Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Two Very Different Seamus Heaneys One Is the Poet; the Other Is the Celebrity `Poet'

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Two Very Different Seamus Heaneys One Is the Poet; the Other Is the Celebrity `Poet'

Article excerpt

IRISH POET Seamus Heaney was vacationing in Greece when he won the Nobel Prize last month, and ever since, he's been rather elusive, dodging desperate phone calls from reporters, evading faxes, keeping a low profile. Call us now, the press implored. Go away, he answered.

The problem with all the attention is that it requires him to be two people at once - the poet and the "Poet," if you will. But when he finally settles down for a mid-morning chat in his study at Harvard's Widener Library, the man is welcoming and warm.

"It's not really an office, it's a roost," he says apologetically, ushering a visitor into a modest room at Harvard, where he is a professor.

The walls are bare, the furnishings standard collegiate issue. But when Heaney speaks, his mellifluous lilt seems to transform the bare space into a cozy pub in some sleepy seaside village. A peat fire burns, and the man gears up to tell stories.

He begins with Greece. "We passed from Argos into Arcadia . . ." A pause to marvel over the magic of those words. "That sounds like something out of Homer. But when we crossed from Argos into Arcadia, the road was covered with apples. It just happened. Obviously, a box of apples had fallen off a lorry, but it was such an omen of plenitude. This was on Wednesday. On Friday, I realized the omen had been fulfilled."

Heaney, 56, was in the port village of Pylos that Friday, resting during a tour of antiquity with Harvard colleague Dimitri Hadzi.

The Pylos stop provided a chance to sit still, dream by the water. That day, after taking taking a bath "like a Homeric hero," Heaney called his son Christopher in Dublin.

After hearing the news, Heaney handed the phone to his wife, Marie. "Afterwards, I realized some aesthetic or sensor in me said, `You cannot possibly speak a sentence that begins, `I have won the Nobel Prize.' That would be scandalous."

Scandalous - but true. When the Swedish Academy bestows the prestigious award, they don't warn the recipients about the madness and mayhem that accompanies the honor.

Take Heaney's visit to Cambridge. He was here a week ago to read at a celebration of the 100th anniversary of Harvard's art museums, but since he won the award, what would have been a nice, pleasant occasion turned into a major media event.

Yet Heaney (pronounced HEE-nee) himself has always avoided the glitter part of the literati scene. "I just publish my books and do my readings, and a certain amount of fallout - or whatever you want to call it - has come my way. I never sought it."

He is obviously more comfortable in green tweed than white tie. The attention, he'll tell you, is almost eerie.

"I mean, the strangest moment in your life is when you move from being your own inchoate self to being a textual presence, when you move from being Seamus Heaney to being Seamus Heaney in inverted commas, you know? …

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