“Don’t be afraid”—Seamus Heaney’s “last words”

Language arts in the news this week: the news without which “men die miserably every day.” So here is to living happily today—hear-hear—as in the earliest poetry which was recited, stories told, and to aid the speakers’ memory, it was rhythmic, it rhymed, it used stock phrases while the speaker gathered her or his thoughts, yes, her, too—did you know that Samuel Butler in the late 1890s translated the Odyssey with the theory that Homer was a young woman?—I can see this, totally, but that is for another show, in fact, next week’s show is on the issue of translation of poetry, and I’ll tell you about that in a while, because it is a HUGE issue, that concerns you and me very much. But meanwhile, our news today is from newsy language happenings, maybe happiness:

“Don’t be afraid”—Seamus Heaney’s “last words” Khaled Hosseini, whose first book, *The Kiterunner*, about Afghanistan, kept me up reading it for three nights, weeping, who has written a new book: as we listen to world news of whether or not to go to war and what is war and what is peace and how is war and how is peace, he was on the news saying kindness is complicated, generosity is laborious, we all want to be better human beings, to be good, but it is hard work, being noble, and as we consider poems on this topic, we will hear how just be—ing is actually hard work, perhaps heroic.


Stephen Hawking, “if I had to do it over . . . “: I listened to this on NPR because I remembered what Einstein said, well, first, he always wished he could have been a musician, in fact, he was a musician, he even played his violin at Carnegie Hall, I would have gone to listen, wouldn’t you? But he actually was good in his own right, but what he said, after his e=mc2 which you know I think is a poem, it is all about the metaphor, this is that, equation, the mind of the poet is the genius we recognize in him, well, he came to see that himself, he became an advocate for the humanities as the source of ethics, and, specifically, of kindness, and if he had to do it all over again, what would he have studied, how would he have spent his energies? He wrote and lectured about the humanities as intrinsic, essential, lifesaving, spiritually redeeming for society, the only hope for our planet. Well, it turns out that Stephen Hawking, famous for his *Brief History of Time*, has written *My Brief History*, and in an interview, if you had to do it all over again, what would you study, he said molecular biology, and that there were answers in science to every single human question, including love and beauty. Well, if e=mc2, and it does, then love and beauty, the province we always think of poetry, contains the science, the ultimate answers to what Hawkings says it is ultimate question, where and how did life emerge, did we come from another planet—do you remember, Poetry Slow Down, we had it on OUR news, that life came from Mars, on a meteorite, poetry news always is first, but he is still interested in this question, did life emerge spontaneously on earth, or come from another place? In other words what inspires life? And so we will hear some poetry about that, and that is our contribution to the Big Questions! Now, the theme in these language  happenings is writers on life and death, and the courage and kindness and imagination it takes to be alive and to come alive.


We’ll begin with Hawkings’ question of beginnings of life, and hear from C.K. Williams reflections on his own emergence into life as a poet, “Beginnings” and his great poem “Tar,” Seamus Heaney’s poems of courage, heart, and bravery, including his translation of Beowulf, St. Exupery (from The Little Prince), Gordon MacFall, William Carlos Williams, and other poets, including my poem for Sandra Gilbert, “The Fear Poet,” and finally, also in the news, what’s going on with the 1977 record we’re sending into interstellar space, and what you think of it. Of course you approve of Chuck Berry being on it (if the alien hipsters can find a record player, but they have about 40,000 years to locate a vintage store) but what poets and poems would you send to represent us humans to future generations (eonations?). There are many poems I am looking forward to sharing with you, but the common theme is actually the courage to live by loving fiercely. Viva, yours truly, Professor Barbara Mossberg, and thank you Pacific Grovians for your turn-out for our monthly “Poetry in the Grove” program on Gary Snyder last week: next up: Sylvia Plath, October 5,  more anon! Keep writing and reading and keeping our poets vital for the increased Light Ages.

© Barbara Mossberg 2013

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