Seamus Heaney, the much loved Irish poet and Nobel Prize winner who died in Dublin last week, was no stranger to South Africa.
Heaney visited Grahamstown in 2002 as a guest of the English Department of Rhodes. The visit was organised by the Department to mark the retirement of Malvern Van Wyk Smith, then head of the Department. Heaney received an honorary doctorate from Rhodes, read his poems to a packed Cathedral, gave a public lecture entitled ‘The Guttural Muse’ and left a deep impression on his audiences.
I was moved by his careful attention to the things of ordinary in life, as well as the breadth of his learning; by his priestly care for the use of language both metaphorical and colloquial. How does a writer respond to sectarian violence and the lingering impact of colonial conquest?
The literary histories of Ireland and South Africa seemed to come alive and inform each other as he spoke.
A large and exuberant party took place in St George’s Hall off High Street at the end of his visit. To bid him farewell, I laid down the outline of the following poem, reciting it with the help of the South African Irish poet, Cathal Lagan. Heaney and his wife Marie seemed to enjoy what we offered in his honour.
What was initially a humorous small town valediction has, however, acquired a more poignant meaning. Hamba kakuhle, mbhali ohloniphekilelayo, mfo ka-Heaney.
You are invited to share your own tributes and favourite Heaney lines in the comments section below.
By: Chris Mann
Article Source: Grocotts Mail
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