We were lucky and privileged in the course of Seamus Heaney’s life to have crossed paths with him several times. First when he agreed to be part of an early experiment in putting poetry on the WWW by not only granting us the use of some of his poems, but he agreed to record his readings of those poems himself with the help of Harvard’s Poetry Room in the 1994. Heaney had not yet won the Nobel Prize at that point. That would come the next year when his work was cited “for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past.”
Certainly the poems he chose for the Internet Poetry Archive are exemplars of that sense of beauty, depth and exaltation.
Heaney returned to Chapel Hill in May 12, 1996 to deliver our commencement address.
To send off our graduates into their new lives, he quoted from a ballad he had heard whilst growing up in Derry in which a young woman was going off into the world leaving on the 12th of May. There was much wise reflection in his interpretation of that ballad in the context of commencement, but I recalled and recall now the final verse which is a hopeful send off for graduates and for Heaney himself:
So I bade them all good evening and there I hoisted sail, Let the best betide my countryside, my fortune never fail. Then night coming on, all hopes being gone, I think I will try elsewhere, at a dance or a wake my chance I'll take and leave Magherafelt May Fair.