Out of the Marvellous, Seamus Heaney

Last night, a lovely film about the “famous Seamus.” Seamus Heaney: Out of the Marvellous, an Irish TV venture by Charlie McCarthy. A close-up intimacy with the Nobel poet.

What struck me about the film, what leaned into the marvelous, were the unobtrusive visuals, the delicacy with which the filmmaker matched Heaney’s words. I don’t mean literally. But as though somewhere, deep below consciousness, if the past could be summoned, then THIS is what it might look like. Case in point, fragments of his sonnet, Clearances 3 written for his mother:

By Seamus Heaney
In Memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984

When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives–
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

In the peeling of potatoes line, the camera lingers deep below in a pot of water. And you watch, watery, as the peels drop into your view floating above, one by one. Your unconscious eye longing to be freed of the lens, freed to look upon the face of the mother, upon the longing, happy soul of the little boy.

And so the filmmaker, Mr. McCarthy, would seduce you, without you being aware you were in his net.

A little film. But you felt as though you had been steeped in a very personal evening with a remarkable individual. What truly struck me about the portrait was a rather offhand remark by Heaney. A slight of hand, a inner change of heart. Although he had been writing poetry for many years, and was even somewhat already known in his native land, he had a revelation, quite late on, that he not only wrote poetry, but that he could dare to call himself a POET. It’s a very serious thing, he said. It was at that moment, the moment he stepped into his bliss, took himself seriously as it were, that his world renowned spread suddenly like wildfire. This is no accident.

And quite a lesson. It’s a moment like that that can keep you up all night. Which it did. (Or maybe it was the French Roast?)

In any case, you won’t find this on Netflix. I saw it at Hofstra, in an evening presented by the poet Connie Roberts (a nominee for the prestigious Hennessy X.O Literary Award), who teaches creative writing there. Thanks Connie.

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