SEAMUS HEANEY: A LIVERPOOL MEMORY


After the reading, we strolled down Brownlow Hill

for a Guinness and a chaser at The Vines

next to The Adelphi on Lime Street –

a Walker’s pub in Edwardian baroque.

The westering sun lit the stained glass windows.

 

We were both young men then. He had been married

the year before. I would be married

later that year. His first book had been published

by Faber and Karl Miller’s prescient review

seemed genuinely to bemuse and amuse him.

We talked of the city’s sectarian split –

the Orange annual march, with drums and fifes,

to Newsham Park, their annual outing

by train to Southport past the Scotland Road flats

festooned with green – curtains, tablecloths.

 

The University was generous

with expenses and paid for a taxi

to Speke.  He had a flight booked to Le Touquet

and a hire car there he would drive through the night

into Italy to join his wife.

He was so unostentatious, so

matter-of-fact, that such travel plans

seemed perfectly ordinary to someone

who had no licence and had only

been abroad on a school trip to San Malo!

 

As he got in the cab and we shook hands,

I knew I had met a particularly

memorable person – modest, kind

and witty – who happened also to be

especially, exceptionally talented.

 

When I opened The Door Into The Dark

some three years later and read ‘Night Drive’ –

 

The smells of ordinariness

Were new on the night drive through France;

Rain and hay and woods on the air

Made warm draughts in the open car.

 

Signposts whitened relentlessly.

Montrueil, Abbeville, Beauvais

Were promised, promised, came and went,

Each place granting its name’s fulfilment.

 

A combine groaning its way late

Bled seeds across its work-light.

A forest fire smouldered out.

One by one small cafés shut.

 

I thought of you continuously

A thousand miles south where Italy

Laid its loin to France on the darkened sphere.

Your ordinariness was renewed there.

 

– I knew I had been privileged and lucky

that summer evening to shake hands with

a compassionate genius, romantic,

urbane: a maker of exquisite art

out of the everyday.

 

 

 

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  1. #1 by Ashen - September 7th, 2013 at 13:35

    What a precious memory, and astute portrait of a friend.

  2. #2 by Steve Crewe - September 8th, 2013 at 03:51

    Beautiful, plus it stirred memories of Liverpool, as among other watering holes, I knew the Vines well, plus often ‘strolled down Brownlow Hill’. Moreover, I did at one time lodge in one of the houses bordering Newsham Park.

  3. #3 by Tim Ellis - September 8th, 2013 at 10:08

    How lucky you are to have met him! I was lucky, too, to have seen him reading in York only a couple of months ago. I was a student at Liverpool University in the 1980s, and I remember the Vines pub well.

  4. #4 by John Hargreaves - September 8th, 2013 at 13:10

    Thank you for this, David. Heaney and I go back a long way – though not as intimately as your meeting. Many years ago, as Head of English at Christ’s Hospital, the Sixth Form English students were taught ‘Seeing Things’. I think this was my high point of a very pleasurable career, a time when students and the department were inspired into creative collaboration. I am minded that many will be struck by his passing.

    On my father’s passing, I wrote a poem for his funeral, entitled ‘Seeing Things’, a lame attempt to pay homage to him and Heaney. Such was the influence of both men.
    I was struck by something Paul Muldoon said at the funeral when he spoke of Seamus as having ‘beauty, as a bard and in his being’.

  5. #5 by John Huddart - October 16th, 2013 at 22:04

    Heaney’s poem conveys promise and anticipation that life’s ordinarinesses are the things to live for. The poem you make around this performs the same function, honours the ordinariness of the man behind the artist and captures with scrupulous care a moment to be seen and remembered. The elegy of the last verse is wholly appropriate, and leaves nothing left to say.

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