It turns out my Grandad and Seamus Heaney both died on the same day last week.
I keep trying to imagine whether the two men are having a conversation now – I can’t quite work out whether my Grandad would be as excited about meeting the Irish poet as I would be. But who knows?
My Grandad lived a long life – 91 years and a bit – and was always ready with a joke or a tale to make you laugh, a carrier of stories hope.
Heaney, in spite of all the brokenness he wrote about, was a poet of longing and of hope. I particularly like a line in his poem ‘At the wellhead’: Sing yourself to where the singing comes from.
I think that’s what hope feels like. When you’re faced with death, all you can do is sing into the face of it, letting the music and the hope of your soul ring out back to where the singing comes from, joining with a song more ancient than your own.
AT THE WELLHEAD
Your songs, when you sing them with your two eyes closed
As you always do, are like a local road
We’ve known every turn of in the past —
That midge-veiled, high-hedged side-road where you stood
Looking and listening until a car
Would come and go and leave you lonelier
Than you had been to begin with. So, sing on,
Dear shut-eyed one, dear far-voiced veteran,
Sing yourself to where the singing comes from,
Ardent and cut off like our blind neighbour
Who played the piano all day in her bedroom.
Her notes came out to us like hoisted water
Ravelling off a bucket at the wellhead
Where next thing we’d be listening, hushed and awkward.
That blind-from-birth, sweet-voiced, withdrawn musician
Was like a silver vein in heavy clay.
Night water glittering in the light of day.
But also just our neighbour, Rosie Keenan.
She touched our cheeks. She let us touch her braille
In books like books wallpaper patterns come in.
Her hands were active and her eyes were full
Of open darkness and a watery shine.
She knew us by our voices. She’d say she ‘saw’
Whoever or whatever. Being with her
Was intimate and helpful, like a cure
You didn’t notice happening. When I read
A poem with Keenan’s well in it, she said,
‘I can see the sky at the bottom of it now.’