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Sunday, September 01, 2013

Murray Jennings: A personal Heaney anecdote

I was introduced to the poems of Seamus Heaney only after he had been awarded the Nobel Prize. Somehow, I had failed to spot the genius in anthologies. Then my wife lent me his New Selected Poems 1966 – 1987 and late one night I opened it, turned immediately to the first poem, ‘Digging’, read it and read it again, almost in disbelief.

Here was a poem, perfect in my estimation, saying exactly, so succinctly, in rich and simple language, what I had tried to say in a poem I had drafted, with the same title.

One weekend afternoon, when I was about seventeen, seated at the desk in my bedroom, sketching, I had looked out the window and observed my father chopping at wild buffalo grass with a mattock. I felt guilty that I wasn’t out there, helping him.

That memory stayed with me for decades. When finally, I tried to create something with it, I transferred it to his father, inspired by a sepia photograph of him on the Kalgoorlie goldfields, standing, slightly stooped, leaning on a long-handled shovel next to his diggings.

The poem never developed beyond a second draft. And it doesn’t matter. I have abandoned it. I am happy enough to be sharing the emotions and recollections with a great poet who, quite simply, nailed it, where I hadn’t.

Sweet harmony. A perfect way into music and the best way in to the poetry of Seamus Heaney. Since then, having visited the Ireland of my ancestors and walked the rough ground, over peat and rocks, I am even better able to continue exploring his work.

Murray Jennings
September 1st, 2013

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