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Seamus Heaney 1939-2013

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Two poems by Seamus Heaney were published in the first issue of the LRB. A couple of dozen followed over the years, the most recent of them, versions of Rilke, in 2005. Two years ago Andrew O’Hagan wrote about travelling through England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales with Heaney and Karl Miller:

Karl always imagines, in the Edinburgh style, that a beer means a half pint, but Seamus is a proper drinker and you see pints when he’s around. We took our drinks into the garden at the front and I showed Seamus a gap in the trees and the beauty of Ailsa Craig, the rock that stands between Ireland and Scotland. ‘When Keats walked this coast he felt it followed him,’ I said. But our plans involved Robert Burns. Karl, since he first began publishing Seamus in the New Statesman in the 1960s, always felt there was a clear affinity between Burns and Heaney. They were both the sons of farmers and they both allowed nature to oxygenate the mind and inflect the morals. Seamus was keeping his counsel on that, but he’d always loved Burns too, and appreciated the way the Ayrshire poet had brought the force of country wisdom to the modern mind. Burns’s ‘birl and rhythm’, as Seamus put it in a poem to the ploughman, ‘was in my ear’ from the start.

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