Remembering Seamus Heaney

Lawrence Cunningham, who wrote Commonweal's Religion Booknotes column for for many years, sends in this anecdote about "famous Seamus":

Some years ago our university invited Seamus Heaney to give a public reading. It was scheduled at the end of the first week of classes of the fall term. Announcing the reading to my twenty-odd freshmen at our theology seminar, I challenged them to skip the pep rally scheduled for that Friday evening even though it would be their first in anticipation of the football game the next afternoon. Then, somewhat dramatically, I added that my recommendation that they attend Heaney's reading instead was a dangerous: “When you hear the brilliant words pouring from his mouth you may well be tempted to say to yourself: ‘I do not want to be an accountant or an engineer. I want to be a poet!”—thus condemning yourself to a life of penury to the great grief of your parents.”

The next day I was wandering about campus when Heaney, in company with the chair of the English department, exited the campus hotel on his way to the airport. The department chair motioned me over to be introduced. After telling Heaney how wonderfully he had read and how much I enjoyed getting him to sign a copy of one of his books, I told him what I had said to my students the previous day. The great poet looked at me with an amused eye to say “Ah you theologians! You spout such blather.”

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