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Mid-term Break – by Seamus Heaney

I can detect from his demeanor that Seamus Heaney R.I.P. was very upset reading his own poem about a brother who had died as a wee infant. I studied this poem for the Junior Cert Higher cycle and was very enthralled with it. It’s a very poignant poem.

|Glossary  |Audio  |Responses  |Questions   |Back to Poems

Mid-Term Break

|Opening the Poem  |History of the Poem

I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o’clock our neighbours drove me home.

In the porch I met my father crying –
He had always taken funerals in his stride –
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were ‘sorry for my trouble’
Whispers informed strangers that I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o’clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.

Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple.
He lay in a four foot box, as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

A four foot box, a foot for every year.

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Opening the Poem

  • Seamus Heaney wrote this poem as a reflection on the death of his infant brother, Christopher, who died in a car accident in 1953 when Heaney was fourteen. His comments on the accident can be read in the Responses page.
  • He was at boarding school forty miles from home at the time his brother died.
  • The title has multiple meanings. It refers to both an official and an unofficial school break.
  • The word knelling is often associated with death (as with the “knelling” of a funeral bell) so this adds a morbid tone to the opening of the poem.
  • The fact that he is picked up by his neighbours not his parents leads us to wonder why his parents cannot pick him up.
  • Heaney brings the reader with him as he has to walk into the house through the porch to meet his father; “Big Jim Evans”; the baby in its pram; the old men gathering in the living room; and finally his mother coughing out “angry tearless sighs”, which show she was hiding how she really felt, perhaps for the sake of her son.
  • The baby does not realise what is happening.
  • There is a contrast between the way the mother and the father react to the son’s death. The mother is more angry than sad while the father is filled with tears.
  • His feelings at the house when he gets there were those of embarrassment as he was treated like a mature adult by old men standing to shake his hand.
  • Heaney uses the snowdrops and candles to show how people need ceremony and ritual to soothe the pain of losing a loved one.
  • The poet’s brother died because he was hit by a car. We discover that it was a car accident in the second-last line.
  • Even though he never says how he feels, you get the sense that he is deeply unhappy.
  • In losing his four-year-old brother, Heaney also lost his own childhood innocence, as he discovered the brutal reality of the world.
  • The effect of the isolated last line is to focus on the tragedy of the boy’s death.
  • This poem records his experience quite dispassionately; we know how other people feel but not much of how he felt. Yet he remembers everything of that day.
  • Heaney is in between the very young and the old. He is outside.
  • Apart from the last line which reveals the brother’s age, the poem is written in 3-line unrhymed stanzas.
  • The poem has such a powerful effect because the emotions are so understated. Heaney describes only what he sees, not commenting, never letting any feelings reach the surface. His emotions are restrained.

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History of the Poem

Mid-Term Break was first published in the Spring issue of the Kilkenny Magazine in 1963. (Read Heaney’s comments on this in the Responses page.)


book coverIt next appeared in a small 16-page pamphlet called Eleven Poems, published in November 1995 by Festival Publications of Queen’s University, Belfast. This slim volume collects some of Heaney’s earliest poems. Ten of these eleven poems were later published in his first book.

In May 1966, when Heaney was only 27, his first book coverfull-length collection, Death of a Naturalist, was published by Faber and Faber. Mid-Term Break was one of thirty four short poems in this award winning volume. It earned him the Somerset Maugham Award and the Geoffrey Faber Prize. The celebrated Irish poet Austin Clarke, reviewing it on Radio Eireann said that unlike most first books, this one is mature and certain in its touch.”

The Chief Examiners Report on the Junior Certificate examination of 2003 stated that, in the Foundation Level paper, the most frequently selected poem was Mid-Term Break.

book coverOn the last day of the last century (31st December 1999) The Irish Times published a list of the 100 Favourite Irish Poems of all time. More than 3,500 readers of the paper had written or e-mailed their choices. Mid-Term Break was the third poem on the list. Heaney had ten of his poems included on this list.

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Seamus Heaney R.I.P. NYT

 Seamus Heaney, Irish Poet of Soil and Strife, Dies

Dylan Martinez/Reuters Seamus Heaney in 1995. By THE NEW YORK TIMES
Published: August 30, 2013

Seamus Heaney, a widely celebrated Irish poet who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995, died at a hospital in Dublin on Friday after a short illness, according to a statement issued on behalf of his family. He was 74.

Mr. Heaney, who was born in Northern Ireland but moved to Dublin in his later years, is recognized as one of the major poets of the 20th century. His fellow poet Robert Lowell described Mr. Heaney as the “most important Irish poet since Yeats.”

In a statement, Faber & Faber, which published his work for nearly 50 years, called him “one of the world’s greatest writers. His impact on literary culture is immeasurable.”

Born April 13, 1939, on a farm near Toomebridge in Co. Derry, Mr. Heaney gained prominence in the 1960s after his debut with the “Death of a Naturalist.” His volumes of poetry include “The Spirit Level,” “District and Circle” and “Bog Poems.”

Under constant pressure to write favorably about the goals of his fellow Catholics, many of whom wanted a Northern Ireland free of British control, his work often dwelt on the sectarian violence in the British province of Ulster.

But he saw both sides of the conflict and never wrote polemics to support the violent campaign of the Irish Republican Army. He resented and attacked British oppression, but admired much in British culture and English literature. He was rare among modern poets in that not only the vast majority of critics and academics praised him, but millions of readers also bought him. By some estimates he was the best-read living poet in the world at in recent decades.

The accessibility of his work helped. It had references to Greek and Celtic legend, but was usually clear, often dazzling with images of nature, epiphanies of the soul. He wrote about bogs and rocks and streams and transformed them into the settings for the moral problems in a way that seemed to reach not only agnostic intellectuals, but also believing Catholics.

In “Digging,” the first poem in his first collection, “The Death of a Naturalist,” he exposed his method:

“The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap

Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge

Through living roots awaken in my head.

But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests.

I’ll dig with it.”

The Irish Times said in an editorial after he won the Nobel Prize: “Book sales may not mean much in the areas of fiction or biography, but for a poet to sell in the thousands is remarkable proof to his ability to speak in his poems to what are inadequately called ‘ordinary people.’ Yet the popularity of his work should not be allowed to obscure the fact that this deep, at times profound poetry, forged through hard thinking and an attentive, always tender openness to the world, especially the natural world.”

Writing in a collection of his lectures in 1995, “The Redress of Poetry, Mr. Heaney said: “It is in the space between the farmhouse and the playhouse that one discovers what I’ve called ‘the frontier of writing,’ the line that divides the actual conditions of our daily lives from the imaginative representations of those conditions in literature.”

In the 1984 collection, “Station Island,” he wrote: “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.”

He is survived by his wife, Marie, and his children, Christopher, Michael and Catherine Ann.

On Twitter, Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: “Very shocked & deeply saddened to hear that Seamus Heaney, Derry man, poet & Nobel Laureate has died. My thoughts & prayers with Marie & family.”

Seamus Heaney R.I.P.

Seamus Heaney won the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature

Seamus Heaney, the Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet and playwright, has died.

Born in April 1939, the eldest of nine children, in Co Derry, Northern Ireland, Heaney won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995.

The 74-year-old former teacher moved to Dublin in his later years and is survived by his wife Marie, and children Christopher, Michael and Catherine Ann.

He had been in hospital after suffering a short illness, his family said. Seamus Heaney has been described as a “humble, modest man”

Seamus Heaney“The death has taken place of Seamus Heaney. The poet and Nobel Laureate died in hospital in Dublin this morning after a short illness,” a statement on behalf of the family said.

“The family has requested privacy at this time.”

Heaney was educated at St Columb’s College in Derry, a Catholic boarding school, and later at Queen’s University Belfast, before making his home in Dublin, with periods of teaching in the US.

He was an honorary fellow at Trinity College Dublin and last year was bestowed with the Seamus Heaney Professorship in Irish Writing at the university, which he described as a great honour.

His world-renowned poetry first came to public attention in the mid-1960s with his first major collection, Death Of A Naturalist, published in 1966.

As the troubles took hold later that decade, his experiences were seen through the darkened mood of his work.

His upbringing also played out in the poetry he wrote in later years.

He donated his personal literary notes to the National Library of Ireland in December 2011, joining the ranks of Irish literary master James Joyce and fellow Nobel winner WB Yeats.

During his literary career he held prestigious posts at Oxford University and at Harvard in the US.

He once praised the lyrics of US rapper Eminem, saying that the American singer had “sent a voltage around a generation” with his shocking lyrics about gun crime, gangs, rape and homosexuality.

Ireland’s Arts Minister, Jimmy Deenihan, praised Heaney for his work as a literary great but also for promoting Ireland.

“He was just a very humble, modest man. He was very accessible,” he said.

“Anywhere I have ever travelled in the world and you mention poetry and literature and the name of Seamus Heaney comes up immediately.”

Mr Deenihan recently joined Heaney at an event at the Irish Embassy in Paris where the poet gave readings to an audience of 1,000 invited guests.

“He was a huge figure internationally, a great ambassador for literature obviously, but also for Ireland,” the minister said.

Digging – by Seamus Heaney

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Digging

|Opening the Poem  |History of the Poem

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests: snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

My grandfather could cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, digging down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

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Opening the Poem

  • In the poem Heaney is doing the same thing as his father and grandfather but in a different way.
  • It is the sound of his father digging which causes him to look down and for his memory of “digging” to begin.
  • He conveys the noise of the spade as it digs into the ground:”clear rasping sound”; “nicking and slicing “; “the squelch and slag of soggy peat.”
  • There is a central extended metaphor of digging and roots, which shows how the poet, in his writing, is getting back to his own roots (his identity, and where his family comes from).
  • The title signifies he is digging into his past. This is particularly evident in the line “and comes up twenty years away”, as it shows how he has made the transition from the modern day into the past.
  • Seeing his father (now old) “straining” to dig “flowerbeds”, the poet recalls him in his prime, digging “potato drills”. And even earlier, he remembers his grandfather, digging peat.
  • He cannot match “men like them” with a spade, but he sees that the pen is (for him) mightier, and with it he will dig into his past and celebrate them.
  • The poem begins almost as it ends, but only at the end is the writer’s pen seen as a weapon for digging.
  • The poem describes in detail, in the fourth stanza, how to use a spade.
  • The poem describes noises very well: “rasping sound”; ” squelch and slap”; “curt and cuts”.
  • The poem deals with his memories and his feelings. Heaney uses the spade as a metaphor; he says he’ll dig with it.
  • Heaney remembers his own role in the digging: he and other children would gather the new potatoes that his father dug up and he was also responsible for bringing milk to his grandfather on Toner’s bog. It was this involvement that enabled him to watch his father and grandfather at work and describe their movements so well.
  • Heaney says he will follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather but he will use a pen instead of a spade.
  • Heaney doesn’t want to dig with a spade. He would rather dig with a pen.
  • The poet shows his fondness for his father: old man is a common term of affection. Heaney is clearly proud of him as well as of his grandfather.
  • His father’s father could handle a spade better than any other man.
  • The poem shows how a family tradition is carried on.
  • There is a sense of Heaney’s love of the earth throughout the poem. His father and grandfather seem to be in harmony with the earth; he himself, as a child, loved picking up the potatoes that the earth produced.
  • He is praising his grandfather by saying he could cut more turf in a day than anyone else in the bog.
  • It is obvious Heaney loved working with his father and grandfather. But he will not be a farmer when he grows up.

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History of the Poem

Digging was first published in the New Statesman on the 4th December 1964. 

In May 1966, when Heaney was only 27, his first book coverfull-length collection, Death of a Naturalist, was published by Faber and Faber. Digging was the first poem in this book, one of thirty four short poems in this award winning volume. It earned him the Somerset Maugham Award and the Geoffrey Faber Prize. The celebrated Irish poet Austin Clarke, reviewing it on Radio Eireann said that unlike most first books, this one is mature and certain in its touch.”

book coverOn the 31st December, 1999 The Irish Times published a list of the 100 Favourite Irish Poems of all time. More than 3,500 readers of the paper had written or e-mailed their choices. Digging was the second poem by Heaney to be chosen and came in at twenty fifth place on the list. Heaney had ten of his poems included on this list.

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Mannix Flynn: Books

Lilliput Press, Stoneybatter: sold Mannix Flynn works online without right to do so
Lilliput apologises for unauthorised digital sale of Mannix Flynn books
Author had cut link to publisher

Lilliput Press, Stoneybatter: sold Mannix Flynn works online without right to do so

Mark Hilliard Irish Times Reporter

Sat, Aug 24, 2013, 01:00   

The independent publisher Lilliput Press has apologised after inadvertently selling books on Kindle without having the rights to do so.The publisher, due to celebrate its 30th anniversary next year and which recently produced a Booker Prize long-listed writer in Donal Ryan, has said the error was down to the digitising of its back catalogue during which an expired copyright was overlooked.

Founder Antony Farrell said he apologised “profusely” for the error and had undertaken to “scrutinise” the rest of some 500 titles currently being converted for online sales.

The books in question were written by the artist and politician Mannix Flynn and deal largely with the legacy of institutional abuse in Ireland.

Nothing to Say and James X were both published by Lilliput in 2004 but Flynn bought back the remaining copies and ended the relationship shortly afterwards. He says he is considering legal action.

Flynn only found out about their ongoing availability when he was contacted by a reader from the US saying they had enjoyed his work on Kindle.
Honest mistake
Mr Farrell told The Irish Times it was an honest mistake and that, once he was contacted by the author, the titles were immediately removed from the Amazonwebsite. “I apologised profusely but he wasn’t having it,” said Mr Farrell, who added that, due to the nature and scale of online book sales, the amount of royalties due would be small, approximately €100.

But he said: “He will of course be paid. We had presumed he would be happy to have it available. I should have written to him [but] I didn’t.

“Hands up, it’s my mistake. I am very happy to do whatever is necessary to fix that mistake.

“We are a literary press. We don’t make a lot of money and we try to do right by authors.”

James X won the best new play category at the 2004 Irish Times/ESB Irish Theatre Awards and Flynn said he felt aggrieved at it being sold online for a year without his knowledge or consent.
Flynn ‘furious’
“I went online and looked at Amazon and there it was: I was furious,” he said.

“I said to them, ‘I am not under contract with you and this is theft. We have written to Amazon to ask them to take it off their site because it’s illegal copyright theft. Some authors sign a contract that allows a publisher to also sell them online but I never signed one of those contracts.”

Related:

Flynn Mannix

James X

Seamus Heaney R.I.P. Irish poet laureate

Seamus Heaney was highly regarded by the literary world, with American poet Robert Lowell calling him “the most important Irish poet since Yeats”.

 

 

 

 

Ronan McGreevy

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said the death of Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney today has brought a “great sorrow to Ireland” and only the poet himself could describe the depth of his loss to the nation.

Mr Kenny said: “For us, Seamus Heaney was the keeper of language, our codes, our essence as a people”.

Heaney died this morning at the Blackrock Clinic aged 74 after a short illness.

President Michael D Higgins said Heaney’s contribution “to the republics of letters, conscience, and humanity was immense”.

“As tributes flow in from around the world, as people recall the extraordinary occasions of the readings and the lectures, we inIreland will once again get a sense of the depth and range of the contribution of Seamus Heaney to our contemporary world, but what those of us who have had the privilege of his friendship and presence will miss is the extraordinary depth and warmth of his personality,” he said.

Mr Higgins, himself a published poet, described Heaney as warm, humourous, caring and courteous.

“A courtesy that enabled him to carry with such wry Northern Irish dignity so many well-deserved honours from all over the world,” he said.

“Generations of Irish people will have been familiar with Seamus’ poems. Scholars all over the world will have gained from the depth of the critical essays, and so many rights organisations will want to thank him for all the solidarity he gave to the struggles within the republic of conscience.”

Both men alluded to the loss of confidence brought about by the implosion of the economic bubble.

Just before lunchtime today, actor Adrian Dunbar led a round of applause at the bust of Heaney in the Lyric Theatre in Belfast, while a book of condolences is to be opened in the Guildhall in Derry.

Heaney’s work has been taught in schools in the Republic, in Northern Ireland and in Britain with lines of verse still resonating years later from the likes of Digging and Tollund Man.

The Nobel prize-winner was born in April 1939, the eldest of nine children, on a small farm called Mossbawn near Bellaghy in Co Derry, Northern Ireland, and his upbringing often played out in the poetry he wrote in later years.

He was educated at St Columb’s College, Derry, a Catholic boarding school, and later at Queen’s University Belfast, before making his home in Dublin, with periods of teaching in the US.

Heaney was an honorary fellow at Trinity College Dublin and last year was bestowed with the Seamus Heaney Professorship in Irish Writing at the university, which he described as a great honour.

His world renowned poetry first came to public attention in the mid-1960s with his first major collection, Death Of A Naturalist, published in 1966. As the Troubles took hold later that decade, his experiences were seen through the darkened mood of his work.

Heaney was the most significant Irish poet of his generation and described by fellow poet Robert Lowell as the “most important Irish poet since Yeats”.

Along with being a poet of immense stature, he was also a well-known public figure and a member of Aosdana since its foundation.

Heaney said writers had a detached attitude to the “forms of success that have failed spectacularly and disastrously.

Mannix Flynn New York: ‘James X’ event

Mary Raftery R.I.P.

Dob BakerOn ‘States of Fear’, the documentary detailing Ireland’s Industrial ‘Schools’, Don Baker spoke about the horrific abuse he and others suffered at the hands of the Catholic religious order running the notorious Daingean institution in Co. Offaly.

Don Baker has produced a song, Woe to the Holy Vow, featuring Sinead O’Connor and Damien Dempsey. It is now on iTunes. Details can be had at Don Baker’s Official Website. A video to coincide with the song, produced by Bernie Masterson will be released in September 2013. Proceeds will go to Magdalen Laundry survivors.