As we quickly approach the sixth anniversary of Ireland's great poet's death it's good to note that “Seamus Heaney: Listen Now Again” exhibition is open in Dublin until 2021
The New York Times’ Jim Dwyer reports that there’s a new Seamus Heaney exhibit in Dublin called “Seamus Heaney: Listen Now Again” at the Bank of Ireland headquarters in College Green, directly across from the entrance to Trinity College. The exhibit will run for three years.
“The exhibit,” reports the Times, “curated by Professor Geraldine Higgins of Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., presents about 100 items and gives them a multimedia charge with audio readings, videos and screens that show the progress of revisions in the blink of a digital eye. ‘We could quite happily have had 500 pieces,’ said Katherine McSharry of the National Library.”
The material making up the exhibit was literally donated by Heaney himself, as he and his son Mick hauled boxes containing 10,000 pieces of papers to the National Library. The exhibition shows the artist at work as Heaney works on drafts to seek perfection even after some of the works have been published in such places as the Irish Times.
Heaney was born in Derry in 1939, three months after the death of Ireland’s Archpoet and another Nobel Laureate, W.B. Yeats. In this exhibit, he reveals his feelings as an Irishman born and raised in a British-occupied territory. He worries about being included in a collection of “British” poetry: “where I figure as a kind of pride-of-place goodie.”
According to the Times, “He was contemplating an open letter to the editors of the volume to assert his Irishness, against his instinct to keep his head down and not weave through the North’s armed tribes. Yet to stay quiet was to take a risk on another plain: ‘If I am not careful I shall get entangled with a triumphalist Falklandia image which is equally subtly propagandist and misrepresentative.’ ”
The exhibit also shows the thinking of the poet as he ages. There are poems about a spinster aunt of his youth whose tongue was “always wounding, wounding.”
There are remembrances of his mother in “Clearances,” which topped an Irish Times poll of readers favorites for the past century:
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.
Later in the poem, there are remembrances of his mother on her deathbed:
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.
He writes to playwright Brian Friel about aging and loss: “At any rate the words come into my head out on the strand, ‘My father and mother are dead, I’m fifty and my son is leaving home.’ Old hat to a Methuselah-like you, I know, but cubs like me are just getting the range of evacuated spaces.”
He would become part of his “evacuated spaces” upon his death in 2013. “Don’t be afraid,” he told his wife as he waited to be wheeled into surgery for a ruptured aorta.
Brave words to live by from Ireland’s latest Archpoet.
* Dermot McEvoy is the author of the "The 13th Apostle: A Novel of Michael Collins and the Irish Uprising" and "Our Lady of Greenwich Village," both now available in paperback, Kindle and Audio from Skyhorse Publishing. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at www.dermotmcevoy.com. Follow The 13th Apostle on Facebook at www.facebook.com/13thApostleMcEvoy.
** Originally published in 2018.