By Brian Mendonça
When one looks at Irish literature the names of W. B Yeats and M.M. Synge come to mind. Yeats is remembered for school favourites like the poem, ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ and Synge for the chilling drama Riders to the Sea. Both these works have a strong affinity to water.
Like the recent tragedies in Goa in which a brother and sister lost their lives in the sea at Agonda, Canacona, Riders to the Sea is also about death. First performed in 1904, it is a lament of a mother who loses all her sons to the sea. What is unique in these works is the world-view which is Irish. The sea is a horse which claims lives in Synge’s play. Yeats in ‘Prayer for My Daughter’ written for his daughter born in 1919 in the aftermath of World War I, notes the ‘murderous innocence of the sea.’
Another aspect of Irish literature is the Irish dialect which finds its way into the works. This roots as well as distances the work from its reader/public. I am drawn to Irish literature for the way it recalls and memorializes Ireland and Irish history, its traditions, its convictions.
When Irish poet and Nobel laureate, Seamus Heaney passed on last week, I wanted to assess his contribution to world poetry, but mostly to Ireland. When I opened his collection The Spirit Level which I had purchased for a throwaway price from the British Library, Delhi (such is the fate of poets) I was struck by his description of rain. As the rain bids adieu in Goa Heaney reminds us to listen to it for we are indeed blessed to enter heaven ‘through the ear of a raindrop’ (‘The Rain stick’).
In Heaney’s poem about a piper titled ‘Keeping Going’ I had to scurry for the meanings of ‘sporran’ and ‘byre’. ‘Sporran’ is the leather pouch worn by men with the traditional kilts/skirts of the Scottish Highlands. ‘Byre’ is the Old English word for ‘cowshed’. Both in form and content there is a reverence in Heaney, for the past.
In ‘Digging’ he recalls the digging done by his father and his grandfather and observes that though he does not dig the earth he will ‘dig’ with his pen.
Born in Northern Ireland Heaney was at the centre of the strife between Belfast and London. A virtual civil war, the hatred in the ‘70’s and 80’s was mired in religion, viz. Cathoiics versus Protestants.
Everything passes. ‘Noli timere’ texted Heaney to his wife minutes before he died. In his beloved Latin it meant ‘Do not be afraid.’
Members of the group U2 were there at the funeral.
Mary Burns read her poem for Heaney where he was laid on 8 September 2013:
We will cross worlds
not cross words . . .
So now you are
in a beautiful field . . .
It may be clay
You are back
From whence you came
Your feet in clay
Your words set in stone.*
Pix: Seamus Heaney (right) with Czeslaw Milosz http://www.boston.com/ae/books/articles/2008/12/28/seeing_things/
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 15 September 2013