Posts Tagged ‘Seamus Heaney’

Concision

1 March 2013

Stick2

I’m indebted to my colleague Walker Smith for pointing me to this New Yorker article by Brad Leithauser article on concision. It’s actually quite long, given the subject matter, but I just wanted to pick out a couple of things here while recommending that you go and have a look at the whole thing.

The first is a haiku – concise by definition at 17 syllables – by the Irish poet Seamus Heaney, from The Haw Lantern:

Dangerous pavements.
But this year I face the ice
With my father’s stick.

Leithauser’s commentary:

[T]he poem evokes a complex, compromised psychological condition. There’s comfort in the notion that Father is sheltering us with that stolid stick of his. And there’s anguish and vulnerability in the implication that the stick has been transferred because Father has died—recently, within the past year. As we set off from home into the freezing outer world, all sorts of emotional accommodations must be discharged.

One other thing I enjoyed was the way he elegantly sidestepped the notorious New Yorker fact-checking department (his brackets):

(Someone told me that Marilyn Monroe once remarked that she enjoyed reading poetry “because it saves time.” I like this quotation so much that I’ve never dared to confirm it; I’d feel disenchanted to learn it was bogus.)

I don’t know either, and I’m certainly not going to go and look. I’d be as disappointed as he would be if I discovered she didn’t say it. But the whole piece is a writerly pleasure.

The image at the top is from the blog Between Fashion and Death, and is used with thanks.