Seamus Heaney: The main thing is to write for the joy of it

The New York Times gives half its front page to Seamus Heaney on the occasion of his death, and deservedly so, but my favorite remembrance comes from Ojai's lost poet, Robert Peake, gone to London and good for him, and good for beginning the memory of a poet with, yes, one of his poems:

Then I knew him in the flesh
out there on the tarmac among the cars,
wintered hard and sharp as a blackthorn bush.

His voice eddying with the vowels of all rivers
came back to me, though he did not speak yet,
a voice like a prosecutor’s or a singer’s,

cunning, narcotic, mimic, definite
as a steel nib’s downstroke, quick and clean,
and suddenly he hit a litter basket

with his stick, saying, ‘your obligation
is not discharged by any common rite.
What you do you must do on your own.

The main thing is to write
for the joy of it. Cultivate a work-lust
that imagines its haven like your hands at night

dreaming the sun in the sunspot of a breast.
You are fasted now, light-headed, dangerous.
Take off from here. And don’t be so earnest,

so ready for the sackcloth and the ashes.
Let go, let fly, forget.
You’ve listened long enough. Now strike your note.’

It was as if I had stepped free into space
alone with nothing that I had not known
already. Raindrops blew in my face (Opened Ground, 244-245)

Yes. Step forward. Thank you Robert, and thank you Seamus, for striking your note. 



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  1. Robert Peake

    Thanks for this, Kit. He is missed by so many.

    September 16, 2013