(Poem #61) Song
A rowan like a lipsticked girl. Between the by-road and the main road Alder trees at a wet and dripping distance Stand off among the rushes. There are the mud-flowers of dialect And the immortelles of perfect pitch And that moment when the bird sings very close To the music of what happens.
This delicately lovely poem has always reminded me of a haiku - there is the same ethereal yet etching-precise economy, the wealth and evocativeness of the images, with every word worth a thousand pictures. The interweaving of images and music captures the very essence of poetry, lending the poem a self-referentiality that is no less real for being unstated. Glossary: immortelle [alien sense] imOrtel. [Fr. (short for fleur immortelle), fem. of immortel immortal.] A name for various composite flowers of papery texture (esp. Helichrysum orientale, and other species of Helichrysum, Xeranthemum, etc.) which retain their colour after being dried. -- OED Biographical Notes: b. April 13, 1939, near Castledàwson, County Londonderry, N.Ire. in full SEAMUS JUSTIN HEANEY, Irish poet whose work is notable for its evocation of events in Irish history and its allusions to Irish myth. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995. Heaney's first poetry collection was the prizewinning Death of a Naturalist (1966). In this book and Door into the Dark (1969), he wrote in a traditional style about a passing way of life--that of domestic rural life in Northern Ireland. In Wintering Out (1972) and North (1975), he began to encompass such subjects as the violence in Northern Ireland and contemporary Irish experience, though he continued to view his subjects through a mythic and mystical filter. Among the later volumes that reflect Heaney's honed and deceptively simple style are Field Work (1979), Station Island (1984), The Haw Lantern (1987), and Seeing Things (1991). His Selected Poems, 1966-1987 also was published in 1991. The Spirit Level (1996) concerns the notion of centredness and balance in both the natural and the spiritual senses. Heaney also wrote essays on poetry and poets, including such figures as William Wordsworth, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Robert Lowell. Some of these essays appeared in Preoccupations: Selected Prose,A collection of his lectures at Oxford was published as The Redress of Poetry (1995). The Cure at Troy (1991) is Heaney's version of Sophocles' Philoctetes, and a later volume, The Midnight Verdict (1993), contains translations of selections from Ovid's Metamorphoses and from Cúirt an mheadhon oidhche (The Midnight Court), a work by the 18th-century Irish writer Brian Merriman. -- EB Assessment: 1995 Nobel Laureate in Literature "for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past." -- The Nobel Foundation Robert Lowell has deemed Heaney "the most important Irish poet since Yeats." Critics have been largely positive about his verse, and he is undoubtedly the most popular poet writing in English today. His books sell by the tens of thousands, and hundreds of "Heaneyboppers" attend his readings. His earliest influences, Robert Frost and Ted Hughes, can be seen throughout his work, but most especially in his first two volumes, where he recollects images of his childhood at Mossbawn. Other poets, especially Gerard Manley Hopkins, William Wordsworth, Thomas Hardy, and even Dante have played important roles in his development. [...] Some critics have placed Heaney in a no-win situation; he is condemned either for confronting too strongly the situation in his homeland, or taken to task for remaining aloof from it. Nevertheless, some of his most convincing elegies deal with friends and family he has lost to the Troubles. "Casualty," a poem about a Catholic friend murdered by a bomb set by the Provisional Irish Republican Army in a Protestant pub, gives us another look at the tribal warfare in Northern Ireland. His questioning of his friend's responsibility for his own death realizes the ambiguous nature, the muddling of right and wrong, that grips Northern Ireland today. And yet, what is important is not placing blame, but the recognition of what remains to those who live, memories and sadness. It is easy to get the impression that Heaney is a provincial poet, concerned only with the happenings of his island and his memory. That conclusion, however, would be misleading. He is not merely a one-note minstrel; his birthplace does not completely occupy his mind. "Song" demonstrates his exploration of the poetic process. Like "Digging" and "Personal Helicon," this short lyric attends to his own imagination. His descriptive powers are akin to Wordsworth's, and his attention to the world around him and the details of language make this poem a small success. [...] Heaney's work is filled with images of death and dying, and yet it is also firmly rooted in the life of this world. His tender elegies about friends and family members who have died serve many purposes: they mourn great losses, celebrate those who have gone before us, and recall the solace that remains to us, our memories. When asked recently about his abiding interest in memorializing the people of his life, he replied, "The elegaic Heaney? There's nothing else." -- Joe Pellegrino, excerpted from <[broken link] http://metalab.unc.edu/dykki/poetry/heaney/heaney.bio.html> (and do go and read the whole thing) Websites of interest: <[broken link] http://educeth.ethz.ch/english/readinglist/heaney,seamus.html> - highly recommended, along with all its links. m.