I can barely bring myself to type the words.
Seamus Heaney is dead.
There is no way for me to adequately convey the inestimable impact of his words on my adult life. He has been with me every day for as long as I can remember, like a pulse. Somehow, I always imagined our paths would cross, and I would be able to thank him for making me brave when I needed to be, for gently teaching me to love from afar the language and the well-trodden lanes of Castledawson and Bellaghy in rural Derry, for “crediting marvels,” in the unlikeliest small things, and, mostly, for inspiring me to set words down on a page, to light up this screen with them, so I might at last be able, “to see myself, to set the darkness echoing.”
Over the years, during the bad times, when friends and relatives have lost loved ones, my condolences to them have been wrapped up in Seamus Heaney’s pitch-perfect poetry. Where do I turn today? For today, only Heaney himself would be capable of producing the right words to assuage Ireland’s sorrow over his passing. I cannot imagine the landscape of my lovely, tragic homeland without him. I don’t want to. So I turn again to something he wrote in Station Island, to a poem he dedicated to his sons, Michael and Christopher, and I imagine them grown and grieving with his wife, Marie, and daughter Catherine Ann, and “taking the strain of the long tailed pull of grief.”
A Kite for Michael and Christopher
All through that Sunday afternoon
A kite flew above Sunday,
a tightened drumhead, an armful of blow chaff.
I’d seen it grey and slippy in the making,
I’d tapped it when it dried out white and stiff,
I’d tied the bows of the newspaper
along its six-foot tail.
But now it was far up like a small black lark
and now it dragged as if the bellied string
were a wet rope hauled upon
to life a shoal.
My friend says that the human soul
is about the weight of a snipe
yet the soul at anchor there,
the string that sags and ascends,
weigh like a furrow assumed into the heavens.
Before the kite plunges down into the wood
and this line goes useless
take in your two hands, boys, and feel
the strumming, rooted, long-tailed pull of grief.
You were born fit for it.
Stand here in front of me
and take the strain.
Read the Obituary.