Monday, September 2, 2013

Seamus Heaney*

Seamus Heaney (1939—2013) is recognized as Ireland's greatest poet since W.B. Yeats. A few days ago, on Friday August 30th, he died in a Dublin hospital. I wrote here, two years ago, in celebration of his most recent poetry collection, Human Chain (2010), particularly of his masterful capturing and preservation of a vanishing way of life. He is the recipient of many awards, including the T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry for District and Circle (2006).

Heaney was raised a Catholic, in County Londonderry, in predominantly Protestant Northern Ireland. In 1972 he resigned from his position at Queen's University in Belfast, and moved to the south. The rural landscapes of his childhood — and of the cottage he and his wife first rented, then owned, in County Wicklow — feature strongly in his poetry.

Seamus Heaney will long be remembered as one of the greatest poets of our time. The following poem is the first from his 1996 collection The Spirit Level, published shortly after he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The Rain Stick

for Beth and Rand

Upend the rain stick and what happens next
Is a music that you never would have known
To listen for. In a cactus stalk

Downpour, sluice–rush, spillage and backwash
Come flowing through. You stand there like a pipe
Being played by water, you shake it again lightly

And diminuendo runs through all its scales
Like a gutter stopping trickling. And now here comes
A sprinkle of drops out of the freshened leaves,

Then subtle little wets off grass and daisies;
Then glitter–drizzle, almost breaths of air.
Upend the stick again. What happens next

Is undiminished for having happened once,
Twice, ten, a thousand times before.
Who cares if all the music that transpires

Is the fall of grit or dry seeds through a cactus?
You are like a rich man entering heaven
Through the ear of a raindrop. Listen now again.

*This is the third Kingdom Poets post about Seamus Heaney: first post; second post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: