Friday, September 13, 2013

"Noli timere — don't be afraid."

Seamus Heaney's last words — in a text to his wife — " Noli timere", latin for
don't be afraid.

I'm still mourning the death of this great man, this poet of stunning integrity, keen understanding of the human condition, compassion and outright talent. 

He did a book signing at Open Books in Seattle some fifteen years or so ago, and I stood in the long line that snaked out the door and down the sidewalk, the morning cold and bright. I had two books, one whose cover had been attached upside down. When it came to my turn, he opened the upside-down book, smiled up at me quizzically, and said, "Will you look at that!" I was more than delighted.

A few evenings later he gave a reading as the Roethke Memorial Poet at the University of Washington, and told this story, as I remember it:

It was the christening of my niece, and we arrived late, without a gift. I was worried about this, and my wife told me to go upstairs and write her one of my poems. So I did.

He read the poem —  I wish I remembered more about it, and whether it was ever published. But the memory alone I have of hearing him tell that story suffices. I was, again, delighted.

The following link contains more footage of the funeral — I couldn't find the direct video link, but the URL should lead anyone who is interested directly to it. There is a lovely segment where Paul Muldoon talks about coming back to Dublin from America for the funeral, and the dialogue he had with the Irish customs official upon his entry. Very much worth listening to!

Listening, I was reminded of just how much I love and miss my times spent in Ireland, and how deeply connected I am to that country of my heritage. I know I'll go back, when times and circumstances allow.


  1. His last words, "don't be afraid"
    I love that!
    He was an amazing poet and man.

    How wonderful you met him!

  2. Just started reading his poems. So beautiful...his pays such careful attention to the world around him. Sad that he is gone, but so happy he lived and wrote.

  3. Oh, thank you so much for posting this,T -- I, too, miss him already -- found the perfect poem to post on 9/11 and just can't believe that such a warm man is no longer. I had a ticket to hear him read at Royce Hall at UCLA a few years ago -- I bought a whole series so that I could have just that one ticket (!), but it was cancelled due to illness at the last minute. I was so profoundly disappointet -- your encounters sound perfect.

  4. A great man indeed. Love your new header photo too!

  5. Thanks for sharing these memories, T. I miss him, too, though I never 'met' him except through his words - and what a meeting that has been.

    I do hope you get back to your beloved Ireland one day soon (and then on to NZ!)

    L, C xo

    PS. I agree with Cro - love your new header image.

  6. To be there for brief words and the music, thank you. I hadn't thought to seek any footage. xo