The Pen Rests

Colum McCann: Seamus Heaney Brought Us Together

One great Irish writer bids another goodbye: novelist Colum McCann says poet Seamus Heaney, who died Friday at the age of 74, was more important to the idea of Ireland than anyone else.

There are very few people in the world that can only be known by one name: Seamus brought us together in so many ways. It is difficult to know what to think, except to try to imagine what he might want us to think: that even in its passing, there is great meaning in the world. He brought a genuine joy to every small corner. His poetry, and indeed his life, has been a expedition into the deep and proper value of our own lives.

He caught his country in flight, and he was able to bring it back down to earth in the most necessary way. He wrote, indeed, from the Republic of Conscience. I can’t think of anyone who has been more important to our idea of Ireland, not only at home but abroad, and not just in the past but in our deep future too. He was a man of great humor and beneath all the gentleness was a toughness of vision: he never shied away from the demanding question, or the false politics, or the awful Troubles that shook us for so many years. What he lived for was what he lived within: a sense that we all matter, and our lives have meaning. He had a powerful instinct for what was good. When I think of Seamus I think of how much difficulty he saw and how much reconciliation he enabled—he was key to the process of both a public and a private peace. And he showed us the circumference of our nation, our potential for wideness and decency and hope: he enjoyed his time here, and he left it, most certainly, a better place.

It's hard to think of Sandymount without him, walking along in his signature gray duffle coat. It's hard, in fact, to think of anywhere without him, except for the fact that we can reach up every day and take one of his poems off our shelves ... which makes him a citizen of just about everywhere.

Beannacht De lena anam.