Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Seamus Heaney Irish poet dies.

Seamus Heaney
by Sean O'Torrain

Ireland's best known poet Seamus Heaney recently died. In my early days unless it was the transitional program set to music or rhyme I condemned it as garbage. Thankfully I grew out of that. I came to see the beauty of words and how they could be put together, came to respect wordsmith's. I think that Heaney was mainly a wordsmith. But a bit more-----a bit more because he could evoke images and emotions and truth in his works.

But what about the politics of his work?  I was and still remain unenthusiastic about him on this front. As far as I know he pretty much stood apart from the civil rights struggle which was consuming the best of the youth and workers and middle class in the late 1960's. And he lived in the middle of these people and was a Catholic peasant like many of them, so he did not have much excuse.  

I just re read his speech when he received the Nobel prize in1995. This worries me too. They did not give the Nobel to Joyce. But in his speech Heaney mentions Yeats again and again, a genius no doubt and also a recipient of the Nobel Prize. But how come he never mentioned Joyce. Not once. Not one single time. I believe it is in fact a great compliment to Joyce. Heaney could not reach the heights of Joyce, in my opinion the greatest writer so far. He could never even aspire to reach the heights of Joyce. He knew this but rather than mentioning Joyce in his speech and giving him his due he chose to ignore him. This diminishes Heaney significantly in my eyes.

I cannot get away from the feeling that Heaney lacks certain courage and this in turn results in the sharp harsh cutting edge of truth being missing in much of his work.

Why did he never mention Joyce in his Nobel acceptance speech? Joyce rises like a vertical cliff in
James Joyce
front of the poets and writers of his time and still does today. I feel that it is a test of writers and poets how they deal with Joyce. To ignore Joyce on that most important occasion of his career when he was accepting the Nobel prize as Heaney did in his speech seems to show a lack of courage, and a certain refusal to face up to the fact that he was not a Joyce, that the cliff was way to high and vertical for him and always would be. So better ignore him.

I am no Joyce expert and this is to put it mildly. But I am always surprised, unpleasantly, when I am back in Ireland and meet with writers and poets and they never mention Joyce. It is like they are afraid of him. It was either TS Eliot or Ezra Pound who said that he hated Joyce because nobody could ever write a novel or a piece of literature in the future without Joyce standing above them looking down. I think this is a factor which is very prevalent in Irish writers and writers in general. They will not acknowledge the top man so they chose in the main to ignore him. There are of course many, many exceptions to this rule and to these I apologize unconditionally. But I think this is a factor.

I am reading again The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I am homesick. It is the Modern Library publication. I am at pages 176 and 177 at the moment. What a brilliant exposition of the dialectic in all its splendor and glory and motion. That Joyce was the man.

There were a lot of dignitaries, that is bourgeois types, at Heaney’s funeral. This does not impress me. There were not too many at the funeral of Joyce. I think somebody from the British embassy, a few friends and a homeless man who kept asking who is being buried, who is being buried. Joyce would have like that one.

My Jack Russell is lying here looking up at me. His eyes tell me he wants to know what is going on, what I am thinking. I wish we could talk. Then we could hear the dialectic of the dog. It's bound to have the same principles, matter in motion, nothing moves in a straight line, movement through contradiction, everything has a beginning a middle and an end. No I have not been on the whiskey. I gave it up. The problem is I am still struggling to have the laugh on a regular basis.  


Kevin Higgins said...

Charlie McBride who writes for The Galway Advertiser tells me: "When he did Desert Island Discs, Heaney chose Ulysses as the book he would want to take with him and Joyce is the last visitant he encounters in the 'Station Island' sequence of poems."

Sean said...

I promise, I promise, I will try and stop after this. In general I agree with John about art and the bourgeois. Look at Joyce. He lived on handouts and begging from rich patrons. I think the person who gave him most gave him around 1 million dollars in today's terms. She was an upper class English women but also I think a sympathizer of the CP. Then two American ladies who ran a small book shop in Paris helped out. I think in the case of Joyce what made him so great, amongst other things was that he knew what he wanted. What was it he said. - to create a conscience for his race. I feel he was fighting to create and express the most brutal harsh truth of the people he knew. He stood against the savage attempt of the Catholic church to break him in Catholic holy Ireland. Against the terrible emotional pressure of his catholic mother. And combined with this fought to put together words in the most beautiful and powerful combinations.

There are words and phrases of his that stick in my mind. He was writing once of domestic violence, He talked about a man hitting a woman. He referred to the man's "meandering fist." In other words the man did not even respect the woman to focus and hit her properly, just struck her in a casual way. She was less than nothing. And all in two words.

I had a friend long ago who was a writer and into Joyce. She was trying to break down my backwardness on this front. I shrugged her off with he would have been better if he had written about the working class and revolution. I am ashamed of myself. I also very much regret that this person died some years ago before I could apologize to her for my backwardness. For not recognizing that Joyce was a very great revolutionary in the field in which he chose to fight.