GONE FAR TOO SOON: The master in 2009.
GONE FAR TOO SOON: The master in 2009.

Ah God, I thought we’d have Seamus Heaney for at least a few more years. The wispy white-haired Irish laureate died in Dublin today, at the age of 74, according to various media reports, and there are no words to properly express what he contributed to poetry and language during his immense career.

He was a makaris; an archeologist of peat bogs and Latinate etymology; a singer of old songs (“Antigone,” “Beowulf,” from Virgil) in a thrilling modern idiom… and on and on. He was a wonder.

I’m wrong about one thing, though. There ARE very good words appropriate for this moment of loss  — his own, taken from his best-selling translation of “Beowulf”:

It is always better
to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning.
For every one of us, living in this world
means waiting for our end. Let whoever can
win glory before death. When a warrior is gone,
that will be his best and only bulwark.

He won plenty of glory, didn’t he? I wonder if the thought ever crossed his mind, as he worked on these lines in his farmhouse years ago, that such words could apply to him and his career.

Rest in peace, old artificer.


  1. Heard him read perhaps 10 years ago at the Marin Center near San Francisco. He was there with Robert Hass and Brenda Hillman. Quite the evening. I haven’t read his latest book, “Human Chain,” although I’ve read some stellar reviews. Sounds like it was written as a prelude to taking leave of us. I subscribed to Doubletake magazine for years, and I never tired of reading the excerpt from “The Cure at Troy” always found somewhere within its pages.

  2. He’s wonderful to hear and I never tire from reading him either. No one can live forever, but 74 is too young. I know poetry lost John Hollander not long ago, but that didn’t shock me as much as this.

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