The last week has been a whirlwind. I have met dozens of fellow seminarians, each of which seems to be more profound and capable than I am. Shuffling between orientation sessions and finding my way around Manhattan, I search for calmness in the confusion. The hustle was brought to a grinding halt with the holiday weekend and the news of Seamus Heaney’s death.
I became acquainted with the work of Heaney in 2001 due to his translation of Beowulf. Memory fails me at this moment in details, but I recall the earthy feel of the lines and the immediacy of the story. Perhaps it hit me at the right moment as a high school dropout struggling to find a direction for my life. What strikes me, looking back, are the gleeful violence of Beowulf and the pain of Grendel’s mother. She created something grotesque and evil, yet we must feel the love Grendel’s mother contains having participated in the act of creation. I find more sympathy with her rather than Beowulf – a man who collects heads as trophies and whose only merit is strength.
“Digging” is perhaps Heaney’s best known work in America – much anthologized and studied. In this poem Heaney’s pen and talent become his tool for freedom; freedom from his past and freedom from dull expectations. As a writer with a blue collar background, or perhaps I should say a steel collar background, I understood the psychological risk of embracing art and literature. Ridicule is only part of the problem; failure and loss of self are much more present in the mind. I like to think that this laptop is my pickax, and that instead of digging into darkness I am digging out of it.