NOTE: This first appeared on my old blog on August 30th 2013.
Seamus Heaney died today, and the press immediately jumped on his Nobel Prize and his his writing about the The Troubles in Northern Ireland, proving definitively that no one in the press had read his work. The Nobel Prize is a fine thing when used to sell books but it says nothing of merit. At best it is an indicator that a person with solidly centrist political beliefs has reached a certain level of fame and a certain quality of writing, but it says nothing of greatness, or even interest. Heaney was defined by the politics of his time, but what of it? Everyone is. We don’t pretend that Chaucer is a spokesmen for the hundred-year-war generation (or generations as it may be), but certainly as a soldier and a statesman he was created by it.
Instead Heaney’s worth will be his ability to reach people and his ability to have his quirks and queernesses seem completely natural and correct. He was one of the most eccentric and provincial writers ever born but made us all feel as if we were of his tribe and his quirks and queernesses were ours and his province our own.
I have no right or even desire to speak for posterity but I hope he will be read in the future, without cumbersome foot notes or drawn out introductions (posterity I’m sure will have dictionaries if they want to know what a ‘bleb’ is) and just read for his immediacy warmth and miraculous sense of language.