but Heaney was truly a special writer who will be remembered and read far into the future.
Born in Ireland in 1939, Heaney burst onto the poetry scene in 1966 when his book Death of a Naturalist won numerous prizes and gained him an international reputation. Heaney's stature grew with his subsequent works, most notably Field Work, and in 1999 he published his translation of the epic old English saga Beowulf which against all odds sold in huge quantities all over the world and is already recognized as the definative translation. In 1995 he was awarded the greatest honor in literature; the Nobel Prize.
I have to confess I'm only passingly familiar Heaney's early works but I did purchase his last book of poetry Human Chain and I have read it many times in the last three years. His poems are, like all great poetry, simultaneously specific and universal. He writes with great tenderness about people and places that are uniquely Irish, but somehow the non-Irish reader is able to understand and be moved as if Heaney were writing from their own life. I certainly feel this way. I also feel I understand the Irish soul - which is to say the human soul - much better for having read his poetry.
So farewell, Seamus Heaney. Although you are gone, you leave behind works that will be read and loved by generations yet unborn.