Peggy Hughes remembers Seamus Heaney 1939–2013
Programme Director at Dundee Literary Festival on the legacy of the Nobel Laureate
What to say at the passing of Seamus Heaney, Nobel Laureate, luminary and seer, a figure dear to the imaginations and hearts of poetry lovers around the globe.
I could consider his poetry, but there’s not enough room. A few favourites, even? Ditto, though my mind always floats to ‘A Clip’ while at the barbers (‘Cold smooth creeping steel and snicking scissors’) and ‘Clearances 3’ when peeling spuds (‘Like solder weeping off the soldering iron’). No: here’s my own small glad memory instead. He paid a visit to the Scottish Poetry Library while I worked there, and I was dispatched to collect him from Waverley Station. Can you even IMAGINE? In the taxi the conversation turned to accents, how I hadn’t lost mine, not a bit of it, to tell my mother that I sounded as Antrim as the day I left. One brief taxi ride gabbing away and you were made to feel like you’d been his pal for moons.
This literary superstar – who wore his incredible intellect lightly, who counted presidents and celebrities as devotees – was entirely himself, regardless of company or situation. Asked in an interview how he stayed sane given the huge demands on him, he replied by speaking of one brother who drove a furniture van and another who worked for the creamery. He said ‘they come with me wherever I go’. It’s nice to be important but important to be nice: Seamus Heaney was superlative at both. His profound body of work will continue to inspire generations, but I hope we might learn from his kindness, his humour and his humility too. It’s a heavy hurt to know our leading light is no longer with us in the world. But it’s a brighter world for having had him in it.
Peggy Hughes is the Programme Director at Dundee Literary Festival.