Saturday, August 31, 2013

An Elegy for Seamus Heaney

Yesterday we heard the sad news of the death of Seamus Heaney. Today we have this, an elegy for Heaney by my friend and mentor John Matthias, which appears here with his kind permission. It takes its form—in meter and in rhyme—from the third section of W.H. Auden's great elegy for W.B. Yeats, which Heaney also used in his poem "Audenesque," an elegy for his friend, the poet Joseph Brodsky. Ultimately, this form of elegy, its iambic tetrameter truncated by the omission of the initial unstressed syllable, goes back to Shakespeare's "The Phoenix and the Turtle," a kind of elegy for the death of love. But this is no occasion for my pedantry—so let's have Matthias' poetry instead:

Elegy for Seamus Heaney Seamus felt it in his feet, Clods of fuel in the peat. In the peat a fire to warm Children not yet even born. Joseph Brodsky was his friend. Wystan Auden would amend Dances William Blake would like, Tigers lurking in the night. Metric feet and feet in boots – Robert Lowell was shown his roots Welcomed in an Irish town Where the sky was falling down. Mister Yeats was dead by then Honored by some mortal men Heaney his example took, Brooding sky and flying rook. Even Possum shares the beat In Joseph’s poem for Thomas Stearns. Heaney’s poem for Brodsky, dead, Lives in turns, not Grecian urns. What dread turning plow or spade Having dug up things well made Digs now to inter a shade. World poets learn your trade!


  1. A great poet, he'll be missed.

  2. I always like it referred to as a trade.