A note from Seamus Heaney


During the Christmas period I am reposting some old posts from my archive. 

Wishing all my readers a very happy Christmas, and joy and fulfilment in the new year.


In the spring of 1998 I wrote to Seamus Heaney. I asked him to consider writing a Foreword to the book I was editing with Siân Hughes, then Education Officer for the Poetry Society.

In all honesty I did not expect him to reply. I was sure a poet as well-known as Heaney, and with as many demands on his time, would do the expected thing and file my request in the waste paper basket. I was also secretly ashamed of the guff I know I had subjected him to, proclaiming poetry as ‘the original virtual reality’, among other howlers.

So when Heaney wrote back to me, I was dumbfounded. Delighted, yes. But dumbfounded. To quote his own response when Charles Monteith invited him to submit a manuscript to Faber, it was like getting a letter from God the Father.

In a typed note of not more than seven lines he explained that he had to say no: ‘I feel I have to watch how many of these introductions I do. The writing I do nowadays seems to be mostly endorsements, exhortations, millennial messages, and so on. As Matthew Arnold said “I am fragments.” Please excuse me.’

The courtesy of his tone knocked me sideways. I had readied myself for curtness. Instead I held in my hand this tiny admission that seemed both unnecessarily honest and somewhat heartbreaking. It is one of my most treasured possessions.

Lifesaving Poems

Seamus Heaney’s ‘Night Drive’


  1. Anthony – my experience has been that the “bigger” the person, the kinder. The note from Heaney really was perfect. Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season. I’m celebrating New Year’s today, as I always do, on the Solstice. All best, Molly

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.