excellent book, Faith Hope and Poetry: Theology and the Poetic Imagination (Ashgate 2012) today, when I learned of the death of Seamus Heaney. Guite uses Heaney to frame his argument and so this was a great revisiting of much that I have loved in Heaney's work.
I met him once (Heaney) -- had a conversation with him about the work of David Jones in 1987 when I was living near Cambridge and Heaney was at Harvard. We talked some, I remember, about Jones's preface to The Anathemata, and Heaney had a sense of "of course" in thinking about David Jones's portrayal of the artist as a maker and offerer of "signs" and of the sacramental quality of sign-making. And hehad a poet's appreciation for Jones's craftsmanship and Celticity --Jones is very much a "poet's poet." But what I remember best about the conversation was just Heaney's quiet, available human-ness. He gave me tea and we talked about his life at Harvard, in the fairly humble quarters he had in one of the houses on campus. And about poetry -- I did not yet see myself as a poet -- was interviewing him in my role as a Jones scholar. But the conversation quickly became just a good conversation between two people who cared about literature. I didn't take enough notes to make the interview "usable" for my scholarly purposes, but I have always remembered and appreciated that encounter. He gave me a signed copy, to give to my dad (a devoted Harvard alum) of the vilanelle he had written for Harvard's 350th anniversary. I have it on my shelf still: "To Russell Henderson, "Seamus Heaney, 1987" It is now an even greater treasure.
But reading Guite's book also reminded me of so much that I have loved in Heaney's poetry -- his ability to use language to help us "see things" afresh, to see down into the heart of life. And I recall especially lines from his poem "North" about the way that a poet experiences language and the poetic process -- the "word hoard" that gives shape to our perceptions of present and past, culture and Reality. You can read the whole poem here, but what I love particularly are the closing lines: