"I loved hushed air. I trust contrariness"

Ireland’s Nobel laureate poet Seamus Heaney celebrates his birthday today, thanks for the reminder Sheila, and I’ll begin raising the first of many large glass-fulls in his honour soon. It also provides an opportunity to link to his Nobel acceptance speech – which, IMHO, is well worth taking the time to read. Happy Birthday Seamus.

And to mark the day here is Seamus Heaney’s Casting and Gathering from Seeing Things.

Casting and Gathering
for Ted Hughes

Years and years ago, these sounds took sides:

On the left bank, a green silk tapered cast
Went whispering through the air, saying “hush.”
And “lush,” entirely free, no matter whether
It swished above the hayfield or the river.

On the right bank, like a speeded-up corncrake,
A sharp ratcheting went on and on
Cutting across the stillness as another
Fisherman gathered line-lengths off his reel.

I am still standing there, awake and dreamy,
I have grown older and can see them both
Moving their arms and rods, working away,
Each one absorbed, proofed by the sounds he’s making.

One sound is saying, “You are not worth tuppence,
But neither is anybody. Watch it! Be severe.”
The other says, “Go with it! Give and swerve,
You are everything you feel beside the river.”

I loved hushed air. I trust contrariness.
Years and years go past and I do not move
For I see that when one man casts, the other gathers
And then vice versa without changing sides.

  • JD

    Nice one, Pete!

    That man’s poetry manages to find a sad beauty in death. The “Bog” poems are just astonishing even after all this time.

    I also loved Electric Light.

    Happy Birthday Seamus!

  • David Vance

    Whilst William Topaz McGonnigal may have been the worst ever poet from the British Isles – and accepting that Benjamin Zephaniah runs him a very close second, Seamus Heaney must surely be right up there – spewing out this miserable dirge to be lapped up by the oh-so-discerning. Honestly, Pam Ayres is better.

  • JD

    Aside from your desire to diaply for us all your arcane and bloated knowledge of past literary irrelevancies, perhaps you might try to string together a coherent argument for why you hold such an opinion?

    Illustrate with examples from the poetry, please.

  • JD

    That should of course be “display.”

    I look forward to your response.

  • peteb

    As ever, David, thanks for sharing.

  • David Vance


    Somebody doesn’t rate Heaney – when will this madness end? I wonder if it is a hate-crime in our PC culture to terms his work as inane gibberish?


    It doesn’t even rhyme. Pam Ayres did rhyme.

  • Mrs Tilton

    It doesn’t even rhyme.

    Oh aye. And what’s worse, he uses a variety of structural schemes that, quite frankly, make my poor wee head ache. I may not know much about poetry, but I know what I like. Give me something short, with an easy-to-follow structure, any day, especially if (this is importnat now!) it rhymes:

    There was an old man from Nantucket…

  • David Vance

    Mrs Tilton,

    Now you’re talking – I have posted a poetical tribute to Seamus on ATW – sensitive souls should not read it ….

  • Davros

    A fairly blatent plug for ATW there David. LOL

    I rate Heaney highly. Not the greatest Irish poet of the 20th century IMO, but one of the best.

  • peteb

    ..a hate-crime in our PC culture..

    Steady there, David 😉

  • JD


    How on earth is it unPC to criticise Heaney? That’s just silly.

    I notice you haven’t bothered telling us why you don’t like his work.

    Quite a bit of his work rhymes, BTW. Of course, if you’d actually read it, you’d know that…

  • FewsOrange

    I think I was fourteen when I realised that poetry didn’t have to rhyme.

  • David Vance


    I have read as much as I could stomach of the dross he churns out.


    It was more than blatant – it was obvious!


    If you want a real poet – I offer Edward de Vere.

  • peteb

    Oh Jeez, David.. are you still going on about de Vere being the real Shakespeare?? 😉

  • JD

    I have read as much as I could stomach of the dross he churns out.

    Sure you did.

    I’m still waiting to hear your reasons for not liking his work. With reference to the poetry, please.

  • David Vance


    I think I was 14 when I understood that irony is wasted on the stupid.

  • JD

    I think I was 14 when I understood that irony is wasted on the stupid.

    The situational irony is certainly thick here…

  • maca

    Who said poetry needs to rhyme? Have not ye read Paradise Lost? If it’s ryhmes ye want stick to the limericks.

  • David Vance


    Well, if you go on about Heaney, I’ll go on about De Vere.


    You must check out my poetical tribute to Heaney – thick as it is with situational irony that refined Slugger readers will appreciate.

  • David Vance

    ps pete,

    His Nobel acceptance speech is a modern horror and I consider his account of the Kingsmill massacre appalling. Was he on certain substances when he wrote this drivel?

  • kitty


    Somebody doesn’t rate Heaney – when will this madness end? I wonder if it is a hate-crime in our PC culture to terms his work as inane gibberish?


    It doesn’t even rhyme. Pam Ayres did rhyme.”

    I doubt if anyone with a titter of wit posting here does not know where your distaste for Heaney comes from. Not a shadow of a doubt, Mr. Vance.
    The usual…….. and not a shred of intellect to explain why.

  • Jo

    I dont know whether to feel more revulsed at uninformed anti-Heaneyism or the attempted adoption by the sf chattering class.

    I know, I’ll just feel revulsed. 🙂

  • Jo

    yup, hes a provo poet okay…

    One of the most harrowing moments in the whole history of the harrowing of the heart in Northern Ireland came when a minibus full of workers being driven home one January evening in 1976 was held up by armed and masked men and the occupants of the van ordered at gunpoint to line up at the side of the road. Then one of the masked executioners said to them, “Any Catholics among you, step out here”. As it happened, this particular group, with one exception, were all Protestants, so the presumption must have been that the masked men were Protestant paramilitaries about to carry out a tit-for-tat sectarian killing of the Catholic as the odd man out, the one who would have been presumed to be in sympathy with the IRA and all its actions. It was a terrible moment for him, caught between dread and witness, but he did make a motion to step forward. Then, the story goes, in that split second of decision, and in the relative cover of the winter evening darkness, he felt the hand of the Protestant worker next to him take his hand and squeeze it in a signal that said no, don’t move, we’ll not betray you, nobody need know what faith or party you belong to. All in vain, however, for the man stepped out of the line; but instead of finding a gun at his temple, he was thrown backward and away as the gunmen opened fire on those remaining in the line, for these were not Protestant terrorists, but members, presumably, of the Provisional IRA.

  • Davros

    Jo – what has that to do with the thread ?

  • Chris Gaskin

    Anyone who views Heaney as a “provo poet” is clearly in need of professional medical treatment

  • Jo

    oi! I was highlighting, for those with the intelligence, that Heaney is NOT to be adopted by the Provo posters on this bb.

    Nor is any revulsion for him necessarily based on percpetion of his politics.

    People will read Heaney for centuries, which is more than can be said for his small minded critics on this thread. Do you get it now?

  • Jo

    …and in case anyone hasnt the mental flexibility to make the leap, the piece about Kingsmill was from Seamus’s Nobel speech.

    Sheer *dross* huh. Not on a par with the ephemeral “blogs” and self-aggrandising personal websites that are clearly more worthwhile than poetry…

    I think he makes the point that that action, rather than the speech was a horror.

    Rather discomforting, too, for those SF who see him as “theirs”

  • Jo

    The Heaney critic seems to be at least consistent:

    “What I admire about Burnside is his unapologetic Unionism and the steadfast rejection of power sharing with nationalists of whatever hue”

    Good progressive stuff. What a powerhouse of 21st century thinking.

  • barnshee

    “Somebody doesn’t rate Heaney – when will this madness end? I wonder if it is a hate-crime in our PC culture to terms his work as inane gibberish?”

    Well I don`t like/rate Heaney either (or Hughes or a whole pile more ) Set against Milton or Wordsworth Shakespeare etc who can compare ?-or is it like beauty- in the ear/eye of the reader?