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"Noli Timere": Seamus Heaney's Final Words

03/09/2013 14:17 BST | Updated 02/11/2013 09:12 GMT

The final words of one of the most important poets writing in English in the latter half of the twentieth century were delivered through a decidedly twenty-first-century medium. Furthermore, the were not in English, but in a language capable of even greater precision. Seamus Heaney sent his final words as a text message in Latin to his wife, Marie: "Noli timere", which means "Do not be afraid".

Heaney lost a baby brother to a road accident and countless friends to The Troubles in Northern Ireland. He scrutinised the human condition through hundreds of poems and essays, seeking to reconcile and make meaning from life's greatest difficulties. This was his final, succinct message to his dearly beloved, and now it is a message to all of us.

In the midst of ominous conflict in Syria, and more ominous prognoses about our environment seeming to appear every day, at the very moment of facing death itself, here is what one of our greatest thinkers wants us to know. He earned the right to embrace a wider truth through his poetry than rhetoric could ever contain, through astute observation and a keen ear for the music of speech. He sought tirelessly after "a ring of truth within the medium itself".

Perhaps he also earned the right to embrace a greater truth about living in the final moments of his life, and deliver to us one final message that rings true within our own better nature. Whatever you might believe, Seamus Heaney was a poet to the end. Let us take from his example a little courage, and a little Latin.

"Noli timere." Rest in peace, beautiful soul.