Irish people around the world can celebrate Great Poetry Reading Day on April 28 by reading Seamus Heaney's "When All the Others were away at mass", voted the nation's favorite poem.
Heaney’s sonnet was named Ireland's best-loved poem of the past 100 years in RTÉ's A Poem for Ireland poll, carried out in 2015 and what better way to celebrate distinguished poetry than by reading this fine work of art?
The poem is taken from Seamus Heaney's "Clearances III - In Memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984" and recalls a morning shared between the young author and his mother, peeling potatoes.
Heaney’s poem was selected as Ireland’s favorite two years after his death, on Aug 30, 2013. Responding to the news, Heaney’s son, Mick said: “We are delighted and honored that my father’s sonnet When All the Others Were Away at Mass has been voted by the public as the Poem For Ireland, particularly given the magnificent shortlist it was part of.”
President Michael D. Higgins made the announcement in front of a live audience during the filming of a special episode of RTÉ's "The Works" at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin.
An independent jury compiled a shortlist of ten poems chosen from public nominations. The public was then asked by RTE to vote for their favorite.
This poem is taken from Clearances, a sonnet sequence which he published in 1987 on his mother’s death. It is third in a series of eight sonnets Heaney wrote in memory of his mother, Margaret Kathleen Heaney.
When All the Others Were Away at Mass
In Memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984
When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.
So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives –
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.
* Originally published in 2015
What's your favorite Seamus Heaney poem? Let us know in the comments!