Seamus Heaney

786px-Seamus_HeaneyThe cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

From ‘Digging’, by Seamus Heaney

Very sad news reaches us of the death, aged 74, of the poet Seamus Heaney. Anyone who has studied English module EN3027 – Single author study; Seamus Heaney will have had the good fortune of being exposed to some of the richest poetry ever to have come out of the British Isles – indeed, as his early poem ‘Digging’ attests, the words almost seem to have been hewn from the Irish soil itself.

In our office, ‘The Heaney’ as EN3027’s accompanying reading list is known, has itself become somewhat of a badge of honour. At 140 items, it’s maybe not one of the longest reading lists we’ve had to work on, but to complete the Library’s stock provision for this module has been the work of several summers, containing as it does a large amount of small-print-run research material that proved very hard to obtain. So much so that when I outwardly sighed, ‘ah – Seamus Heaney…’ on hearing of his passing, one of my colleagues assumed it was an exclamation of regret at having been assigned ‘The Heaney’ list again.

Sadly not…

Re-reading ‘Digging’ now, that first couplet stills pulls me up as sharply as it did on the first reading, twenty years ago:

Between my finger and my thumb   
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.
But it’s those ‘living roots’ that leap up off the page at me now, along with the ‘curt cuts of an edge’ that sever them.
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