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What s the opposite of a perfect storm How about an imperfect beautiful day Certainly not the weather in Massachusetts, which was cloudy start to finish today No, instead, I wrote a poem tangentially about Henry David Thoreau to start the day off Then I picked up from the library this first edition paperback of Seamus Heaney s first collection of poems, which included in its title Kismet Naturalist HDT would have been proud Then, when I walked the dog this evening, peepers Like a light switch had been thrown, I mean, as if nearing 60 degrees near the end of March does the trick The sound of summer trick.So you see, an auspicious day One in which I finished this British paperback Faber and Faber, sold for 1.25 pounds in 1966 of 57 pages in one sitting That s 34 poems With an old school card in the back showing it was signed out for the first time on June 15, 1977, and only threetimes after that, the last being Dec 22, 1995 So if you re wondering why your own poetry book isn t selling better, you need look no further than this Irish giant s first foray, which apparently got no play in the Petersham Library Small comfort, that Now some people are intimidated by the likes of men named Seamus Heaney He did, after all, develop a style to be reckoned with over time Have no fear here, however Seamus s first outing is mostly the stuff of one page poems a particular favorite of mine and of memories of farm life and boyhood back in the days of yore in Ireland Sod Cows Cuds Potatoes Barns Drowning kittens Irish wakes Young love The usual and the un , in other words.Leading off, a familiar poem The only one I knew from this collection, turns out See if you know it, too DiggingBetween my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests snug as a gun.Under my window, a clean rasping sound When the spade sinks into gravelly ground My father, digging I look downTill his straining rump among the flowerbeds Bends low, comes up twenty years away Stooping in rhythm through potato drills Where he was digging.The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft Against the inside knee was levered firmly.He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deepTo scatter new potatoes that we picked,Loving their cool hardness in our hands.By God, the old man could handle a spade Just like his old man.My grandfather cutturf in a dayThan any other man on Toner s bog.Once I carried him milk in a bottleCorked sloppily with paper He straightened upTo drink it, then fell to right awayNicking and slicing neatly, heaving sodsOver his shoulder, going down and downFor the good turf Digging.The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slapOf soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edgeThrough living roots awaken in my head.But I ve no spade to follow men like them.Between my finger and my thumbThe squat pen rests.I ll dig with it.And dig he did Here First On one of the better days I ve had in a while The only thing that could top it off is seeing a new review of my own book of poems tonight Out of the blue Like the peepers on cue.Now that would put the imin this most imperfect of beautiful days. Strange, it is a huge nothing that we fear.Picking this up last week confirmed my love of books as aesthetic objects, a stirring combination of color and tactile appeal and consequent offset of all sorts of mitigating factors I knew a promising journalist studying at Cambridge who spoke solemnly of the virtues of heading to the moors with a slim volume of Faber This was certainly the week for such between a lovely if demanding visit from my best friend and some troubling demands on the work front, this was ideal Heaney packs the volume with nature but the death is random, almost symbolic A small child hit by a car kittens drowned in a bucket A poet recognizing the worth of labor and puzzling about his own There is no magic here and the human history appears limited to Erin s famine There are no troubles here, no ideology and very little love the opposite is true, a lovely literary creation can be muffled in my mind if the book itself is unseemly My strange snobbery also loathes cheap paper. I began reading this first book of poetry by the Nobel Laureate from Ireland a few weeks ago My wife and daughter were traveling on the Dingle Peninsula and stayed a few nights visiting Trinity College and drank pints of Guinness and Bushmills at the Temple Bar and witnessed the statues of James Joyce and Oscar Wilde in the greens of the great Gaelic capital Ireland is an island which adores its poets, literary novelists and playwrights with a national ardor that I devoutly wish for my own country so immersed in commercial fare and cultural pap Have you ever seen photos of the Library at Trinity College Dublin It s where God goes to read on Sunday I stayed at home to work and as the iPhone photos came in from Dublin, Galway, Coole, Adare and Dingle, I connected with my beloved family by reading the great Irish naturalist, Seamus Heaney I finished this book without knowing that he had been so ill and he died the very next day The timing of the death of this Nobel naturalist and my reading of him struck me as providentially uncanny But what a magnificent literary legacy he leaves behind and one could see his prolific poetic gifts in this work, his first published collection which paints such a humble and humbling portrait of life among the farms and villages of rural Ireland This is a hard life with grim realities It s a life of tilling the boulder laden sod behind horses pulling a plough Heaney writes about digging potatoes flashing white in soil from the spade and how blackberries ferment and turn green so soon after the picking He writes about the ability of the Irish to endure great tempests blasting off the ocean And about the grim business of shooting snipe at dawn The writing is, at times, brutally frank in the way in which Robert Frost was later in life as a poet of the countryside of New England Frost and Heaney had much in common in their respect and honest portraits of the simple life in the country Both can bring vibrant images flying off the pages in 3D after only a few short, well chosen words The writing is vivid, realistic, unsentimental and has the power to leave one stunned by the poet s discernment and rough sensibility at the conclusion of a poem Some of this work is hard to read in a wince causing way because Heaney wants to show the reality of his existence as a naturalist with such gripping candor At times, he almost seems intent upon sensationalism as in his poem about the drowning of kittens I loved his poem about The Trout and his vision of the playwright Synge and lovers on the bare island of Aran Heaney gives us a compelling portrait of a hard life in Ireland in his day That he was destined to become a Nobel Laureate is evident from the beginning in this first collection Pay homage to the great poet and read this work. Between my finger and my thumbThe squat pen rests.I ll dig with itFromDigging I was already living in Ireland for a couple of years when Seamus Heaney died, and I was surprised to see how hard his death hit the country I had never read an Irish author even though I lived there, and was surprised that reactions to his death came from even my classmates I had not seen such heartbreak for a national author when our own Portuguese Nobel passed away It came as a surprise that the man and his work were such an intrinsic part of Irish culture, but now I can fully understand why Ireland grieved some years ago.Seamus Heaney s Death of a Naturalist is a collection of poems focusing on nature and on the typical Irish rural culture, seen as the nostalgic lenses of a man looking back at his childhood Sometimes his writing is warm and loving, the longing for times past of simpler values and connection to nature His language is full of profundity and there s always a sense of fluidity to itDid sea define the land or land the sea Each drew new meaning from the waves collision.Sea broke on land to full identityFrom Lovers on AranOn the other hand, his portrayal of peasant life is ofttimes brutally realistic, and by brutal I really do mean your stomach will tie in a knotI was six when I first saw kittens drown.Dan Taggart pitched them, the scraggy wee shits ,Into a bucketFromThe Early Purges Perhaps the strongest example of this true depiction of the hardships of rural life is Mid Term Break , one of Heaney s most famous poems in this collection, ending with the heartbreaking stanzaWearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear A four foot box, a foot for every yearTruly great poetry, exposing the highs and lows of country life, from famine to feasts, from learning to teaching, from mastering to submission, Heaney shows that the naturalist within us all starts as an ideal and dies as reality sets in, and that the harshness of nature is perfectly balanced with the love it inspires On a side note, I was surprised the word potato only showed up 10 times. 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Death of a Naturalist, by Seamus Heaney A stunning first collection, which set the tone for the stellar career that followed I was nine years old when I first became aware of Seamus Heaney, and maybe even the potential of what poetry could be There was a teacher called Mr Deegan, and I remember with incredible clarity the day he sat on the edge of a table at the front of the classroom, folded open a ragged looking paperback and began to read, slowly and aloud, the poem, Mid Term Break Everything about it has stayed with me, the greyness of the late morning, the rain beating at the windows, and his voice painting scenes, giving us a sense of something, a life lived that was not our own Five or six years passed before I came across the collection, as a book in the library probably just as ragged as the one I d seen the teacher with At that stage, my tastes swayed between horror and western, probably Stephen King and Louis L Amour, and poetry wasn t something that interested me much at all But I took that book and lived with it, devoured it, and over the years I have owned and given away several copies But it s a book I keep coming back to It s not even necessarily my favourite Heaney collection, but it s where we begin, and that can t change Not all the poems here move me, but there are some, like the title poem, or Scaffholding, or Advancement of Learning Something slobbered curtly, close, Smudging the silence a rat Slimed out of the water , or Lovers on Aran Did sea define the land or land the sea that have attained such permanence in my life that I know their landscapes by heart Heaney for me is a picture poet The images he creates have burned themselves into me What keeps me coming back to this book, and to his work in general, is the visceral nature of the descriptions, the appetite for wildness, solitude and stillness, and the realisation even if only sensed of what might lie beneath, or beyond, turning the ordinary into something not only remarkable but almost mystical all qualities, actually, that I also find, and adore, in the work of Ted Hughes Ultimately, though, when I think about or revisit Death of a Naturalist, what matters most to me is the poem that Mr Deegan read aloud to us on that rainy morning when I was nine years old I ve since heard Heaney himself reading it, but with this one at least his is not the voice I hear in my head.Mid Term BreakI sat all morning in the college sick bayCounting bells knelling classes to a close.At two o clock our neighbours drove me home.In the porch I met my father crying He had always taken funerals in his stride And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pramWhen I came in, and I was embarrassedBy old men standing up to shake my handAnd tell me they were sorry for my trouble, Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,Away at school, as my mother held my handIn hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.At ten o clock the ambulance arrivedWith the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.Next morning I went up into the room SnowdropsAnd candles soothed the bedside I saw himFor the first time in six weeks Paler now,Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.A four foot box, a foot for every year. Living in Dublin, i have actually seen Seamus Heaney in person About 5 years ago i was on a train that was about to pull out of Connolly Station Just before it did i noticed Heaney and his wife standing on the platform facing me in my drunken state i jumped up excitedly My God i thought, its Seamus Heaney the noble prize winning poet Someone who had been spoon fed to me for years in school I frantically tried to open the window so as to call out to him but alas the train pulled away just as i succeeded in getting the lever to open and he never got to hear what i had to say which is probably just as well really As if the train had been just 10 seconds later in pulling away he would have heard me shout out the only line i could remember at that exact instant from all his poems A FOUR FOOT BOX, A FOOT FOR EVERY YEAR So lets just say i m eternally grateful that my inability to open train windows when drunk prevented me from shouting at one of the world s most famous poets a line about the passing of his four year old brother I blame the Irish educational system for forcing us to memorise quotes before we learn to understand them Anywho, this is a lovely little book personally i find some of Heaney s poems quite dull and uninspiring but his first two books are very enjoyable reads and this is still my favourite book of poems that he s written highlights fromdiggingBetween my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests snug as a gun wow just wow.fromtwice shyA vacuum of need Collapsed each hunting heart But tremously we held as hawk and prey apart, Preserved classic decorum, Deployed our talk with art I ve been on dates like this just didn t manage to articulate it quite like this when asked how it went afterwards My bad.fromthe dockerThe only Roman collar he tolerates Smiles all round his sleek pint of porter now thats how you describe a drunken religious bigot people take note.To sum up, even non poetry fans can enjoy this book people can either agree or shake their head in artistic disgust depending on their ilk. Coming back to this volume of poems after many years, it was an absolute joy I found myself upping my rating of it to 5 stars The delightful quality of the poems in themselves, which breathe encapsulate the world that Heaney inhabits present it to the reader in the most vivid of images deserve regular re readings in order to soak in them.Their attraction was probably heightened by reading them during a 5 hour coach journey I loath the enclosure, discomfort stuffiness of coach travel They provided the perfect antidote to that atmosphere, opening out a world of air, water, colour, space life Thank God for such poetry. Prior to picking this up if read maybe 5 or 6 poems by Heaney, the well known ones like Midterm Break and Digging which are unofficially required learning for all Irish children However, this collection allowed me to exploreof Heaney s works which are mostly heavily autobiographical and deal with life in rural Ireland It s not hard to see why Heaney was a Nobel Laurette for literature, even in his very first published poetry collection his mastery was clear. Released in 1966, Death of a Naturalist was the first collection by the Irish poet Seamus Heaney While his later work would befar ranging, this debut is deeply concerned with the Irish countryside.Many the poems deal with traditional labour Digging , perhaps his most famous poem, begins with a descriptive of the poet s father digging up potatoes with a spade and ends with Heaney s proclamation that the pen will be his tool of choice In Follower he describes how he would walk behind his father as Heaney senior ploughed the field with a team of horses Even when the poems move on to later periods of Heaney s life when he was living in towns, such as his relationships with women, they continue to use this farm imagery Love, I shall perfect for you the child Who diligently potters in my brain Digging with heavy spade till sods were piled Or puddling through muck in a deep drain It is not only Heaney s rural upbringing that we find here, but the Irish experience back through time Some of the poems look back the potato famine that decimated the Irish population in the 19th century For the Commander of the Eliza is narrated by a British captain who meets a rowboat of starving people trying to escape the starving country, but he can t do anything to save them due to British policy of the time We d known about the shortage, but on board They always kept us right with flour and beef So understand my feeling s, and the men s Who had no mandate to relieve distress Since relief was then available in Westport Though clearly these poor brutes would never make it Of the four scenes in At a Potato Digging , three are observations of contemporary Irishmen at work and one the poet s imagination of how the 19th century blight destroyed whole crops Unlike many of his peers in 20th century English poetry, Heaney continued to work with traditional metres and rhyme schemes like ABAB The form of many works, where an observation of everyday life moves into a meditation on larger things, reminds me somewhat of Elizabeth Bishop Clearly this poetry with its accessible language and concerns has a wide readership For me personally, the somewhat single minded focus of the collection keeps me from being completely overwhelmed, though I very much appreciate the art inherent here.