It’s an old saw that friends and family tend to pass in clusters. But recent days have seen the loss of two dear friends of The Kenyon Review and poets of international stature, John Hollander and Seamus Heaney. Musing on the pair, one is struck immediately by all their differences. Musically, intellectually, they could hardly have tapped more disparate wells.
And yet, personally, they had so much in common. Both were the greatest of company, the jolliest of friends, playful and whimsical, full of fun and political passion, full of humor and wit. Unlike so many widely honored writers I have known, when in your company both Seamus and John were truly and fully with you. They were such generous social beings, which figured largely in their poetry too.
And yet again, and ultimately, each was intensely private as well. This allowed them to be committed to their work, from which they never flagged. As with Yeats, Heaney’s great forebear, as with Anthony Hecht or Robert Penn Warren, longtime friends of Hollander’s, the poetry surely changed and developed across many decades but the vein was never exhausted. For it they lived.
As with Yeats and Hecht and Warren, now Heaney and Hollander have passed. We will miss and honor them, but I also look to the many younger poets they taught and inspired who will surely carry the music on.