The death of the famous poet Seamus Heaney, brings to an end the great Irish 20th Century take over of the English language. The fact that Ireland has probably produced some of the great poets writing in English is both a anomaly and a boost to the tradition which stretches back to the Shakespeare sonnets in which the human condition is perfectly summed up in verse.
The thing that Seamus Heaney done was made the ordinary seem important within a a greater narrative. So when he wrote about war, as he often did, he wrote from the perspective of a quite dull point of view, encapsulating the needlessness of the practice of warmongering.
Being born into the Northern Ireland situation probably gave him the insight that it did but that did not stop him from looking at other aspects of the human condition. However, for me it is prose about human conflict which always astounded me.
Here is one of his best poems about war and conflict. Maybe David Cameron can read up on this and realise that lusting after war is not a good thing and losing the right to war is not a reason to throw his toys out of the pram and go into a temper tantrum.
It’s raining on black coal and warm wet ashes.
There are tyre-marks in the yard, Agnew’s old lorry
Has all its cribs down and Agnew the coalman
With his Belfast accent’s sweet-talking my mother.
Would she ever go to a film in Magherafelt?
But it’s raining and he still has half the load
To deliver farther on. This time the lode
Our coal came from was silk-black, so the ashes
Will be the silkiest white. The Magherafelt
(Via Toomebridge) bus goes by. The half-stripped lorry
With its emptied, folded coal-bags moves my mother:
The tasty ways of a leather-aproned coalman!
And films no less! The conceit of a coalman…
She goes back in and gets out the black lead
And emery paper, this nineteen-forties mother,
All business round her stove, half-wiping ashes
With a backhand from her cheek as the bolted lorry
Gets revved and turned and heads for Magherafelt
And the last delivery. Oh, Magherafelt!
Oh, dream of red plush and a city coalman
As time fastforwards and a different lorry
Groans into shot, up Broad Street, with a payload
That will blow the bus station to dust and ashes…
After that happened, I’d a vision of my mother,
A revenant on the bench where I would meet her
In that cold-floored waiting room in Magherafelt,
Her shopping bags full up with shovelled ashes.
Death walked out past her like a dust-faced coalman
Refolding body-bags, plying his load
Empty upon empty, in a flurry
Of motes and engine-revs, but which lorry
Was it now? Young Agnew’s or that other,
Heavier, deadlier one, set to explode
In a time beyond her time in Magherafelt…
So tally bags and sweet-talk darkness, coalman,
Listen to the rain spit in new ashes
As you heft a load of dust that was Magherafelt,
Then reappear from your lorry as my mother’s
Dreamboat coalman filmed in silk-white ashes.