No. 4 & 5


Seamus Heaney  

Lauds and Gauds for a Laureate

The work you’re going to hear to-night
By one who’s earned the right to write
 Will have two readers
And is so valued by so many
It hardly needs my praise nor any
 Special pleaders.

Even introducing Joseph
To overcrowding rows on rows of
 Cambridge hotshots
In mostly just the buzz of showbiz
For you know who Joseph is
 Since before glasnost.

The poet Brodsky’s held in awe
For laying down the poetry law
 In these late times.
He steals the fire and air of words.
He leaves the clichés for the birds.
 He worships rhymes.

Uncheckably his poems outrun
The range and writ and jurisdiction
 Of all Big Brothers.
He would revive and fortify
The individual human cry
 Their newspeak smothers.

When I consider Joseph’s work
I recollect, in Stalin’s dark,
 How one man wrote,
Then sealed his manuscript in jars
And buried them beneath the stars
 Like a deep root.

The scene is stealthy as a crime.
The digger working against time,
 A thing being hidden:
The truth that dare not yet be told,
The written word like buried gold,
 Rare and forbidden.

Yet Joseph’s tool is not the spade.
The axe with ice upon its blade
 Is more his thing.
It splits the frozen sea inside
And then, You lied! You lied! You lied!
 The echoes ring.

As if self-launched through hoops of fame –
The very opposite of tame –
 His poems start
When whetted sounds get whetted keener
And spring into the mind’s arena
 As uncaged art.

Milosz said it: poems stand
Lashing tails and pawing sand,
 Facing the sun,
For they are visions out of light
Lured down by art from a great height
 Of imagination.

Romantic rhetoric this is not.
This is the poet we have got
 To-night as guest.
For him we’d prime and fire cannon.
In Ireland we would dam the Shannon.
 He is the best.

In Ireland, on a harbour wall,
Among the shipping lanes and all
 Those gulls and gannets,
Joseph, I won’t forget the day
We spent
last year by Dublin Bay
 Discussing sonnets,

Discussing what it takes and what
Old X might have young Y has not,
 Who’s in pro-tem.
Praising friends behind their backs
And when it came down to brass tacks,
 Preferring them.

Like you know who, who’s here to-night,
The author of “The Schooner Flight”
 And plays in verse:
Derek Walcott, poet of tides,
The genius of whose music rides
 A winged sea-horse.

His lines are rigging for a mind
Susceptible to each south wind
 And breaking comber
And ere my rhyming fit abates,
For him I quote Joyce quoting Yeats:
 One thinks of Homer.

One thinks of Shakespeare too, for he 
Is guardian of the mystery
 Of Wally Shawn.
All actor-playwrights are his friends,
Burning candles at both ends,
 On cue till dawn.

So let your expectations tremble
Now these real presences assemble
 And lights are lowered,
As they unearth the jars and click
The locks wide open on the Slavic
 Poet’s word-hoard.

See also Seamus Heaney's interview with Valentina Polukhina



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