“Fortify Your Inner Life”

April 17, 2009 @ 7:56 am | Filed under: Poetry

Scott just sent me the link to this LA Times article about the great Irish poet Seamus Heaney.

In a recent interview, Heaney said he was often asked what the value of poetry was during times of economic recession. The answer, he explained, is that it is at just such moments of crisis that people realize that they do not live by economics alone. “If poetry and the arts do anything, they can fortify your inner life, your inwardness,” Heaney said.

At first, that may seem like a quaint observation — one of those poet-as-holy-fool lines. Yet an effort to “fortify your inward side,” Heaney explained to another questioner, can act as a kind of “immune system” against material difficulties.

I have a collected Heaney and a collected Keats Yeats* in a basket by my rocking chair for those moments during the day when I need a little fortifying.

Even better is hearing Heaney read his poems aloud. That rich voice, oh my.

When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.

(Read or listen to the rest.)

The Poetry Friday roundup is at Becky’s Book Reviews today.

*I typed Keats by mistake. I meant Yeats. I’m a rather ardent Keats fan, too, but his poems reside on a shelf, not in my rocking-chair basket. Somehow it’s the Irish poets I return to the most often, those wry observers, mouths quirked to one side. Their lush imagery and the obvious delight they take in hunting the right word, like wall-builders seeking the perfect stone to fit into the next spot, knowing all the while that the wall won’t keep the evils out entirely but will, for a time, protect a quiet space of peace. More fortification, I suppose.


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Comments

4 Responses | | Comments Feed

  1. Lovely! Thanks for sharing this today.

  2. Melissa, I love the thought of art strengthening the soul’s “immune system”–great concept. Thanks for sharing it, and the poem. I’ll be looking out for (and listening to) Heaney’s poems.

    ~Christina in MA

  3. Ah Heaney is one of my absolute favorites. I agree, listening to him is such a treat. Oh that voice makes me swoon. I have several tapes of him reading his poetry and have just about worn them out. I also was lucky enough to get to hear him read in person when I was a grad student in Irish studies. He is a most charming person and very humble. I especially loved a self-deprecating story he told about himself about being at Harvard and a young woman approaching him and he was anticipating her asking for his autograph or some such and instead she asks for directions, she had no idea she was talking to a Nobel Laureate.

    Thanks for posting the links to his readings, I’ll be sure to go and give myself a treat.

  4. A treat indeed. Thanks.