‘Make your way as the dolphins do’ … a favourite lesson from Seamus Heaney

Sometimes it is good to reflect upon the wisdom of others. This is a story told by the Nobel-Prize-winning Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, (who I admire greatly) when he was speaking to a University Graduation Class in June 1996. We could all benefit from its lesson!

Here is his verbatim closing remarks to that body of Graduates…….. What will you take from it?

‘As simply and as personally as possible, I just want to end these brief remarks with a story of something that happened to me on Christmas Day 50 years ago when I was a youngster in Northern Ireland and had just received a Christmas present, something my aunt gave me, something that I immediately hastened across the road to my companion in those days, a lad called Tommy Evans.

What I had in my hand was a kaleidoscope. A little transformer of light and colour. A little pocket marvel-maker, an eye-opener in all senses, a vision-brightener and a horizon- expander. A gift indeed.

But when I landed with Tommy Evans I began to forget the beauty and invitations of the kaleidoscope, when I was faced with the Christmas present he had been given. Tommy was on his knees beside a broad tub of water, and out on the surface of this imaginary sea there rode a brightly painted and beautifully proportioned toy battleship, all dove grey and navy blue, decorated with bright little pennants and authentic-looking lines and markings and numbers of all sorts. It was a truly martial item that stirred the macho soul in me even at that age, and it was especially stirred when Tommy nonchalantly and omni potently pushed it through the water, through its own waves.

And then it struck me that my own gift could compete in this arena also. Because the kaleidoscope was in fact three-sided and triangular-shaped, like those little bars of  Toblerone. So it struck me that one of these apexes could act as a sure keel, then the sides would be like a flat deck and it would be a little tug, as it were, adjacent to Tommy’s battleship.

So there I did it. I let the kaleidoscope go, and sunk it down to the imaginary gunwale in the tub water, and watched it as it grew soggy and unseemly and water-logged, and in a few minutes it became neither tug nor kaleidoscope, just a left over spoiled opportunity, a mistaken decision, a mess generally.

I went home disappointed, but in the years that followed I’ve gathered an important meaning from that disappointment. What it has generally told me is what I am going to tell people on their graduation day.

Don’t surrender the bright prisms of your own individual gift to the terms of the world that’s around you. Don’t let the so-called realism of the prose world and the power world, the world of water tubs and battleships, don’t let that negate the reality of the thing you envisage. The thing that the university promotes: that mind of fantasism, that imagined prospect, that excitement of the spirit.

Ask for more. Not of the world’s goods, but of the inner freedom and inner furthering that comes from fidelity to the pride of your own being. Trust in the kaleidoscope of your own possibilities. Keep your plane of regard high. Credit the marvelous, keep going, make your way as the dolphins do. Be eco-sounders, searchers. Remember that you are here for good in every sense of the term.

Thank you very much.’

And thank you, Seamus, for this

By |2008-11-14T17:02:44+00:00November 14th, 2008|Uncategorized|3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Richard November 21, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    Thanks for your reaction, Peter, I too found it inspiring
    Richard

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  3. Peter Joshua November 19, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    Richard,

    Thank you for your email – and thnak you for this piece, I really enjoyed it, quite powerful and inspiring.

    All the best

    Peter

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