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Seamus Heaney will not only be missed in Ireland

(This article expired 01.11.2013.)

Ambassador Tomas Kafka's article published in the Czech newspaper Lidove noviny on poet Seamus Heaney's legacy

Seamus Heaney will not only be missed in Ireland

I can’t imagine that any other author in the world could evoke similar emotions in his homeland. The reasons for this claim are numerous, but it would not be adequate just to enumerate all the achievements of the late Seamus Heaney as it would not encapsulate his importance just by highlighting the fact that he was one of four Irish winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

To appreciate the social importance of Heaney one should be aware of the challenges the Irish society was exposed to in its modern history. It was not always easy for the Irish to maintain historical continuity and they did not always fully succeed. Anyway Irish society is perceived nowadays as one of the most traditional and popular throughout the world. This achievement is owing especially to Irish literature and Seamus Heaney in particular.

Although Heaney was born in Northern Ireland his work and presence was shared and taken for granted by the whole island of Ireland. When people spoke about Heaney’s presence, they didn’t just mean the physical dimension but more so the spiritual. Nothing was seen as lost or wasted, as long as there were still people like Seamus Heaney present. It should be noted that Heaney generally lived up to those expectations.

This social role walked hand in hand with the inspiration he as poet provided the Irish readers with. It’s a kind of legend that the Irish youth became interested in the cultivation of potatoes since Heaney in his verses portrayed the reality of rural life so powerfully that even the most urban circles couldn’t resist.

Heaney himself was able to bear his burden as a worldwide acknowledged poet and thinker with grace and humour. I remember very well how he laughed when I told him that a leading Czech newspaper marked the moment when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature by publishing a faked poem where one of the best Czech poets, Ivan Wernisch, pretended to be Seamus Heaney. This is the way we Czech’s occasionally express our love to those we are convinced may understand the absurdity of our existence. I was very relieved that Seamus Heaney found this amicable mystification more flattering than any formal praise. I can still hear his joyous laughter and cry “that’s wonderful”.

The fact that Heaney had a sense of humour shouldn’t diminish his capability to speak and approach things of real seriousness. It’s not a coincidence that his poem ‘From the Republic of Conscience’ inspired a tradition of bestowing the title of ‘Ambassador of the Republic of Conscience’, which is run by Dublin's non-profit organization Front Line Defenders and which is very much appreciated by the worldwide community of human rights defenders whose representatives these ambassadors are. For me as the Czech Ambassador to Ireland it is very inspiring that the first ever holder of the title was Václav Havel.

Now it’s time for people (not only in Ireland) to cope with the absence of Seamus Heaney. A certain consolation could begin with the reading of his verses. Heaney firmly believed that poetry is life and its ability to generate new forms and names for the world may help us to overcome the anxiety of emptiness and futility that many of us encounter on an everyday basis. Death is a dark and trembling absolute, but without death we would not realise the importance of life.

I believe that many people, not only readers, experienced what it is to be in touch with this absolute thanks to Heaney. For many of them it was a relief to live in the era with Seamus Heaney as its living classic. Now it’s time not only to mourn, but also to feel gratitude for this privilege.