I arrived in Dublin on Saturday, August 31st, on what was my first trip to Ireland. Almost immediately upon arriving, I learned that the poet Seamus Heaney had died the day before.
I was staying in an area of Dublin called Donnybrook, which was also the neighborhood where Seamus Heaney lived. His requiem mass at the Church of the Sacred Heart was a 5-minute walk from my townhouse, and while I did not attend the public service, I attended a routine morning mass later in the week. It was my way of saying goodbye to whom many were calling “the nation’s most beloved poet”.
Most mornings, I walked to a grocery store in Donnybrook and bought The Irish Times. All week the paper was filled with words of praise, admiration and love for this great man. While bagging up my morning sweet roll at a local bakery, the clerk noticed my paper, and said, in her thick Irish brogue “So sad about Seamus, he was a wonderful man”. She then proceeded to tell me how everyone loved him, and how she once catered a reading of his, and had placed a glass of water by the podium for him. Before he began, he asked for some water, not knowing if the glass was for him or not. She said he was like that — humble and unassuming.
On another occasion, I was on a one day tour to view the Yeats Heritage Trail sites. Our hired driver, from Co. Galway, was driving along the Flaggy Shore, when he suddenly stopped the car near a lake and read the following poem by Heaney. It was unexpected and moving and supported what everyone had been saying about him, that he was truly accessible to all of Ireland.
And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.
It was impossible to be in Ireland and not be moved by the love that poured out for Heaney both as a man and poet, and when I read in the paper that his last words were a text message he wrote to his wife Marie, in Latin, that read “Noli timere”– Don’t be afraid, I suddenly understood we had all lost a rare and gifted human.
Upon my return home in October, The Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council was soliciting ideas for their Poetry Corners theme for 2014. I sent in my suggestion that we use “Don’t be afraid” as the theme, explaining how it would not only honor a great poet but possibly encourage all of us who create, to give our writing to the wind and see where it takes us. A few weeks later I was informed that “Don’t be afraid” was chosen as the theme for 2014.
I hope in some small way, I have contributed to honoring a poet who carried his genius lightly, and by doing so, encouraged the rest of us mere mortals, to step out and take a risk.
I look forward to reading all the poems selected for Poetry Corners-2014, and thank ALL poets who in their own creative way, find the courage to send their words into the world.
More than once, their words have saved me.