Scottish Chaucerians didn’t loom large, if at all, on Malcolm’s High School reading. So he came late to William Dunbar:
I that in heill was and gladnèss
Am trublit now with great sickness
And feblit with infirmity: —
Timor Mortis conturbat me.
Our plesance here is all vain glory,
This fals world is but transitory,
The flesh is bruckle, the Feynd is slee: —
Timor Mortis conturbat me.
The state of man does change and vary,
Now sound, now sick, now blyth, now sary,
Now dansand mirry, now like to die: —
Timor Mortis conturbat me.
No state in Erd here standis sicker;
As with the wynd wavis the wicker
So wannis this world’s vanity: —
Timor Mortis conturbat me.
Dunbar then goes on, ticking off all his dead fellow poets, from Chaucer through to Henrysoun (with others, including himself, queuing at the exit door). The consolation is the creative artist leaves a legacy.
Yes, those who know their Great Detective stories of former years will recognise Michael Innes’s 1938 Appleby novel Lament for a Maker
Death, its imminence and its consequence play long in the late Medieval period — especially among the dour Scots.
A century later, and southwards things get more cheerfully sanguine:
Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.
Even then [Julius Caesar, Act II, scene ii], the eponymous central character self-revealingly follows with:
[Re-enterosses every social and denominational divide for one of theswr Servant]
What say the augurers?
Now to Heaney
They didn’t hang about getting the ol’ soul under six feet of Derry earth. Anyway, all Four Provinces of Ireland know how to do a good funeral. The Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook got two bites of the cherry: the Removal on Sunday and the obsequies proper on the following day. Then it was the home-coming. Rural Ireland crosses every social and denominational divide for one of these:
Spade. Rake. Shovel. They stood under the ash and sycamore trees, beside the plot Heaney had chosen for himself. These were the kind of tools Heaney celebrated in his poems, particularly in Digging, the first poem in his first book, Death of a Naturalist.
“They dug it deep enough anyway,” one Bellaghy man observed in the early afternoon of yesterday, looking down into the open grave with an approving, critical eye. It was the remark of one who recognised the skill in the most basic and yet most meaningful job of digging a man ever has to do.
At 5pm exactly, a solitary piper stepped out on to the main street of Bellaghy village, leading the funeral cortege of three cars – and the hundreds of people who followed. They were of every age. They came on foot, in buggies and on crutches. As the cortege came to the corner of Castle Street, the PSNI officer controlling traffic saluted sharply.
It was the most public of burials for the most private of men. Even in death, Seamus Heaney chose to be generous; his burial in St Mary’s Church was shared by his family with the thousands of others who lined the route from the village and silently filled the churchyard.
When Heaney won the Nobel Prize in 1995, the Farmers’ Journalheadline was a marvel of understatement: “Bellaghy celebrates as farmer’s son wins top literary award.” Yesterday, Bellaghy was in mourning for its famous farmer’s son: the Nobel laureate who chose to come home to be buried with his people. In months and years and generations to come, people not yet born will seek out this small village to the east of Lough Neagh, with the sole purpose of visiting Heaney’s grave.
Meanwhile, in the shrubbery something rustles …
There has been, inevitably, an extended thread on Slugger O’Toole. We’d all said our bits, and the thing was Petering out (thus: it had been instigated by Pete Baker) until the matter of Heaney’s final cyber-utterance emerged, and the usually-reliable and politically-admirable Rory Carr intervened with:
I read today that Séamus Heaney’s final message to his wife was a ‘phone text that read simply, “Nolle timere“. I suspect that Heaney, who was pretty familiar with his Latin is more likely to have written, “Noli timere” which correctly translates as, “Be not afraid,” when addressing a single person, as he was in this instance, (or “Nolite timere when addressing more than one person) and that the reporters got it wrong. In Latin poetry we sometimes find the construction, “Ne Time (singular) or Ne timete” (plural”).
Sound enough, but bound to cause the like of Malcolm to niggle. Sure enough, he did. And this is a version of what ensued:
This is going to smell of the lamp, for indeed it took a bit of midnight study. It is, possibly relevant to nolle timere. Eventually.
Let us start with the curious character, Laurence Humphrey (c.1525-1589) — Elizabethan scholar, divine and university administrator (as seen, right, on his memorial at Magdalen College, Oxford). He was a protagonist in the evolving nature of the reformed Church of England — particularly over such matters as the wearing of ecclesiastical robes.
By 1561 Humphrey was president of Magdalen and the leading theological doctor of the university. Magdalen was a hotbed of religious controversy, with the robing issue being the hot topic. Humphrey had already been arraigned before Archbishop Parker at Lambeth Palace, and obliged to conform to Parker’s demand that vestments were of no consequence, and could be a matter of official edict — Humphrey (along with Dean Thomas Sampson of Christchurch, Oxford, the main dissenters) cryptically agreed to sign Parker’s agreement, both adding that, if “all things were lawful, all things were not expedient”.
Queen Elizabeth (25 Jan 1565) then ordered that the rites and dignities of her church (including vestments) be maintained. Parker, properly suspicious, sent a commission to Magdalen to be assured of the proper wearing of vestments. On 26 February 1565 we find most of the fellows of Magdalen in full revolt, complaining that only the Bishop of Winchester had jurisdiction, and refusing to wear vestments. The dispute rumbled on for the next year or so — Sampson was removed from his position at Christchurch, and Humphrey survived, but only through the support of Dudley, the newly-coined Earl of Leicester, and the Duke of Norfolk.
Elizabeth herself took enough interest in the doings to make a royal progress to Oxford in August 1566. She pointedly commended Humphrey on how he was suited by his doctoral gown. More to the point, since Humphrey was now a family man, he needed the income and slithered into line — becoming vice-chancellor (again through the Leicester’s intervention) of the University in 1571.
So on 11 Sep 1575, Vice-chancellor Humphrey is preaching before the Queen at Woodstock, and in honour of the occasion, knocks off a few lines of verse, happily preserved by Google books. See page 585 for this:
Hactenus afflavit Zephyrus, fuit aura secunda,
Spes est: mox portum, qui bene solvit, habet.
At mare fluctisonum est, Syrtes, Pirata, Charybdis,
Saxa latent, scopulos nolle timere, furor.
How all that might (or more likely might not) be a relevant analogy for the Big-enders and Little-enders of Irish politics and religious disputation, Malcolm would hesitate to pursue.
However, allow him an essay at rendering into English:
So far the West Wind has blown, and a breeze followed, there is hope: then there’s a port (to enter), which suits well [that bit seems arsy-versy]. Yet the sea roars with waves — sandbanks, corsairs, Charybdis, rocks lurk, fear not the reefs, the storm.
This is going right back to Heaney’s beginning, and Hobsbaum’s Belfast Group.
Try Storm on the Island, and its enigmatic final line:
But there are no trees, no natural shelter.
You might think that the sea is company,
Exploding comfortably down on the cliffs
But no: when it begins, the flung spray hits
The very windows, spits like a tame cat
Turned savage. We just sit tight while wind dives
And strafes invisibly. Space is a salvo,
We are bombarded with the empty air.
Strange, it is a huge nothing that we fear.