Fintan O’Toole Says ‘Comfort Best Found in Heaney’s Poems’

Poet Annie Deppe (Wren Cantata), who lives in County Galway with her husband poet Ted Deppe, sent this note on the death of Seamus Heaney:

We may be heading to Bellaghy on Monday for his burial. Take a look at the Irish Times. Fintan O’Toole’s article is worth checking out. There is a lot of coverage. The tears continue.

The entire country of Ireland is in mourning. The video clip interviews of ordinary people praising and remembering Seamus Heaney are stunning. Below is an excerpt from Fintan O’Toole’s beautiful essay in The Irish Times. Fintan O’Toole writes:

Like all great poets, Seamus Heaney was an alchemist.

He turned our disgrace into grace, our petty hatreds into epic generosity, our dull clichés into questioning eloquence, the leaden metal of brutal inevitability into the gold of pure possibility.

He lacked the arrogance to tell us who we are – much more importantly, he told us what we are. He reminded us that Ireland is a culture before it is an economy. And in the extraordinary way he bore himself, the dignity and decency and the mellow delight that shone from him, he gave us self-respect.

In The Tempest, Miranda exclaims “O brave new world, / That has such people in it.”
Seamus Heaney made us gasp in wonder that, for all its follies and terrors, Irish culture had such a person in it.

Seamus Heaney (1939-2013) in the ‘Republic of Conscience’

The Beautiful Irish Woman, 1866, by Gustave Courbet
The Beautiful Irish Woman, 1866, by Gustave Courbet

Seamus Heaney,74,  one of the greatest living poets writing in the “English” language, died today at a clinic in Ireland.

Robert Lowell called Heaney “the most important Irish poet since Yeats.” Lowell didn’t live to see the full grandeur of Heaney’s accomplishments.

I’m in a bit of shock at the news.

The night I heard Seamus Heaney read his poetry at the Kennedy Center was one of the highlights of my literary life.

Most memorably he read from his own translation of Brian Merriman’s “The Midnight Court,” in which the women of Ireland put the men on trial:

‘Get up,’ she said, ‘and on your feet!’
What do you think gives you the right
To shun the crowds and the sitting court?
A court of justice, truly founded,
And not the usual, rigged charade,
But a fair and clement court of women
of the gentlest stock and regimen.
The Irish race should be grateful always
For such a bench, agreed and wise,
In session now two days and a night,
In the spacious fort on Graney Heights …

… Blame arrogant kings, blame emigration,
But it’s you and your spunkless generation–
Your a source blocked off that won’t refill.
You have failed your women, one and all.

I’ve taught Heaney’s poem “Station Island” as part of prayer and poetry retreats. I’ve written essays comparing “Station Island” with Neruda’s “The Heights of Macchu Piccu.” I’ve listened to audio of Heaney reading and lecturing simply to luxuriate in his language.

How can that singular voice be stilled? Who will answer now when I call out in the “republic of conscience”? There will be quite a céilí tonight in the celestial courts!

From The Irish Times:

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said the death of Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney today has brought a “great sorrow to Ireland” and only the poet himself could describe the depth of his loss to the nation.

Mr Kenny said: “For us, Seamus Heaney was the keeper of language, our codes, our essence as a people”.
Heaney died this morning at the Blackrock Clinic aged 74 after a short illness.

He was admitted to the clinic for a procedure but died prior to the operation.

President Michael D Higgins said Heaney’s contribution “to the republics of letters, conscience, and humanity was immense”.

“As tributes flow in from around the world, as people recall the extraordinary occasions of the readings and the lectures, we in Ireland will once again get a sense of the depth and range of the contribution of Seamus Heaney to our contemporary world, but what those of us who have had the privilege of his friendship and presence will miss is the extraordinary depth and warmth of his personality,” he said.

Mr Higgins, himself a published poet, described Heaney as warm, humourous, caring and courteous.
“A courtesy that enabled him to carry with such wry Northern Irish dignity so many well-deserved honours from all over the world,” he said.

“Generations of Irish people will have been familiar with Seamus’ poems. Scholars all over the world will have gained from the depth of the critical essays, and so many rights organisations will want to thank him for all the solidarity he gave to the struggles within the republic of conscience.” …

Read the rest here.

Poet Theo Dorgan, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Ireland at a poetry workshop several years ago, said:

Seamus Heaney would react in “half embarrassment” at being compared to the great Irish writers such as W.B Yeats, James Joyce and Oscar Wilde, but “he deserved it. He is there.” He was also a very loved poet and people “just beamed” in his presence. He had, more than any other poet he met, “genuine humility. He knew his gift was just that, a gift”. He was a supportive writer who offered “solidarity and companionship” to others aspiring to be poets, Dorgan said.

More on Seamus Heaney:

Obituary: Heaney ‘the most important Irish poet since Yeats’

Seamus Heaney, poet, dies aged 74

Jennifer Sleeman Speaks Out on Sept. 26 Mass Boycott

“Women are no longer happy to be second-class citizens.”–Jennifer Sleeman

Jennifer Sleeman, Cork, Ireland

On Tuesday, the Irish Times ran an op-ed by Jennifer Sleeman, the Irish woman who has launched Sept. 26 as the “Sunday Without Women” in support of respectful recognition of women in the Catholic Church. (See my interview with Sleeman.)

Women (and men) around the world (check out the map) are preparing for Sunday.

Marie from Portland, OR, articulated the intent well: “Our goal is equality for women to hold positions of decision-making on all levels in the church. We want dignity and respect for women who work for parishes, schools, and archdiocesan offices. There are many stories of womens’ gifts and skills not being respected and taken seriously.”

Sept. 26 is an opportunity for faithful Catholics and those who care for us and our church to enter into prayerful dialogue about shared authority, the celibate priesthood, church teaching, lived experience, and “the sense of the faithful.” Read Jennifer Sleeman’s commentary below:

I did not have a Catholic childhood and I have been amazed, talking to Irish friends, at how their early experience of religion was one of fear: fear of God and fear of the church. There were rules, and you broke them at your peril. Maybe I was lucky.

I embraced Catholicism in my 20s. My husband was Catholic and I saw he got great comfort from it. Then I met a wonderful priest who gave me instruction and received me into the church.

I lived happily with my decision. However, with the horrifying sexual abuse revelations, cracks began to appear for me, and I started wondering and talking to other people about the church in the reality of the 21st century.

I had often questioned the fact that only men could be ordained. There was also the rule of celibacy. I discovered that many women and men were also concerned and working towards having their voices heard.

It seemed there were organizations and people protesting all over the place, and the idea came to me of a boycott of Mass for one Sunday (September 26th) to draw all these voices together. Let empty pews give the powers-that-be in the church the message that women are no longer happy to be second-class citizens.

The support for the equality of women in the church has been massive: lovely letters and cards, and phone calls have come from Ireland, Australia, the US and Canada, from men and women.

Neighbours and strangers have come up to me in the street to congratulate me and tell me I have “hit a spot”. It is time for the focus to move from me to anyone and everyone who realizes the church needs to change, and what they can do to bring this about.

There are those who support women priests but would not miss Mass. They have other ideas to get the message across.

There have been a few angry letters, and some of them have been more in sorrow – that people would boycott Sunday Mass. I understand. Many of my friends have said they support me – but they could not miss Mass.

Others have come up with different ideas to reveal their dissatisfaction to the hierarchy. I hope they carry these ideas out.

One compelling reason for the ordination of women is the shortage of priests. The average age of priests in Ireland is 65, and as far as I know very few young men are entering the seminaries.

Already there must be tired, lonely and aging men celebrating Masses, attending to weddings, funerals and Baptisms, with no time or energy for visiting their parishioners – or indeed for themselves. There are wonderful priests out there ministering with courage and compassion, some of whom have given me their support. They are heroic, but how long can they last?

There are nuns doing demanding and sometimes difficult work, brilliantly. Why is the church so afraid of women, and especially their ordination? They constitute half the population of the world and at least 60 per cent of Mass-goers. They minister very well in other churches, for example in the Church of Ireland.

I see celibacy as another way of keeping women out. Is the fear that the church might become gentler, more in touch with the reality of family life in the 21st century, a safer haven for the scared? I think the church has changed since children grew up in fear – and I hope it has the courage to change again.

My hope is that empty pews on September 26th will move the hearts and minds of those in charge, that change will happen, and that the church will emerge invigorated by the equality of all.

In the wake of Pope Benedict’s elevation of John Cardinal Newman to the position of “blessed” and as we approach Sunday, it’s worth recalling what Newman was most known for:

Church teaching, he argued cannot be a top-down enterprise, a one-way street. It must be the result of a conspiratio, literally a breathing together of the faithful and the bishops. It is the first responsibility of the episcopacy and papacy, he said, to listen carefully before teaching doctrine (see “Robert McClory’s article).