‘Ground gives’ includes within its small compass everything to do with the dependence of all societies on farming, through the Roman empire to Heaney’s own rural background in a corner of the British empire. Heaney has himself used the figure of Antaeus ‘the mouldhugger’ in his poetry; any number of nationalist myths invoke our supposed connection to native soil, but there is no doubt it puts food on our tables all over the world. It provides identity and nourishment, feeding hearts, minds and stomachs.
At the same time, ‘Ground gives’ contains the sense that it gives way, the uppermost meaning in this context, with all the anxiety provoked by that suggestion, as demonstrated by Zygmunt Bauman’s use of the image. Anyone who has accidentally put their foot through ice they thought thicker than it proved to be knows that stomach churning feeling of discovering truly liquid modernity, as new information overwhelms old certainty. I felt my stomach churn in the same way when I heard Seamus Heaney had died: I feel it again as I write this, at a loss for words for losing the man behind his words and the wonder of the words that should have been before him, the astonishment we would have felt before them, as I do before just two syllables of what he left. All I can think of is something occasionally seen on headstones in Irish country churchyards, ‘Ní bás acht á fás’, which means ‘Not dead but growing’, for those we love and lose keep growing in our hearts as we remember them and share our thoughts and memories. Ground gives.
Ground gives. The heaven’s weight
Lifts up off Atlas like a kettlelid.