Seamus Heaney, born in April 1939 in Northern Ireland, was a towering figure in the world of poetry whose mastery over the lyrical evocation of place and past earned him numerous accolades, culminating in the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995. It was fifteen years before this high honour, during a period of creative struggle as he attempted to compose his “Lough Derg poem,” that Heaney wrote the following diary entry. He eventually overcame this period of artistic inertia, and the composition with which he had struggled became Station Island, a long poem published in a collection of the same name in 1984.
The Diary Entry
16th November 1980
Very exhausted and despondent. For weeks now negotiating the rungs of the ladder of external responsibilities. Too many, far too many engagements of the social/reading kind. Dinners. Visitations. And the Arvon poetry competition, which has scraped all the moss from me.
But feel the need, under a weight of unfulfilled tasks—letters, markings, hundreds of things—to linger in the broken bare site of Lough Derg poem. It is like a building site, abandoned in November. Cold. Mucky. Puddled. Promising. Hopeless. Tempting. Promising nothing but work. But hope still there, even as you shiver at the… broken nothingness of it all.
Smoking too much… Crowded. But helped too by contact with Ted Hughes and Tom Kilroy. Ted here from Tuesday to Thursday, and some stirring talks. Tom here previous weekend. Their intelligence and assent a kind of restoration. But my not working at my own work is like opening a plug hole where all the gathered conviction sweeps away almost immediately.
In 1986, a few of Seamus Heaney’s diary entries relating to Station Island appeared in the first issue of Erato, a periodical founded by Stratis Haviaras at Harvard University. It is from that issue that the above entry comes, reprinted by kind permission of Faber & Faber.