“Noli Timere” in the Modern Age

All of Ireland was on hand today to say goodbye to poet Seamus Heaney.

His voice quavering, the son of Seamus Heaney has told mourners of his father’s final words, minutes before his death.

At a requiem mass in Dublin, crowded with mourners, Michael Heaney described how the poet and Nobel laureate, who died last week at the age of 74, had chosen Latin for the message to his wife, Marie. His last words were “in a text message he wrote to my mother just minutes before he passed away, in his beloved Latin and they read: ‘Noli timere’ – ‘don’t be afraid.'”

BeowulfI find this interesting. I think most of us during flashes of pretension think about what we might say on our death beds. I suspect Heaney, ever the artist, wanted to make an impression with his, but while simple, I’m not sure I can think of any words better with which to part the living world. They are words that at first glance don’t sum up a life but offer advice to the living. Or perhaps they do offer up a summation of Heaney’s life. Though it’s arguable, I think it does take some measure of courage to be an artist and question “being,” which is what art ultimately is. I fear there isn’t enough of that in the United States where we have developed a paralyzing fear of doing nothing even when it’s the most responsible thing to do.


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