Find the poetry to help you to write a career that is music to your ears
It was a sunny afternoon as I walked towards my car waiting for me at the St Stephen’s Green parking garage (sorry, I still can’t get used to the term, “car park” which sounds more like a verb than a noun to my American ears). Anyway, I had driven into Dublin city centre to retrieve my watch from the repair shop and now, having secured said timepiece, I was planning to return to my vehicle and make my way back home. That was until a banner draped along one side wall of the Bank of Ireland Cultural and Heritage Centre caught my eye and distracted me from my intended journey. “Seamus Heaney: Listen Now Again,” it read. An exhibition dedicated to showcasing the writing and life of Ireland’s famous Nobel Prize-winning poet.
I enjoy poetry. I revel in the way a delicate, yet decisive arrangement of only a few words can evoke a powerful wave or tender embrace of emotions as that of a Renaissance master’s oil painting. Over the years, I’ve read several of Heaney’s poems, even before moving to Ireland, but I confess, I didn’t know much about the range of his compositions or what inspired him. I wanted to know more. I had to go in.
Before I take you there with me, those of you dear readers who live here in the nation’s capital city may be wondering why it took me so long to visit the exhibit. It’s been open for years. I have no good excuse. But I’ve missed it no longer and I’m so glad I made the detour. You’ll see family photographs and Heaney’s own writing desk. Natural landscapes from rural Northern Ireland where he was born are illuminated by electric lights. Newspapers with headlines proclaiming the latest attack during The Troubles are arranged in a row. Divergent inspirations which prompted Heaney to take out his pen.
Heaney’s own voice, slowly rolling and thoughtful, can be heard as visitors listen to recordings of him reading selections, including his well-known tribute, Digging, to his father, grandfather and those before them who crafted a farming existence digging for life-sustaining potatoes while the poet dug for life-enhancing words.
The exhibit is stirring. US President Joe Biden was so moved by the late poet’s writing, that he quoted Heaney during his inaugural speech.
He’ll likely quote Heaney again this Friday as he is expected to address his distant relatives in Ballina, Co Mayo.
With the Heaney exhibit fresh in my mind, I think this Easter Sunday is a fitting day to review some of his words as we celebrate the season of renewal. I’m not qualified to draw expert literary meanings from his passages, rather I humbly share what each of these moves me to consider as it relates to our own work and the positive impact hopefully each of us can strive to make.
I’ve no spade to follow men like them
This line comes towards the end of Digging when Heaney is contrasting the farming implement of his forefathers with the writing tool that he has chosen to carve out his own career.
To me, this is a reminder that our past is not a prologue. Not only may we choose a different line of work from those before us, we may also freely choose to switch lines of work, and this can happen at any time during our own career.
Did Heaney’s ancestors choose their life-long vocation? I doubt it. But I don’t know.
But it seems that Heaney did. It was a calling. What’s your calling? Can you make a choice to change to find your calling if you need to?
Each of us can at least reflect within
Hope and history rhyme. This line is part of a passage from Heaney’s The Cure at Troy – a poetic drama quoted by then president Bill Clinton in 1995 during a speech in Derry as the Northern Ireland peace process was ongoing.
To me, in a professional life context, it can refer to the results of our perseverance in times of difficulty.
The hope of resolution can help us seek harmony with the frustrations of the past or even the present that we may still be struggling to overcome.
Did you miss the promotion? Or is the culture cut-throat? Whether you stay in the organisation to fight within or leave for another venue, it’s your persistence that will make the difference in the end for you.
I have begun to think of life as a series of ripples widening out
Similar to imagery captured in other’s observations, like Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s line about “widening circles”, this fragment of a Heaney quote reminds me how our words and actions impact others and that impact, in turn, has impact, perhaps more subtle than before, but impact even still, on another round of others. And so on. And so on.
When our impact is positive, this notion can bring satisfaction. Conversely, if we’re not careful and utter an offhand jab or negative comment to a colleague, for instance, this ripple effect should give us severe pause.
We are all the poets of our own stories.
Therefore, take up your pen, your pencil or your voice, this Easter Sunday, this day before the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, and recommit to creating a life of purpose and meaning.
Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie
With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon 885