Heaney’s poignant war poem published

By Shelley Marsden

A POEM which may have been the last written by the late Seamus Heaney has been published by the Guardian for the first time.

In A Field, a reflection on the First World War was completed just two months before Heaney’s death in August. Though the papers he left behind are yet to be fully examined, it could be the last piece of poetry he wrote.

It was his response to a request by the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, to contribute to a memorial anthology marking the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War, in which poets were asked to respond to poetry, letters and diary entries of the time.

The poem chosen by Heaney was Edward Thomas’s As The Team’s Head Brass, penned in 1916, shortly before Thomas asked to be posted to the front – a decision which would lead to his death in battle the following year.

Heaney’s poem, with its rural setting so familiar to the Bellaghy poet, tells of a dazed family member returning home from war:

“In buttoned khaki and buffed army boots,
Bruising the turned-up acres of our back field
To stumble from the windings’ magic ring”

Duffy said of it: “Seamus’s poem is typically beautiful, placed and weighted at the centre of the poetic landscape which he made so familiar to us all, and above all, heartbreakingly prescient.”

Matthew Hollis, who wrote Now All Roads Lead to France, an account of Edward Thomas’s final years, said that of all of his poems Heaney “said that this was perhaps his favourite.” adding that Heaney admired its ‘Homeric plane’: how a local conversation shadowed events on the world’s field.

1914: Poetry Remembers (Faber and Faber) is out now and includes poems by Ruth Padel, Jackie Kay, Simon Armitage and Blake Morrison.

 

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