Nobel Anecdotes

Seamus Heaney

After his reading I asked the great Irish poet if he admired Rilke. I was young and the question was sincere if perhaps naive. Heaney’s eyes caught fire. “Ah, lad, there’s lots of wonder there,” he said and put his arm round my shoulder. In an auditorium full of his admirers he talked to me for a good ten minutes about the wonders of Rilke. Heaney’s own wonder was infectious. Someone said it was liquor. Someone else said it was a leprechaun. Whatever. A light leapt into me and it burns with gratitude.  

Czeslaw Milosz

At a Czeslaw Milosz reading I counted more than a dozen priests. It was strange, almost cultish. They all had books to be signed by the famed poet contemporary of Pope John Paul II. The reading was splendid; Milosz, spellbinding. After the reading I joined in line hoping to have a book signed by the Nobel Laureate. Milosz, old and sick, had returned to his aisle seat. The procession inched forward. When it was my turn I handed Milosz a copy of his collection “Provinces.” He glanced up but remained in profile, like a priest in Confessional. I wanted to make my confession– the concession of a minor poet. Telepathically I did and he understood it all. Ego te absolvo. I was free.

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