On Friday, Seamus Heaney died.
I wouldn’t even know who this Heaney guy was if I hadn’t had The Mr. Willard for my high school English teacher and if he hadn’t been the most unconventional teacher I’ve had so far. I had no idea just how famous of a poet he was and so I don’t blame you if you have no idea who I’m talking about, but if you’re of the more enlightened population that already knew this, then bravo to you.
Seamus Heaney was an Irish poet. One of the most famous poets in history. If we were to rewind back four years to the day when Mr. Willard assigned his class to drive 45 minutes to the University of North Texas and listen to a lecture given by a lit professor who was also slightly off his rocker, then you’d witness the day when I first heard about Mr. Heaney. My friend’s dad drove us through rush hour traffic just to hear a lecture for a mere high school english grade, and it was clear that none of us wanted to go through with it. However, being on the UNT campus that fateful Thursday night proved more fulfilling than I could have possibly imagined.
For one, I experienced college as a college student would have. The lecture was in a cramped classroom with even smaller desks. We marveled at the professor who was actually quite young and wearing flip-flops with his suit. We were surprised that he didn’t lecture. Instead, he showed us a 30 minute video about Mr. Heaney. Then, we ate Subway cookies on the curb as we talked about our futures that would be quite similar to this while we waited for her dad to come pick us up. It was one of the greatest nights of my life.
Mr. Heaney, at the time, seemed like only a by-product of this glorious Thursday evening. I had to sit through a boring video about a poet. Unless you’re an English lit major or Heaney fanatic, not the most riveting documentary. Then, I had to write a paper about what I learned. And to be honest, I don’t remember a scrap of information I heard from that video or put in that report. After that day, Seamus Heaney was just a name on an English assignment.
Until last Friday. When he died.
It’s interesting to think that I never forgot that name. It’s just one of those curious things that linger in the recesses of your brain and dredged up one day when you hear some dreadful news involving said curiosity, like death, and feel more affected by it than you might expect.
You see, when I saw that Mr. Heaney died (via another author, Mr. John Green’s twitter), I instantly recalled that night on the curb with our Subway cookies and the feeling of the unknown just out of our reach. This was actually the text dialogue between my friend and I when the news broke:
At first, I was joking. Not about his death. But about how I felt. Because how could I care? I hadn’t had anything to do with the guy since my sophomore year of high school. But as I thought about it more and realized how many other people seemed to care, I noticed that Mr. Heaney did play a significant role in mine. I believe that I was entirely on the mark when I said that a piece of my childhood died along with him. Because, in a sense, it did.
My encounter with Mr. Heaney involved not just learning about his life through that documentary, but also that portion of my life when I am about to jump passed the threshold into the future. It sounds very otherworldly and cosmic but I feel as if this Irish poet symbolized that part of my existence when I knew less of what was going to happen to me but still possessed the courage to jump head first into it. Now, I’m in college and I’m more frightened about what’s ahead than I was four years prior. With some twisted logic, a mere poet impacted my life.
I’m sad because there are many more people like Seamus Heaney who are geniuses of the pen and contribute to the world their words, and others like me, buried by college, buried by life, who won’t get the chance to witness that kind of greatness. I’m afraid that eventually, people like Mr. Heaney will become undervalued and forgotten.
That’s why I’m sad.