Sharp About Your Prayers

the challenges, absurdities, and joys of an urban faith

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Seamus Heaney 1939-2013

August 30th, 2013 · No Comments · Faith and the City

Seamus HeaneyI awoke this morning—back in NYC after summer travels, family time and study leave—to hear Seamus Heaney’s death reported on the radio. Heaney was one of Ireland’s best poets. Ever. His name belongs in the same breath as Beckett and Yeats.

One of the things I cherish in Heaney’s work is his eye for the ordinary. Heaney is able to describe being out in the Irish fields with perfectly suited words, and in these basic rhythms he unfolds the warp and woof of life.

Here, for example, is his evocative “Picking Blackberries”:

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.

I am grateful for Heaney’s eye and his pen, and thank God that such careful, slow, unvarnished seeing was gifted to us all.



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