Friday, 30 August 2013

Seamus Heaney R.I.P.

I'm not sure that I can add anything at all useful to what has already been written about the sad death of Seamus Heaney at the age of 74. There's a really fine piece by poet and publisher Tom Chivers over at the Guardian's Comment Is Free site that really says it all.

I studied Heaney at A Level, back in the late 80s, along with Eliot and Larkin. I liked his work a lot, but didn't care much for the latter two at the time (my opinion of them has changed somewhat since). But Heaney has remained a favourite. His version of Beowulf is my favourite translation of the Anglo-Saxon epic, and recent collections always had plenty to commend them.

He's one of those artists, I think - it happens with musicians as much as with writers - who eventually suffers something of a backlash not because of the quality of his own work, but because of that of his poorer imitators. With Heaney, fortunately, that reaction's never been too vicious, in large part I suspect because he was such an approachable, generous figure.

In 1995, when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, I was working at my local newspaper. The father of a childhood friend rang up, told me that Seamus Heaney was his wife's cousin (I wish I'd known earlier), and asked if I'd like a quick word with him about the prize win. And so I did a phone interview with the great man. I don't think a lot got published in the end, but he chatted openly and in the friendliest manner possible.

I know what I'll be reading this weekend.

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