Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney died almost two years ago, and the poet’s passing was a shock. Thousands attended his funeral service, which was broadcast live on Irish television. Now, almost two years later, the epitaph on Heaney’s gravestone has been revealed, and it’s just as wise as his poetry: Walk on Air Against Your Better Judgement. The gravestone has just been erected at his final resting place in his native County Derry.
The line comes from one of Heaney’s poems, and used it in his 1995 Nobel Prize acceptance speech. He was later asked by the Harvard Crimson what he meant. “A person from Northern Ireland is naturally cautious. You grew up vigilant because it’s a divided society. My poetry on the whole was earth-hugging, but then I began to look up rather than keep down. I think it had to do with a sense that the marvelous was as permissible as the matter-of-fact in poetry. That line is from a poem called “The Gravel Walks,” which is about heavy work—wheeling barrows of gravel—but also the paradoxical sense of lightness when you’re lifting heavy things. I like the in-betweenness of up and down, of being on the earth and of the heavens. I think that’s where poetry should dwell, between the dream world and the given world, because you don’t just want photography, and you don’t want fantasy either.”