#FridayReads, Aug. 30, Seamus Heaney’s “Death of a Naturalist”

Weekend Update: I’m glad to see that Andrew Sullivan’s site The Dish also eulogized Seamus Heaney in a post sharing the same video I posted below, with the reading of “Digging.” Author of the guest post, poetry editor Alice Quinn, has lovely things to say about Heaney’s affection for other poets–George Herbert, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, etc.

Heaney cover#FridayReads, Aug. 30, Seamus Heaney’s Death of a Naturalist, his debut poetry collection published in 1966, a copy of which I bought at a reading he gave in New York in the late 1980s, and which I’m dipping in to tonight. Heaney was a warm and personable reader who embodied his poems with great solidity and clear voice. The news of his death at age 74 was announced earlier today, with eulogies and obituaries appearing in many publications, including the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Irish Times, and the Boston Globe, where I found the youtube clip I’ve posted below of Heaney reading his poem “Digging,” which I recall he read at the event almost 25 years ago.Heaney back

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.
Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down
Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.
The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.
By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.
My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.
The 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.

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