Late Nobel poet Heaney toasted at literary "wake"

Thu Nov 21, 2013 6:45am EST
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - Seamus Heaney's poems have been toasted as "reports from the heart" at a literary "wake" for the late Irish poet and Nobel laureate, bringing together poets, writers, actors, singers and the Irish traditional band, The Chieftains.

Poets Paul Muldoon, Michael Longley and Bernard O'Donoghue, all longtime friends of Heaney, who died in Dublin on August 30 at the age of 74, read some of his most famous works at the event late on Wednesday.

Among them were the harrowing early poem "Mid-Term Break" in which Heaney described coming home from school at the age of 14 for the funeral of his younger brother who had been hit by a car and was buried in "a four foot box, a foot for every year".

The Chieftains, joined by harpist Dianne Marshall and Sean-nós - old-style - singer Alyth McCormack, performed a "Lullaby for the Dead", as well as rousing jigs and reels.

Irish novelist Edna O'Brien and Irish poet Paula Meehan, who holds the title of Ireland Professor of Poetry, also gave readings.

With Heaney's widow Marie and his children attending the sold-out event at the 2,500-seat Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall, novelist and literary critic Andrew O'Hagan, who often traveled with Heaney around Ireland and elsewhere, described him as "a representative of poets' power to replenish the imagination and affirm the interior life.

"His poems from the very beginning were reports from the heart and, sure enough, they were voicings of a human spirit issuing tolerance and empathy in desperate times," O'Hagan, who served as the anchor for the two-hour poetry reading and musical offering, said.

O'Hagan said that in his poems Heaney, who was the eldest of nine children of a cattle dealer and grew up on a farm in County Derry, west of Belfast, "was a voice of the pasture and the inner ear, the bramble patch and lost time".   Continued...

Nobel prize winning poet Seamus Heaney recites his poem "Villanelle for an Anniversary" during the 361st Commencement Exercises at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts May 24, 2012. REUTERS/Brian Snyder