Biography matters

Winter days at the turn of the year offer quiet blessings. Time is one of them. Yesterday, with time granted, I drove through Co. Antrim, over the river Bann at Toome, and followed the Deerpark Road, alongside still December fields, to Bellaghy.

Inspired by a recent article in the Irish Times, Seamus Heaney: The Christmas card maker I wanted to see the selection of cards on display as part of the “Longing for Snow” exhibition at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace. The HomePlace lies at the edge of an otherwise nondescript Northern Irish village, for the hinterland of Bellaghy was home ground for one of the greatest poets of our time. Maybe this is one of the reasons why Heaney’s story holds fascination: the nearness, the sheer ordinariness of the place. It’s so familiar.

In her life of Cervantes, Melveena McKendrick points out that ‘Biography …. is by definition a search, an attempt to capture the essence of another human being’s experience’. I’m looking forward to reading Fintan O’Toole’s biography of Seamus Heaney. In the meantime, the Christmas cards that Seamus Heaney made, and the inscriptions that they carry, give glimpses into the experience of a remarkable, ordinary human being. An expression of gratitude for constancy and kindness; a recollection of Christmastimes past; a contemplation of the Incarnation of Christ through the lens of a medieval poet and the eye of a child.

Time well spent.

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