Whatever you say …

It’s taken me a while to get round to writing about Seamus Heaney. That’s partly because of the scale of what he represented – partly because of my failure to be well-read in poetry. And yet he created a mental landscape for Ireland.

‘Whatever you say, say nothing’ is part of how he summed up the reality of Northern Ireland life – ‘the tight gag of place and times……….. ‘. We were all complicit in sustaining the sectarianism — indeed almost needed it as a way of knowing who and where we were.

‘Where to be saved you only must save face
And whatever you say, say nothing’

The Irish Times provided an excellent obituary – a bit overheated at times

‘He turned our disgrace into grace, our petty haters into epic generosity, our dull cliches into questioning eloquence, the leaden metal of brutal inevitability into the gold of pure possibility’

Which leads to that other favourite quote:

History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme’

In his Nobel lecture, he quoted a line which he had written – ‘instructing myself (and whoever else might be listening) to ‘to walk on air against your better judgement’. He deserved his Nobel prize not just for his poetry but because he managed to belong to everybody in Ireland. It was Mandela’s greatness in South Africa. Others didn’t succeed in being greater than the tribe. Heaney did and that was his gift to us.

One comment

  1. Well said, David. An exceptional human being as well as a great writer, who put our inchoate feelings into words which will endure.

Comments are closed.