Monday, 2 September 2013

Seamus Heaney

The first Seamus Heaney poem that I read,  and still one of my favourites, is "A Kite for Michael and Christopher" I was maybe 12 years old and preparing for a Speech and Drama exam. My piece was Edwin Morgan's poem about lovers eating strawberries, but the one I loved was the Heaney poem being drilled into a classmate. While Morgan's speaker urged his lover to let the storm wash the plates while they, I now assume, had better things to do (who picked that poem for a 12 year old to recite?) my heart was with Michael and Christopher urged to take the kite in their hands.
From the very star of my career I have taught Heaney poems. They are a pleasure to read with students, to let them handle. 

A Kite for Michael and Christopher
All through that Sunday afternoon
a kite flew above Sunday,
a tightened drumhead, an armful of blown chaff.

I'd seen it grey and slippy in the making,
I'd tapped it when it dried out white and stiff,
I'd tied the bows of newspaper
along its six-foot tail.

But now it was far up like a small black lark
and now it dragged as if the bellied string
were a wet rope hauled upon
to lift a shoal.

My friend says that the human soul
is about the weight of a snipe,
yet the soul at anchor there,
the string that sags and ascends,
weigh like a furrow assumed into the heavens.

Before the kite plunges down into the wood
and this line goes useless
take in your two hands, boys, and feel
the strumming, rooted, long-tailed pull of grief.
You were born fit for it.
Stand in here in front of me
and take the strain.
--Seamus Heaney

I had the huge fortune to meet Seamus Heaney in 1999 at the prize-giving ceremony for the Pushkin Prizes. Two of my students had won prizes and it was my absolute joy to hear him read their words, to pose with him for a photo. I think my smile says it all in this photo. God rest his soul. My heart goes out to those who knew and loved him best, their loss must be enormous.

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