The Comedy of Seamus Heaney


Robert Pinsky in The Daily Beast:

Irreverent comedy subverts, but it doesn't necessarily hurt. Its best laughter can be derisive, but not cruel.

Seamus Heaney, among many other things, embodied that central principle: his comic sense was gleefully sharp, but it was not mean. I think he disdained cruelty, as well as pomposity. Mischievous, more bite than bark in the sense that it was mordant with minimal rhetoric, Heaney was not genteel. He enjoyed the disrespectful roar of impropriety.

Examples? Here's a story he told me, about an Irish literary eminence who was invited to a dinner party attended by the young William Butler Yeats. In those days the youthful emerging poet Yeats was at his most affected: a cape-wearing aesthete, with a lock of hair falling over his pale brow, and a distracted, ethereal manner.

The eminence was asked, the next morning, “Well, you've met the young Yeats— what did you think of him?”

Seamus, already chortling, delivered the answer at Full Twinkle, and possibly amping the Irish accent a bit:

“Think of him? Think of him, is it? I think he should be put back in and fooked-for again!”

To be put back in and fucked-for again—surreal, and wonderfully clear. As I remember, he repeated the phrase, relishing it two or three times. But maybe the important element in the story, and Seamus's pleasure in it, is the implicit rejection of piety about the great poet . . . maybe, as a further implication, about any great poet.

More here.