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Seamus Heaney RIP.

We’re big on poetry here at Counting Cats, the title is a Henry Thoreau quote after all. So it is with a heavy heart that we hear the news that Seamus Heaney, Ireland’s most famous poet ,has died at the age of 74.

A Nobel Prize winner and prolific writer of not just poems but plays and books. Go here for an obituary, and here for examples of his work. Some of the finest honed and crafted words you will ever read.


  1. NickM says:

    A fine poet. The paddies seem to have a production line. Now, I was once (1995) chatting-up an American woman and I quoted Eliot. She said he was a terrible anti-semite. I only found out later she was Jewish. Oddly enough this whole caboodle meant I didn’t get to see (she was welol foxy) my mate Rod (a Canuck) beating the living sh’ite out of Andreas from Heidleberg for going through Anne’s knicker draw. Andreas was on my Astrofizz course and a wankenshaft. He wore a cravat – in Stepney, in 1995 – he also thought the RAF bombing of Germany was a war crime and voiced this opinion loudly in a pub in Stepney. Anyhoo, my attempt at a chat-up failed (sort-of more later) because the American in question was more interested in hearing Andreas being Juno-beached in the hall than in Eliot.

    She told me she was Jewish a few weeks later, in bed. She also told me that Andreas had come a calling for her the day before the party and she found the cravat-twat leafing through her mail. And that was why she wasn’t interested in my Eliot but would much rather hear Rod kicking the shit out of him.

    So poetry has a use. It works wonders on the ladies. It just has to be deployed at the right time. Though obviously at a fairly raucous post-grad party where the host (a Kazakh – who’s Dad owns a fucking gold mine! is doing his signature Freddie Mercury impression – and he wasn’t half bad, my flat-mate John is trying to climb out the window – second floor and in between chinning the kraut Rod is trying desperately not to have sex with “Dirty Maria from Valencia” and palm the fat slag off on me) And they say men can’t multi-task! I was trying to get pissed, trying to prevent my mate spackering himself, trying to fend off Maria, trying to get a snog from Jessica, trying to quote poetry and failing to hear a German getting a richly deserved beating from a Canadian in East London. And not for the first time.The Luftwaffe know about that.

    The first time I met Andreas he struck me as a platinum cunt. He really did. But onto happier things. Poetry did play a part in my love-making. Jessica recited to me “Leda and then Swan by Yeats” and explained why it was such a good poem. It made sense. And not just for route-one reasons so I deployed the heavy guns and I got Donne. In the XIX Elergy sense.

    She had a Danish flatmate called Kierkegaard. She was lovely and a direct descendant that no bugger but me grokked the connection.She was well impressed and certainly looked better in hot-pants on the dance-floor than the professional miserablist Søren did.

    Astrophysics, when you aren’t German is physics for poets. It’s kinda like being an art’s student who can do sums. My Tal-Mizar telescope has revealed the transits of Venus in several ways.

    Of course it only works if you really care.

    I leave that deliberately multiple in potential meaning.

    Oh, and Donne’s XIX elegy… After this, well if I put that through GCHQ I’d go to jail for ever and a Manning… This for me is love poetry. It’s not Hallmark. It’s visceral and real and cool all. Anyone who believes us Brits are stand-offish about sex ought to read Donne. Or go for a night-out in Peterlee. On the whole this I prefer…

    Come, Madam, come, all rest my powers defy,
    Until I labour, I in labour lie.
    The foe oft-times, having the foe in sight,
    Is tired with standing, though they never fight.
    Off with that girdle, like heaven’s zone glistering
    But a far fairer world encompassing.
    Unpin that spangled breast-plate, which you wear
    That th’eyes of busy fools may be stopped there:
    Unlace yourself, for that harmonious chime
    Tells me from you that now ’tis your bed time.
    Off with that happy busk, whom I envy
    That still can be, and still can stand so nigh.
    Your gown’s going off such beauteous state reveals
    As when from flowery meads th’hills shadow steals.
    Off with your wiry coronet and show
    The hairy diadem which on you doth grow.
    Off with those shoes: and then safely tread
    In this love’s hallowed temple, this soft bed.
    In such white robes heaven’s angels used to be
    Received by men; thou Angel bring’st with thee
    A heaven like Mahomet’s Paradise; and though
    Ill spirits walk in white, we easily know
    By this these Angels from an evil sprite:
    They set out hairs, but these the flesh upright.

    License my roving hands, and let them go
    Behind before, above, between, below.
    Oh my America, my new found land,
    My kingdom, safeliest when with one man manned,
    My mine of precious stones, my Empery,
    How blessed am I in this discovering thee.
    To enter in these bonds is to be free,
    Then where my hand is set my seal shall be.

    Full nakedness, all joys are due to thee.
    As souls unbodied, bodies unclothed must be
    To taste whole joys. Gems which you women use
    Are as Atlanta’s balls, cast in men’s views,
    That when a fool’s eye lighteth on a gem
    His earthly soul may covet theirs not them.
    Like pictures, or like books’ gay coverings made
    For laymen, are all women thus arrayed;
    Themselves are mystic books, which only we
    Whom their imputed grace will dignify
    Must see revealed. Then since I may know,
    As liberally as to a midwife show
    Thyself; cast all, yea this white linen hence.
    Here is no penance, much less innocence.

    To teach thee, I am naked first: why then
    What need’st thou have more covering than a man?

    I love that. I love that for it links me now with someone writing nearly a half a millennium ago and thinking the same. And that is cooler than liquid nitrogen. He got in Barnabus Rubble for that as he did for marrying a Catholic. That’s how we know hwo he pronounced his name. It is from something he wrote: “John Donne, Anne Donne, Undone”.

    But I love it. Sex is dirty. It has to be if it matters. And it does matter.

  2. RAB says:

    Now that’s more like the Nick I know and love.

    That Donne was a lad though wasn’t he? Been there, Dunne that and got the Doublet! Centuries before we were even born.

  3. John Galt says:

    Why can’t I have led a more exciting student life I often ask myself?

    My first year at Leeds Poly involved sharing the attic of a Lithuanian draft dodger on Ash Grove with a pre-med fantasist from Brighton with the sexual charisma of a toothbrush, an ex-soldier with a tractor fetish who went on to be a John Deere salesman, a computer geek from Slough with a dubious choice in purple shirts and an obvious homosexual pretending to be straight (that would be me)

    The most exciting thing we ever did was to attend the Poly Bop and stand in the corner saying how gorgeous specific girls were without having the nerve to approach them.

    At least I had the plausible deniability of being a faggot who was underage as the age of consent for gay men was 21 at that time. Then again, no man is an illand [sic]…

    “No man is an island,
    Entire of itself,
    Every man is a piece of the continent,
    A part of the main.
    If a clod be washed away by the sea,
    Europe is the less.
    As well as if a promontory were.
    As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
    Or of thine own were:
    Any man’s death diminishes me,
    Because I am involved in mankind,
    And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
    It tolls for thee.”

    John Donne

  4. John W says:

    “No man is an island, Entire of itself.”

    Speak for yourself.

    Heaney was no friend of liberty. To Hell with the Papist and the rest of the whole, rotten, degraded and degrading clerisy.

  5. RAB says:

    I rather like what one of the Jefferson Airplane wittily said between tracks on After Bathing at Baxters, when one of his bandmates uttered the line… No man is and Island… He said… No he’s a Peninsula…

  6. Sam Duncan says:

    If it’s any consolation, John, I never had one at all. The fact that some people had boring ones certainly is to me, I can tell you. I often feel that I missed out by being more or less round the twist at the time I should have been a bloodystudent.

    Did I ever tell you lot about the French Bloke? I was sitting in the barber’s – a one-woman operation – a few months back, in fact it must have been about a year ago, because this French bloke was telling her how he’d been back home in Cannes for the summer, serving drinks on the beach to rich women of a Certain Age. Sitting next to me was an astonishingly beautiful girl who turned out to be Romanian and was obviously with him. And when I say “astonishingly” I mean the genuine oh-my-good-lord-I-didn’t-think-they-really-made-them-like-that-without-photoshop article. I felt, by turns, like a spotty 14-year-old again and a dirty old git. Sometimes simultaneously. But we all got talking about Romanian gypsies among other things such as how the hell anyone leaves Cannes for bloody Glasgow – “Well, it’s a good university and my girlfriend’s over here too” – and eventually he was satisfied with his barnet and gets up to leave. At which point the Romanian godess absolutely insists on paying. The barber, a matey kind of woman, says, “T’chah, look at that, eh? Home to Cannes for the summer, spending the whole time on the beach, and a girlfriend who pays your way”.

    To which he delivered the killer line: “Oh, she’s just my flatmate. My girlfriend is at Edinburgh”.

    Some guys don’t know they’re born.

  7. RAB says:

    Ye Gods! What must his girlfriend look like then?

  8. NickM says:

    The Leeds Poly bop! I know that in spades. I have seen things there you people would not believe… I have also slept in an attic in Leeds. Seriously. My mate Mike was doing German and French there and he I’d been offered a PhD in Type Ia Supernovae and whilst I was house-hunting I slept in the attic of his gaff just up from the Hyde Park boozer. I saw some reprehensible gtaffs and wound-up in one. Mike’s gaff (what I atticced – though he did make a damn fine turkey curry) was a huge house that might of been nice some day but not in the late ’90s – when sub-divided for students. It was the lair of the “Lock Ness Bongster” so named because of the plastic tubes connecting the demi-johns that were sat on a skateboard. I smoked some bad shit there. and played Goldeneye. I walked (for want of a better word) and ate a biriyani with Haribo on top and called it good.

    BTW, did you never venture to Queen’s Court? (Or was it going in your day?) The Pink regarded it as the best Gay Club in the country. I was once chatted up there by a bloke who said he only liked straight blokes. Seriously – he wasn’t trying to bum me or anything. We (that’s me, him and my wife wound-up chatting and I was trying to say his strategy didn’t work. I mean if you are a man who likes men then only going for men who like women is a strategy that needs a bit of work!

  9. Lynne says:

    Whatever his faults he had a magical way with words. Unlike Andrew Motion and Carol Ann Duffy.

  10. NickM says:

    CAD isn’t all that bad but Motion fit’s his name. He’s terrible.

  11. NickM says:

    By which I mean CAD is pretty abysmal but like OK – kinda like Tesco -but Andrew “Bowel” Motion is like a terrible cunt.

  12. Chris Gordon says:

    “Be advised my passport’s green. No glass of ours was ever raised to toast the Queen.”
    …..Seamus Heaney

    “Be advised my passports maroon.No glass of Seamus’ will be raised anytime soon.”

  13. RAB says:

    Be advised my passport was black, and there’s only a slim chance of getting our Sovereignty back.

    Same goes for the Irish. 500 years of fighting the English and they instantly piss their freedom up the wall to the EU.

    I loathed George Bernard Shaw’s and HG Wells Fabian politics, but I loved some of their plays and books. I know it’s difficult sometimes, but you really should try to seperate great work from the personal life and political beliefs of the creator. Heaney was a great wordsmith. He was hardly screaming up the IRA in every stanza now was he?

  14. Mr Ed says:

    I was always wary of this man, partly on the ‘by his friends’ principle, and for me poetry reached its zenith wth the Vogons.

    I heard some of Mr Heaney’s stuff on the radio on Sunday, and I thought ‘he made a career out of crowbarring into a clause inappropriate or downright wrong adjectives’. His words jarred like a rusty wheel grinding at a sloth’s pace, with an echo of Ted Hughes.

  15. RAB says:

    Yes I understand what your saying Mr Ed. He does jar sometimes. For instance in the line Chris Gordon quotes…“Be advised my passport’s green. No glass of ours was ever raised to toast the Queen.”

    To make the line flow properly, I would have lost either the word… Ever… or …Toast.

    I am a poet by the way. Chair Bard Cathays Grammar School 1970 (disqualified for the obscenity of my Nom de Plume) Also a slim volume of collected poems, and contributions to various mags. ;-)

  16. Mr Ed says:

    I would drop the ‘was’ there RAB and the ‘the’ to ‘their’.

    I have a sneaking liking for McGonagall, and an open liking Lorenzo da Ponte, whose language made rhymes easy.

  17. Mr Ed says:

    At least I cannot truthfully say:

    “Be advised my passport’s blue, the IRS know where I am too”.

  18. RAB says:

    McGonagall eh? You are either taking the piss or trying to curry favour with Counting Cats hisself. :-)

  19. RAB says:

    PS. Rhymes are easy. The difficult part of poetry is the stuff that means something inbetween…

  20. Mr Ed says:

    RAB, McGonagall’s poetry was arguably a greater disaster than the Tay Bridge collapse itself, but I do like contrived puns (Tim Vine etc.) and find his work endearing. Still, Mr Heaney was not an apologist for murder, as far as I know of him, unlike GBS.

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