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letters | seamus heaney, 1939-2013: readers find the words

Students were welcome at his side

Seamus Heaney shared a laugh with the former Irish president, Mary Robinson, at Harvard Commencement in 1998. They both received honorary degrees.

Elise Amendola/Associated Press/File

Seamus Heaney shared a laugh with the former Irish president, Mary Robinson, at Harvard Commencement in 1998. They both received honorary degrees.

It was a delight to read Kevin Cullen’s appreciation of the late Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney (“A life of engagement and wondrous words,” Page A1, Aug. 31). There are so many in Boston who, like Cullen, have wonderful memories of this great poet and even greater man.

I taught English literature at Boston Latin School for more than three decades. I always taught Heaney’s poetry because so many of my students were of Irish descent and because he was indeed worthy of exegesis. I used the poem “Digging” not only to illustrate Heaney’s gifts, but as a paradigm for literary analysis, which, as I explained to my students, demanded the kind of work a farmer puts into his land.

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Seniors at Boston Latin must write a thesis paper in order to graduate. One of my students was at a loss as to which poet to choose. I told her that, since she was Irish, she might find something in Heaney that would intrigue her. When I suggested that Heaney, who was teaching at Harvard, might be willing, if she contacted him, to meet with her and discuss his poetry, she became interested.

I had met Heaney a few times, and knew that if a student called him, he would not brush the student away. He graciously offered to take my young senior out to lunch in Harvard Square. She was in seventh heaven.

I have lost contact with her. However, I am sure that when Heaney’s death was announced, she remembered her once-in-a-lifetime lunch with one the world’s greatest poets.

Robert Waldron

Boston

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