Seamus Heaney (April 13,1939 - / Castledàwson, County Londonderry)
Biography of Seamus Heaney
an Irish poet, writer and lecturer. He lives in Dublin. Heaney has received the Nobel Prize in Literature (1995), the Golden Wreath of Poetry (2001), T. S. Eliot Prize (2006) and two Whitbread prizes (1996 and 1999). He was both the Harvard and the Oxford Professor of Poetry and was made a Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres in 1996.
Heaney was born on 13 April 1939 at the family farmhouse called Mossbawn, between Castledawson and Toomebridge in Northern Ireland; he was the first of nine children. In 1953, his family moved to Bellaghy, a few miles away, which is now the family home. His father, Patrick Heaney, a local of Castledawson, was the eighth child of ten born to James and Sarah Heaney. Patrick was a farmer but his real commitment was to cattle-dealing, to which he was introduced by the uncles who had cared for him after the early death of his own parents. Heaney's mother came from the McCann family, whose uncles and relations were employed in the local linen mill and whose aunt had worked as a maid for the mill owner's family. The poet has commented on the fact that his parentage thus contains both the Ireland of the cattle-herding Gaelic past and the Ulster of the Industrial Revolution; he considers this to have been a significant tension in his background.
Heaney initially attended Anahorish Primary School and when he was twelve-years-old, he won a scholarship to St. Columb's College, a Catholic boarding school situated in Derry. Heaney's brother, Christopher, was killed in a road accident at the age of four while Heaney was studying at St. Columb's. The poems Mid-Term Break and The Blackbird of Glanmore focus on the death of Christopher.
In 1957, Heaney travelled to Belfast to study English Language and Literature at the Queen's University of Belfast. During his time in Belfast he found a copy of Ted Hughes' Lupercal, which spurred him to write poetry. "Suddenly, the matter of contemporary poetry was the material of my own life" he has said. He graduated in 1961 with a First Class Honours degree. During teacher training at St Joseph's Teacher Training College in Belfast (now merged with St Mary's, University College), Heaney went on a placement to St Thomas' secondary Intermediate School in west Belfast. The headmaster of this school was the writer Michael McLaverty from County Monaghan, who introduced Heaney to the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh. With McLaverty's mentorship, Heaney first started to publish poetry, beginning in 1962. Hillal describes how McLaverty was like a foster father to the younger Belfast poet. In the introduction to McLaverty's Collected works, Heaney summarised the poet's contribution and influence: "His voice was modestly pitched, he never sought the limelight, yet for all that, his place in our literature is secure." Heaney's poem Fosterage, in the sequence Singing School from North (1975) is dedicated to him.
In 1963, Heaney became a lecturer at St Joseph's and in the spring of 1963, after contributing various articles to local magazines, he came to the attention of Philip Hobsbaum, then an English lecturer at Queen's University. Hobsbaum was to set up a Belfast Group of local young poets (to mirror the success he had with the London group) and this would bring Heaney into contact with other Belfast poets such as Derek Mahon and Michael Longley. In August 1965 he married Marie Devlin, a school teacher and native of Ardboe, County Tyrone. (Devlin is a writer herself and, in 1994, published Over Nine Waves, a collection of traditional Irish myths and legends.) Heaney's first book, Eleven Poems, was published in November 1965 for the Queen's University Festival. In 1967, Faber and Faber published his first major volume, called Death of a Naturalist. This collection met with much critical acclaim and went on to win several awards, the Gregory Award for Young Writers and the Geoffrey Faber Prize. Also in 1966, he was appointed as a lecturer in Modern English Literature at Queen's University Belfast and his first son, Michael, was born. A second son, Christopher, was born in 1968. That same year, with Michael Longley, Heaney took part in a reading tour called Room to Rhyme, which led to much exposure for the poet's work. In 1969, his second major volume, Door into the Dark, was published.
After a spell as guest lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley, he returned to Queen's University in 1971. In 1972, Heaney left his lectureship at Belfast and moved to Dublin in the Republic of Ireland, working as a teacher at Carysfort College. In 1972, Wintering Out was published, and over the next few years Heaney began to give readings throughout Ireland, Britain, and the United States. In 1975, Heaney published his fourth volume, North. He became Head of English at Carysfort College in Dublin in 1976. His next volume, Field Work, was published in 1979. Selected Poems 1965-1975 and Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978 were published in 1980. When the Republic of Ireland established Aosdána, the national Irish Arts Council, in 1981, Heaney was among those elected into its first group (he was subsequently elected a Saoi, one of its five elders and its highest honor, in 1997). Also in 1981, he left Carysfort to become visiting professor at Harvard University. He was awarded two honorary doctorates, from Queen's University and from Fordham University in New York City (1982). At the Fordham commencement ceremony in 1982, Heaney delivered the commencement address in a 46-stanza poem entitled Verses for a Fordham Commencement. As he was born and educated in Northern Ireland, Heaney has felt the need to emphasise that he is Irish and not British. Following the success of the Field Day Theatre Company's production of Brian Friel's Translations, Heaney joined the company's expanded Board of Directors in 1981, when the company's founders Brian Friel and Stephen Rea decided to make the company a permanent group. In 1984 his mother, Margaret Kathleen Heaney, died.
Heaney was Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard University (formerly Visiting Professor) 1985-1997 and Ralph Waldo Emerson Poet in Residence at Harvard 1998-2006. In 1986, Heaney received a Litt.D. from Bates College. His father, Patrick, died soon after publication of the 1987 volume, The Haw Lantern. In 1988, a collection of critical essays called The Government of the Tongue was published.
In 1989, Heaney was elected Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford, which he held for a five-year term to 1994. The chair does not require residence in Oxford, and throughout this period he was dividing his time between Ireland and America. He also continued to give public readings; so well attended and keenly anticipated were these events that those who queued for tickets with such enthusiasm have sometimes been dubbed "Heaneyboppers", suggesting an almost teenybopper fanaticism on the part of his supporters. In 1993 Heaney guest-edited The Mays Anthology, a collection of new writing from students at the University of Oxford and University of Cambridge.
In 1990, The Cure at Troy, a play based on Sophocles' Philoctetes, was published to much acclaim, followed by Seeing Things in 1991.
Heaney was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995 for what the Nobel committee described as "works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past". He was on holiday in Greece with his wife when the news broke and no one, not even journalists or his own children, could find him until he appeared at Dublin Airport two days later, though an Irish television camera traced him to Kalamata. Asked how it felt having his name to the Irish Nobel pantheon featuring William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and Samuel Beckett, Heaney responded: "It's like being a little foothill at the bottom of a mountain range. You hope you just live up to it. It's extraordinary." He and Marie were immediately whisked straight from the airport to Áras an Uachtaráin for champagne with the then President Mary Robinson.
Heaney's 1996 collection The Spirit Level won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award and repeated the success with the release of Beowulf: A New Translation.
In 2000, Heaney was awarded an honorary doctorate and delivered the commencement address at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2002, Heaney was awarded an honorary doctorate from Rhodes University and delivered a public lecture on "The Guttural Muse". In 2003, the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry was opened at Queen's University Belfast. It houses the Heaney Media Archive, a record of Heaney's entire oeuvre, along with a full catalogue of his radio and television presentations. That same year Heaney, decided to lodge a substantial portion of his literary archive at Emory University, as a memorial to the work of William M. Chace, the university’s recently retired president. The Emory papers represented the largest repository of Heaney's work (1964-2003), donated to build their large existing archive from Irish writers including Yeats, Paul Muldoon, Ciaran Carson, Michael Longley and other members of the The Belfast Group.
In 2003, when asked if there was any figure in popular culture who aroused interest in poetry and lyrics, Heaney praised rap artist Eminem, saying "He has created a sense of what is possible. He has sent a voltage around a generation. He has done this not just through his subversive attitude but also his verbal energy." Heaney was named an Honorary Patron of the University Philosophical Society, Trinity College, Dublin and was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (1991) He composed the poem "Beacons of Bealtaine" for the 2004 EU Enlargement. The poem was read by Heaney at a ceremony for the twenty-five leaders of the enlarged European Union arranged by the Irish EU presidency.
Heaney suffered a stroke from which he recovered in August 2006, but cancelled all public engagements for several months. He was in County Donegal at the time on the occasion of the 75th birthday of Anne Friel, playwright Brian Friel's wife. He read the works of Henning Mankell, Donna Leon and Robert Harris while in hospital, and was visited at the time by Bill Clinton
Heaney's District and Circle won the 2006 T. S. Eliot Prize. He became artist of honour in Østermarie, Denmark in 2008 and the Seamus Heaney Stræde (street) was named after him. In 2009, Heaney was presented with an Honorary-Life Membership award from the UCD Law Society, in recognition of his remarkable role as a literary figure. Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney by Dennis O'Driscoll was published by Faber & Faber in 2008 and has been described as the nearest thing to an autobiography of the poet. Heaney was awarded the David Cohen Prize for Literature in 2009. He spoke at the West Belfast Festival 2010 in celebration of his mentor, the poet and novelist Michael MacLaverty, who had helped Heaney to first publish his poetry.
In 2010, he was awarded the Forward Prize for the Best Collection for Human Chain (Faber 2010), one of the only major poetry prizes he had not previously won, despite being twice short-listed. In October 2010 the collection, a Poetry Book Society Choice, was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize, to be announced on 24 January 2011. The book, published 44 years after his first, was inspired in part by his stroke in 2006 which left him "babyish" and "on the brink". Poet and Forward judge Ruth Padel described the work as "a collection of painful, honest, and delicately weighted poems...a wonderful and humane achievement". Writer Colm Tóibín notes that Human Chain "his best single volume for many years, and one that contains some of the best poems he has written... is a book of shades and memories, of things whispered, of journeys into the underworld, of elegies and translations, of echoes and silences."
In 2011, Heaney was named one of "Britain's top 300 intellectuals" by The Observer. In 2011, he contributed translations of Old Irish marginalia for Songs of the Scribe, an album by Traditional Singer in Residence of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry, Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin.
Robert Lowell called him "the most important Irish poet since Yeats" and many others have echoed the sentiment that he is "the greatest poet of our age". His books make up two-thirds of the sales of living poets in the UK.
Heaney's work often deals with the local surroundings in Ireland, particularly in Northern Ireland, where he was born. Speaking of his early life and education, he commented "I learned that my local County Derry experience, which I had considered archaic and irrelevant to 'the modern world' was to be trusted. They taught me that trust and helped me to articulate it." Death of a Naturalist (1966) and Door into the Dark (1969) mostly focus on the detail of rural, parochial life. Allusions to sectarian difference, widespread in Northern Ireland through his lifetime, can be found in his poems. His books Wintering Out (1973) and North (1975) seek to interweave commentary on 'The Troubles' with a historical context and wider human experience. Whilst some critics have accused Heaney of being "an apologist and a mythologizer" of the violence, Blake Morrison suggests the poet "has written poems directly about the Troubles as well as elegies for friends and acquaintances who have died in them; he has tried to discover a historical framework in which to interpret the current unrest; and he has taken on the mantle of public spokesman, someone looked to for comment and guidance... Yet he has also shown signs of deeply resenting this role, defending the right of poets to be private and apolitical, and questioning the extent to which poetry, however 'committed,' can influence the course of history." Shaun O'Connell in the New Boston Review notes that "those who see Seamus Heaney as a symbol of hope in a troubled land are not, of course, wrong to do so, though they may be missing much of the undercutting complexities of his poetry, the backwash of ironies which make him as bleak as he is bright." O'Connell notes in his Boston Review critique of Station Island: "Again and again Heaney pulls back from political purposes; despite its emblems of savagery, Station Island lends no rhetorical comfort to Republicanism. Politic about politics, Station Island is less about a united Ireland than about a poet seeking religious and aesthetic unity". Heaney is described by critic Terry Eagleton as "an enlightened cosmopolitan liberal", refusing to be drawn. Eagleton suggests: "When the political is introduced... it is only in the context of what Heaney will or will not say." Reflections on what Heaney identifies as "tribal conflict", favour the description of people's lives and their voices, drawing out the 'psychic landscape'. His collections often recall the assassination of his family members and close friends, lynchings and bombings. Colm Tóibín wrote, "throughout his career there have been poems of simple evocation and description. His refusal to sum up or offer meaning is part of his tact".
Heaney published “Requiem for the Croppies” on the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising, a poem that commemorates the Irish rebels of 1798. He has read the poem to both Catholic and Protestant audiences in Ireland. He commented "To read ‘'Requiem for the Croppies'’ wasn’t to say ‘up the IRA’ or anything. It was silence-breaking rather than rabble-rousing.” He stated “You don’t have to love it. You just have to permit it.” He turned down the offer of laureateship partly for political reasons, commenting "I’ve nothing against the Queen personally: I had lunch at the Palace once upon a time". He stated that his "cultural starting point" was "off centre". His most commonly cited political statement came in 1982 when he objected to being included in an anthology of British poetry, despite being of Northern Irish birth. He has lived in the Republic of Ireland since 1972 and claimed his Irish rather than British nationality, responding
“Be advised my passport’s green.
No glass of ours was ever raised
to toast the Queen.”
He is concerned as a poet and a translator, with the English language itself, as it is spoken in Ireland but also as spoken elsewhere and in other times; the Anglo-Saxon influences in his work and study are strong. Critic W. S. Di Piero noted "Whatever the occasion, childhood, farm life, politics and culture in Northern Ireland, other poets past and present, Heaney strikes time and again at the taproot of language, examining its genetic structures, trying to discover how it has served, in all its changes, as a culture bearer, a world to contain imaginations, at once a rhetorical weapon and nutriment of spirit. He writes of these matters with rare discrimination and resourcefulness, and a winning impatience with received wisdom." Heaney's first translation came with the Irish lyric poem "Buile Suibhne", published as Sweeney Astray: A Version from the Irish (1984), a character and connection taken up in Station Island (1984). Heaney's prize-winning translation of Beowulf (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000, Whitbread Book of the Year Award) was seen as ground-breaking in its use of modern language melded with the original Anglo-Saxon 'music'. His works of drama includes The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles' Philoctetes (1991). Heaney's 2004 play The Burial at Thebes makes parallels between Creon with the foreign policies of the Bush administration.
Heaney's engagement with poetry as a necessary engine for cultural and personal change, is reflected in his prose works The Redress of Poetry (1995) and Finders Keepers: Selected Prose, 1971-2001 (2002). "When a poem rhymes," Heaney wrote, "when a form generates itself, when a metre provokes consciousness into new postures, it is already on the side of life. When a rhyme surprises and extends the fixed relations between words, that in itself protests against necessity. When language does more than enough, as it does in all achieved poetry, it opts for the condition of overlife, and rebels at limit." He expands: "The vision of reality which poetry offers should be transformative, more than just a printout of the given circumstances of its time and place".
Heaney's work is used extensively on school syllabi internationally, including the anthologies The Rattle Bag (1982) and The School Bag (1987) (both edited with Ted Hughes). Originally entitled The Faber Book of Verse for Younger People on the Faber contract, Hughes and Heaney decided the The Rattle Bag's main purpose was to offer enjoyment to the reader: "Arbitrary riches". Heaney commented "the book in our heads was something closer to The Fancy Free Poetry Supplement". It included work that they would have liked to encountered sooner as well as nonsense rhymes, ballad-type poems, riddles, folk songs and rhythmical jingles. Much familiar canonical work was not included, since they took it for granted that their audience would know the standard fare. Fifteen years later The School Bag aimed at something different. The foreword stated that they wanted "less of a carnival, more like a checklist." It included poems in English, Irish, Welsh, Scots and Scots Gaelic, together with work reflecting the African-American experience.
Major Prizes and Honours
1966 Eric Gregory Award
1967 Cholmondeley Award
1968 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize
1975 EM Forster Award
1975 Duff Cooper Memorial Prize
1995 Nobel Prize for Literature
1996 Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
2001 Golden Wreath of Poetry, the main international award given by Struga Poetry Evenings to a world renowned living poet for life achievement in the field of poetry
2006 T S Eliot Prize for District and Circle
2007 Poetry Now Award for District and Circle
2009 David Cohen Prize for Literature
2011 Poetry Now Award for Human Chain
2011 Griffin Poetry Prize for Human Chain
2011 Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award
Seamus Heaney's Works:
Poetry: Main Collections
1966: Death of a Naturalist, Faber & Faber
1969: Door into the Dark, Faber & Faber
1972: Wintering Out, Faber & Faber
1975: North, Faber & Faber
1979: Field Work, Faber & Faber
1984: Station Island, Faber & Faber
1987: The Haw Lantern, Faber & Faber
1991: Seeing Things, Faber & Faber
1996: The Spirit Level, Faber & Faber
2001: Electric Light, Faber & Faber
2006: District and Circle, Faber & Faber
2010: Human Chain, Faber & Faber
Poetry: Collected Editions
1980: Selected Poems 1965-1975, Faber & Faber
1990: New Selected Poems 1966-1987, Faber & Faber
1998: Opened Ground: Poems 1966-1996, Faber & Faber
Prose: Main Collections
1980: Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978, Faber & Faber
1988: The Government of the Tongue, Faber & Faber
1995: The Redress of Poetry: Oxford Lectures, Faber & Faber
2002: Finders Keepers: Selected Prose 1971-2001, Faber & Faber
1990: The Cure at Troy A version of Sophocles' Philoctetes, Field Day
2004: The Burial at Thebes A version of Sophocles' Antigone, Faber & Faber
1983: Sweeney Astray: A version from the Irish, Field Day
1992: Sweeney's Flight (with Rachel Giese, photographer), Faber & Faber
1993: The Midnight Verdict: Translations from the Irish of Brian Merriman and from the Metamorphoses of Ovid, Gallery Press
1995: Laments, a cycle of Polish Renaissance elegies by Jan Kochanowski, translated with Stanisław Barańczak, Faber & Faber
1999: Beowulf, Faber & Faber
1999: Diary of One Who Vanished, a song cycle by Leoš Janáček of poems by Ozef Kalda, Faber & Faber
2002: Hallaig, Sorley MacLean Trust
2002: Arion, a poem by Alexander Pushkin, translated from the Russian, with a note by Olga Carlisle, Arion Press
2004: The Testament of Cresseid, Enitharmon Press
2004: Columcille The Scribe, The Royal Irish Academy
2009: The Testament of Cresseid & Seven Fables, Faber & Faber
Limited Editions and Booklets (poetry and prose)
1965: Eleven Poems, Queen's University
1968: The Island People, BBC
1968: Room to Rhyme, Arts Council N.I.
1969: A Lough Neagh Sequence, Phoenix
1970: Night Drive, Gilbertson
1970: A Boy Driving His Father to Confession, Sceptre Press
1973: Explorations, BBC
1975: Stations, Ulsterman Publications
1975: Bog Poems, Rainbow Press
1975: The Fire i' the Flint, Oxford University Press
1976: Four Poems, Crannog Press
1977: Glanmore Sonnets, Editions Monika Beck
1977: In Their Element, Arts Council N.I.
1978: Robert Lowell: A Memorial Address and an Elegy, Faber & Faber
1978: The Makings of a Music, University of Liverpool
1978: After Summer, Gallery Press
1979: Hedge School, Janus Press
1979: Ugolino, Carpenter Press
1979: Gravities, Charlotte Press
1979: A Family Album, Byron Press
1980: Toome, National College of Art and Design
1981: Sweeney Praises the Trees, Henry Pearson
1982: A Personal Selection, Ulster Museum
1982: Poems and a Memoir, Limited Editions Club
1983: An Open Letter, Field Day
1983: Among Schoolchildren, Queen's University
1984: Verses for a Fordham Commencement, Nadja Press
1984: Hailstones, Gallery Press
1985: From the Republic of Conscience, Amnesty International
1985: Place and Displacement, Dove Cottage
1985: Towards a Collaboration, Arts Council N.I.
1986: Clearances, Cornamona Press
1988: Readings in Contemporary Poetry, DIA Art Foundation
1988: The Sounds of Rain, Emory University
1989: An Upstairs Outlook, Linen Hall Library
1989: The Place of Writing, Emory University
1990: The Tree Clock, Linen Hall Library
1991: Squarings, Hieroglyph Editions
1992: Dylan the Durable, Bennington College
1992: The Gravel Walks, Lenoir Rhyne College
1992: The Golden Bough, Bonnefant Press
1993: Keeping Going, Bow and Arrow Press
1993: Joy or Night, University of Swansea
1994: Extending the Alphabet, Memorial University of Newfoundland
1994: Speranza in Reading, University of Tasmania
1995: Oscar Wilde Dedication, Westminster Abbey
1995: Charles Montgomery Monteith, All Souls College
1995: Crediting Poetry: The Nobel Lecture, Gallery Press
1997: Poet to Blacksmith, Pim Witteveen
1998: Commencement Address, UNC Chapel Hill
1998: Audenesque, Maeght
1999: The Light of the Leaves, Bonnefant Press
2001: Something to Write Home About, Flying Fox
2002: Hope and History, Rhodes University
2002: Ecologues in Extremis, Royal Irish Academy
2002: A Keen for the Coins, Lenoir Rhyne College
2003: Squarings, Arion Press
2004: Anything can Happen, Town House Publishers
2005: The Door Stands Open, Irish Writers Centre
2005: A Shiver, Clutag Press
2007: The Riverbank Field, Gallery Press
2008: Articulations, Royal Irish Academy
2008: One on a Side, Robert Frost Foundation
2009: Spelling It Out, Gallery Press
People who read Seamus Heaney also read
The Tollund Man
Some day I will go to Aarhus
To see his peat-brown head,
The mild pods of his eye-lids,
His pointed skin cap.
In the flat country near by
Where they dug him out,
World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development
celebrated on May 21st every year
Your Favorite Poets’ Favorite Books of Poetry
Daily Rituals of Famous Authors
Writers seem to be the most prone to unshakeable routines and elaborate superstitions.
Incredible Reading Rooms Around the World
Cozy, beautiful places to curl up with a good book...