Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Noli Timere

I, like many others, was caught off guard at the news of the passing of Seamus Heaney this time last year. I was in my classroom in the throes of exploring 'Blackberry Picking' with my second years when a knock came to the door and a colleague informed me of the sad news.

Colin Davidson portrait of Seamus Heaney.
Gerry Hanberry, a poet and teacher in Coláiste Einde here in Galway, had a similar experience which he captured in this poem:

DEATH OF A POET
So this is how the news arrives,

A colleague's quiet knock on a

classroom door,

the beep - beep of a daughter's

text,

the corridor empty and silent

then the bell knelling classes to 

a close

Source: Maser.
The news that his last words were a text message to his wife saying 'Noli Timere' - 'Don't be Afraid' was especially moving.  Even in his last moments his words touched people across ireland, nay across the world.  To have courage when facing the ultimate foe is something to which we all aspire but rarely achieve.

Heaney spent his lift scrutinizing the human condition, seeking meaning and hope even in the darkest of places.  His final brief message to his loved ones became a simple message of hope to us all. It even inspired the artist Maser to paint the words across a Dublin building to help people through the dark winter. (Picture: left)



In June the designers of the Leaving Cert English paper paid tribute to him with a comprehension on Paper 1 and an Unseen poem on Paper 2.  They left him out of the Prescribed Poetry section, however, which was somewhat cruel to the students who had spent so much time with those poems all year!

Why, oh why must poetry be such a lottery every year?! Why not let students answer on the poet with whom they connected with most, the poet they love? This is by far the aspect of Leaving Cert English that frustrates me most.

This week a great new radio programme celebrating Heaney's life as a college professor started on RTE Radio One and is an absolute joy. You can listen here: Professor Heaney.

Anyway - I want to remember Heaney with one of my favorite poems: the Chorus from the end of The Cure at Troy, his translation of Sophocles' Philoctetes.  We are blessed to be left with his wonderful poetry and the memory of the great man he was.


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