Seamus Heaney’s Advice to the Young. BY MARIA POPOVA
It is a kind of aide memoire,
That ticks beneath the pace of talk
As feet convey you when you walk,
Shuttling on and shuttling back,
On speech’s loom.
Of Art and Science,
To be dulce et utile,
To speak sweetly and usefully
About the world and th’academy
And their alliance.
Ivory towers in a world of violence
And corporate money.
Are college walls perhaps a door
Shut to the working and the poor
While the privileged and the few ignore
The unwashed many?
And milk the taxpayer of his tax
By the illusion
That our minds serve much higher ends
Than bending backs and blistered hands?
How much of common good depends
How do we justify our fates
As an upper crust
With handfuls of credit cards and dollars
In hands as pale as our white collars?
All flesh is dust.
Are trivial as sewers’ thimbles
And just as hard
For they can form a callous shell
Against the little pricking needle
Of other people’s needs, and kill
The feeling heart.
I was the eldest child of nine
And I have brothers
Who barkeep, schoolteach — and don’t write.
One labors on a building site.
One milks a herd morning and night
And in all weathers.
My mother’s father worked the railways
And linen mills.
One uncle drove a rural breadvan.
One aunt was more farmhand than woman.
One who became an enclosed nun
Worked in hotels.
Beyond the pale of books and art
And is not moved
Until they justify their place
And win their rights and can keep face,
Until their value for the race
Is really proven.
Of an attic full of dusty toys
And old dolls’ houses.
No faculty of engineering
Repeats the joys of tinkering
With model planes, that hankering
To fly with aces.
Is the first place where the true and the good
Awaken in us.
The later freedom we call leisure
Cannot supply that buried treasure
Which is the basis and the measure
A word I cite with much elation
And some unease
Because it can sound slight and airy
An entry in the dictionary,
A bubble word. Yet while I’m wary
Sustaining force, early and late,
From youth to age.
It does not just mean fancy thoughts.
Accountants, lawyers, graduates
In medicine, as well as poets
Using language —
All men and women must beware
Who would deny it
And go against their childhood’s grain
And dry up like earth parched for rain.
They’ll grow mechanical and then
No drug or diet
No mantra om, no Star Wars force
For what is lost when the mind divides.
Even science now concedes
The brain has two conjugal sides,
The left and right.
To the analytic reason
For psychic balance.
Head sleeps with heart, begets a creature
Free yet cornered in its nature.
To be your whole self, you must mate your
Brains and glands.
Fragrant with personality
And moral feeling.
Distinction’s not an ego-trip.
Good luck helps many to the top
Yet once up there you can still slip
And keep on falling.
Nothing’s secure. Gold’s only lead
When you stop to think.
On your way up, show consideration
To the ones you meet on their way down.
The Latin root of condescension
Means we all sink.
Let the hierarchy and Mafia
Join hand in glove
To doom and excommunicate
Whoever’s not compassionate,
Whoever will not contemplate
The world through love.