What I am reading: Seamus Heaney
I always seem to have half a dozen books on the go at the one time.
This has been particularly so over the last year or so during my Master of Arts course. I’ve dipped into many reference books in the course of doing background reading or research for the units of study. Then there are the books delved into while writing essays, or books needing to be read in preparation for lectures or tutorials. At present I’m still doing background research on my novel set in Nepal. Even though I have written the novel – I’m up to the 6th draft – there still seems to be more research I could be doing.
Then I have the books I’m currently reading for relaxation. These books are very important for a balance in my life. I need to be daily reading books for recreation as well as study or those directly used as research for my novel.
I’m currently reading – and rereading – two slim volumes of poetry written by Irish poet Seamus Heaney, the Nobel Prize winner for literature in 1995. I’m sorry to say that I’ve not read much of his work previously and so I’ve come to his works with great anticipation.
The reason I’m reading his works now goes back several months. A few months ago my daughter led a group of her high school students on a trip to Ireland. Just before leaving she asked me if I wanted her to buy anything while she was there. Without thinking too much I asked her to look out for a good book of Irish poetry. She overwhelmed me with not one, but two books of the poetry of Heaney. I’ve been slowly savouring them ever since she returned home.
- Heaney, Seamus, 2006, Death of a naturalist, Faber and Faber, London
- Heaney, Seamus, 1979, Field work, Faber and Faber, London.
It’s good sending scouts overseas. When Jan went with her school group to Greece she came back with a volume of the complete poems of Cavafy for me. I was able to discover works such as Ithaca and Expecting the Barbarians. You normally expect poetry not to survive translations, but it can if it is witty and intellectual.
Heaney also does good translations. I’ve got his Beowulf both in book form and on CD. I like the way he translated the opening Hwaet as So! Very Irish. It’s special to hear him speaking the poem.
But if you want a really beautiful book try the illustrated edition of Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney with illustrations edited by John D. Niles. It a W W Norton & Company. It’s got a picture on every page.
It’s good to be old enough to be able to appreciate this stuff and finally realise what they were trying to be on about in school.
Thanks Ken. In recent years I’ve discovered so many poets, authors and books I must read that I think it will take another life time to read them all. So many books, so little time. There’d better be some of them in heaven!
Some years ago I sorted out all my books. I discovered many that I had bought but never finished reading. I’ve put them all together on the Bookshelf of the Unread. There are almost 300 of them.
But we are the fortunate generation who are not destined to die soon after “retirement”, as so many did in the past. That’s why we have things like the University of the Third Age. I don’t feel at all finished with my life at the moment. In fact, I think I’m about to do many of the best things that my life was leading up to.
And that includes the “finally got around to” reading. But by waiting so long, many things have appeared which weren’t there when we were younger. I’m currently reading Tales from Ovid by Ted Hughes. It’s a ripper.
I love the idea of a ‘Bookshelf of the Unread.’ I guess I have one but it’s not as formal as yours seems to be. As for having 300 – well I don’t think I’ll actually count mine – it might scare me silly.
I know I have far too many books in various rooms with bookmarks part way through. Started but destined not to be finished – so far. I always said I’d catch up on my reading in retirement. What a joke!
Sure – I retired from teaching 5 years ago only to take on full time writing in so-called retirement. I’m so busy now I sometimes look back in wonderment and asking the obvious question: ‘How did I ever fit in teaching?’