Paul Muldoon, ‘Seamus Heaney’s Beauty’ [funeral eulogy], in The New Yorker (2 Sept. 2013)

[Source: The New Yorker - online; accessed 29.03.2014. Incls. photo-port. by Mariana Cook (2001) and photo of Heaney and Muldoon on the top of the Sandycove Martello. The text delivered as the eulogy at Seamus Heaney’s funeral, which took place in Dublin on September 2, 2013]

I called the Heaney house once years ago. Maybe thirty years, now. The phone was answered by one of the boys. Michael, I’m pretty sure. He was a teen-ager at the time. Having known him since he was a kid, I was glad to have a chance to have a chat and hear what he was up to. After a while, Michael ventured, “I suppose you’ll want to speak to head-the-ball?” Not being a parent at the time, I was a little taken aback by the familiarity, perhaps even the over-familiarity, of this nomenclature. Even if Michael didn’t call Seamus “head-the-ball” to his face (which I’m pretty sure he didn’t), I realize now that it was a very telling moment. It was a moment that suggested a wonderfully relaxed attitude between father and teen-age son, one I now see as highly difficult to establish and maintain.

The Seamus Heaney who was renowned the world over was never a man who took himself too seriously, certainly not with his family and friends. He had, after all, a signal ability to make each of us feel connected not only to him but to one another. We’ve all spent many years thinking about his poetry. We’ll all spend many more years thinking about it. It’s the person rather than the poet I’m focussing on today. The person who did everything con brio, “with vigor.” This was, after all, the Seamus Heaney who repurposed Yeats’s description of a bronze chariot in his poem “Who Goes With Fergus?” and referred to his B.M.W. as a “brazen car.” However the Seamus Heaney we’re here to celebrate today might be described, “brazen” is hardly a word that comes to mind. Anything that smacks of ostentation would be quite inappropriate. As would anything that smacks of meanness of spirit. A word that might come to mind is “bounteous.” And, while I’m in the realm of the “B”s, maybe even “bouncy.”

This last may seem a bit strange, but I have a distinct memory of playing football with Seamus, Michael, and Christopher somewhere in or around Glanmore. When I say “football,” I need to be clear, particularly when this could well have been in an era when soccer was perceived as a foreign game. Let’s put it like this. It was not a game in which Seamus’s talent for heading the ball was ever called on. It was Gaelic football, and I have to tell you that I speak as someone who’s been shoulder-charged by Seamus Heaney. He bounced me off like snow off a plough. Benignly, though. “Benign” is another word that comes to mind.

Actually, “benign” is somewhat inadequate. “Big-hearted” is coming closer. On the subject of the heart, when Seamus was fitted with a monitored electronic device a few years ago he took an almost unseemly delight in announcing, “Blessed are the pacemakers.” Seamus’s big-hearted celebrity attracted other celebrities, of course. Movers and shakers always attract movers and shakers. Was it a young Michael (or a young Christopher, perhaps?), who was introduced to a couple of dinner guests and inquired of each of them in turn, “What is it you’re famous for?” To return to Seamus’s capacity to act con brio, I don’t think I’ve ever seen another human being, with the possible exception of Usain Bolt, move with such speed and accuracy as did Seamus when he heard the then toddler Catherine-Ann cry out in distress after falling in the yard. He positively sprinted, swept her up in his arms, brought her to a safe place.

It was Seamus Heaney’s unparalleled capacity to sweep all of us up in his arms that we’re honoring today. Though Seamus helped all of us develop our imaginative powers we can only imperfectly imagine what Marie is going through. She above all recognizes that other great attribute of Seamus Heaney. I’m thinking of his beauty. Today we mourn with Marie and the children, as well as the extended families, the nation, the wide world. We remember the beauty of Seamus Heaney - as a bard, and in his being.

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