Tag Archives: Seamus Heaney

On being watched over, after the death of parents

Heaney: I was forty-seven, I think. My mother died in 1984, and my father died a couple of years later. And I think maybe that’s just a common experience; that you are next in line, there’s nothing over your head in terms of age, in terms of a parent. It coincided in my own life with a wonderful bout of writing a couple of years later—1988, 1989—a sequence of poems eventually called Squarings. They were terrifically free, and they began with an image of an unroofed wall-stead of an old ruined house and an image of the soul as a beggar standing in the doorway. I suppose that particular image began to take hold of me—the idea of an unroofed space and the creature, soul-body, down here with nothing between it and the infinite. And all the early formation, all the early religious imagery that I got for life and death, for the meaning of your life on earth and then your afterlife, all that somehow was stirred again. For anybody in my generation, certainly in the Irish Catholic generation, the soul was like a little white handkerchief, unstained, and you would stain it with sin and so on. But more important was the sense that the whole universe was governed by the deity, that there was divine attention being paid not just to the universe but to you yourself. You’re like a little drop of water in this great ocean, you’re a little speck in the whole scheme of things: nevertheless, you are being watched over, and watched over not only in terms of care but in terms of supervision to see you do nothing wrong. And there was this idea, and my generation got it very early, that there would be two judgments at the end of your life. First, at the end of your particular life, you would be whipped away into eternity and you would undergo a particular judgment; your own life would be scanned, and rewards or punishments, or atonement, would be the result of that. Then again at the end of time, there would be a general judgment, and the whole thing would be ratified on a larger scale. Anybody who undergoes that is marked by it forever, I think. And no matter what kind of secularization occurs, there is a huge coordinate established for consciousness from the beginning, that sense of the outer shimmering rim of everything always being there in your imagination. Maybe that explains it—the soul being whipped away and the roof coming off and you being exposed to that infinity that occurs after the death of your parents.

Elenor Watchtel, AN interview with Seamus Heaney, Brick (from here) 

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To hang like an affliction

“I might enjoy being an albatross, being able to glide for days and daydream for hundreds of miles along the thermals. And then being able to hang like an affliction round some people’s necks.”

Seamus Heaney (from here)

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