Seamus died on Friday. I honestly enjoyed his translation of Beowulf, wherein he welded the monkey wrenches of English together. I don’t have time to find his grave words from the introduction of that text, wherein he describes the vague menace at the border “from Grendel,” but it’s a beautiful figure of speech relevant to our time. I don’t give a fig whether or not he was greater than Yeats. How would I know? But this was truly a great one, from 2002, both didactic and beautiful:
First he was shivering on the shore in skins
Or hunkering behind shell-middens in a cave.
Then he took up oars, put tackle on a mast,
And steered himself by the stars through gales.
Once upon a time from the womb of earth
The gods were born and he bowed down
To worship them. Then he walked tall
From temple to agora, talking against himself.
The wind is no more swift or mysterious
Than his mind and words; he has mastered thinking,
Roofed his house against hail and rain,
And worked out laws for living together.
Homemaker, thought-taker, measure of all things,
He survives every danger except death
And will yield to nothing else. Nothing
Else, good or evil, is beyond him.
When truth is the treadle of his loom
And justice the shuttle, all due honor
Will come his way. But let him once
Overbear or overstep
What the city allows, treat law
As something he can decide for himself –
Then let this marvel of the world remember:
When he comes begging we will turn our backs.
Seamus Heaney is dead, amidst the countless dying generations of fish, flesh, and fowl, and the mercury sank again in the mouth of a dying day.