On Seamus Heaney

The PIE office is silent this morning. In the meditative hum of devices and screens I’m thinking about Seamus Heaney and wondering if there is a Start-Up Founder Bereavement Group for Mourning the Loss of Great Poets. Anyone? Anyone know of such a meet-up? 

It was 1995. I was fifteen years old and a friend gave me an issue of Doubletake Magazine. On the very first pages were Heaney’s “The Cure at Troy.That was it. I bought Death of a Naturalist. I sought out his readings.  District and Circle carried me through my late twenties. 

In the inaugural letter of Doubletake, the founder, Alex Harris, writes of his motivation to build a community around “the renderings of the world as it is and as it might be.” And now, almost 20 years later, that same ethos very much informs what we build at Switchboard. “This is what is. This is what could be.” At the end of the day that’s what most conversations we have boil down to. It’s the mantra of anyone building something new against all odds. 

I haven’t found a more moving description of this optimism to will something different into the world than in “Troy.” So here it is. 

Thank you, Seamus Heaney. 

Chorus, “The Cure at Troy”
Seamus Heaney’s translation of “The Philoctetes” by Sophocles 

Human beings suffer,
They torture one another,
They get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured.

The innocent in gaols
Beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker’s father
Stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
Faints at the funeral home.

History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracle
And cures and healing wells.

Call miracle self-healing:
The utter, self-revealing
Double-take of feeling.
If there’s fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
Of new life at its term.