Getting Started, Keeping Going – Tribute to Seamus Heaney

Getting Started Keeping Going

This week I have read several thoughtful articles with advice for bloggers, all urging focus and thematic clarity (rightly so).  But today I am writing not about investing, but about poetry, experts and editors be darned.  Because Seamus Heaney’s work has helped me more than all of those blogger-advisers put together. Because poetry is one of the few ways we have to connect all the different pieces of brain and heart and spirit. Because that connection is what gives me the greatest hope for the world – Wall Street included.

“Getting started, keeping going, getting started again – in art and in life, it seems to me this is the essential rhythm not only of achievement but of survival…the guarantee of credibility in your lives, credibility to yourselves as well as to others.”
—Seamus Heaney

Heaney became the official Poet Laureate of the Collins family after my brother studied with him in college; we embraced him as “our poet” just as an Irish generation before us embraced JFK as “our President”.   My sister’s excitement on spotting the poet lunching in Kendall Square years ago has only been surpassed once, by a Bono sighting near Symphony Hall.  When I read Heaney’s “District and Circle” on the District and Circle Line in London, I magically heard the “tunes from a tin whistle underground” right on cue – a rare moment of peace and grace and awe in my decidedly un-peaceful, un-graceful, un-awesome urban commute.  His poems have helped our family to acknowledge joy and sorrow and everything in-between; they are at once both deeply personal and universal.

The last time I saw Heaney was in a public discussion with fellow poet Paul Muldoon in New York.  Three points in particular have stuck with me from their conversation:

  • The distinction between optimism and hope (he was citing Vaclav Havel here). Optimism is not always possible, nor warranted, but if something is really worthy, it inspires hope, even in the most difficult circumstances.  “Even if the hopes you started out with are dashed, hope has to be maintained.”
  • “History is the freight train roaring by in the field outside; poetry is the ripple the train creates in the water pail.”
  • “The shelter within” – this is what he called the notion of having solitude and completeness all at once, the most sought-after shelter there is.

“The squat pen rests” has a different meaning today, and we mourn its final resting. But, my!  How grateful we are for its digging.

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