Seamus Heaney, acclaimed by many as the best Irish poet since WB Yeats, has died aged 74. Heaney was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995 "for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past". Over his long career he was awarded numerous prizes and received many honours for his work. He recently suffered from ill health.
His 2010 poetry collection The Human Chain was written after he suffered a stroke and the central poem, Miracle, was directly inspired by his illness. Heaney's publisher, Faber, said: "We cannot adequately express our profound sorrow at the loss of one of the world's greatest writers. His impact on literary culture is immeasurable. "As his publisher we could not have been prouder to publish his work over nearly 50 years. He was nothing short of an inspiration to the company, and his friendship over many years is a great loss."
Heaney was born in April 1939, the eldest of nine children, on a farm near Toomebridge in County Derry, Northern Ireland, but as a child moved to the village of Bellaghy. He was educated at St Columb's College, Derry, a Catholic boarding school, and later at Queen's University Belfast, before before training as a teacher. He settled in Dublin, with periods of teaching in the US. Heaney was an honorary fellow at Trinity College Dublin and, last year, was bestowed with the Seamus Heaney Professorship in Irish Writing at the university, which he described as a great honour.
Heaney described the collection, his 12th, as his most personally revealing collection of poems. He had been nominated for the Forward Prize three times before, but this was his first win. Judge and author Ruth Padel described Heaney's volume as "painful, honest, and delicately weighted".
Over the course of his career, Heaney also won the TS Eliot Prize, and was made Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Heaney was the professor of poetry at Oxford University between 1989 and 1994.In an interview with the Today programme's James Naughtie in early 2013, Heaney remembered how he felt when he first discovered poetry. "It was the voltage of the language, it was entrancing," he said. "I think the first little jolt I got was reading Gerard Manley Hopkins - I liked other poems... but Hopkins was kind of electric for me - he changed the rules with speech and the whole intensity of the language was there and so on." Heaney is survived by his wife, Marie, and children, Christopher, Michael and Catherine Ann.
Heaney won the Nobel prize for literature in 1995 and was celebrated for his many collections of poetry during his lifetime. He won the TS Eliot Prize in 2006 for his collection District and Circle. In 2010 he won the Forward poetry prize for Human Chain, a volume of verse inspired by his experiences after a stroke; his earlier collection The Spirit Level was shortlisted in 1996, as was District and Circle in 2006. Heaney was born on a small farm near Toomebridge in County Derry, Northern Ireland, in 1939, "the eldest child of an ever-growing family". In his Nobel address in Stockholm he spoke lovingly of his childhood in a three-roomed thatched farmhouse at Mossbawn where, in their early years, he and his siblings passed "a kind of den-life which was more or less emotionally and intellectually proofed against the outside world".
After attending boarding school at St Columb's College in Derry city as a scholarship boy – a transition, as he has said, "from the earth of farm labour to the heaven of education" – Heaney went on to study at Queen's University Belfast, where he joined a generation of "Northern poets" that included Michael Longley and Derek Mahon. He published his first major collection, Death of a Naturalist, in 1966. He contributed a first edition of Death of a Naturalist to a recent auction in aid of the writers' charity Pen, writing in pencil, above the poem "At a Potato Digging", that the critic 'Anthony Thwaite once described me (to my face) as "laureate of the root vegetable"'.
On another page, he wrote: "These two poems (along with 'Digging') were published by Karl Miller in the Christmas issue of The New Statesman, 1964 - and the poems caught the eye of the editors at Faber. Whence this volume." Many of the poems he wrote in the 1970s and the 1980s, during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, are unflinching threnodies for a terrible time. On receiving the David Cohen prize for lifetime excellence in writing in 2009, Heaney chose to sum up his achievement in poetry by reading his lyrical evocation of a moment during his honeymoon, The Underground, and his sonnet A Drink of Water. The Underground sees him and his wife, Marie, "Honeymooning, moonlighting, late for the Proms", running down the corridor from the underground to the Royal Albert Hall. Heaney imagines himself as an Orpheus who won't look back, and therefore keeps his bride. A Drink of Water recalls a memory from his childhood, of an old woman who drew water every morning, "Like an old bat staggering up the field", who is revealed later as a muse of sorts to the poet. Heaney said it was "about receiving a gift and being enjoined to 'remember the giver'" – something he said he would always do when remembering that evening.
At the close of his Nobel address he spoke of "poetry's power to do the thing which always is and always will be to poetry's credit": "the power to persuade that vulnerable part of our consciousness of its rightness in spite of the evidence of wrongness all around it, the power to remind us that we are hunters and gatherers of values, that our very solitudes and distresses are creditable, in so far as they, too, are an earnest of our veritable human being".
Other awards that Heaney received include the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize (1968), the E. M. Forster Award (1975), the PEN Translation Prize (1985), the Golden Wreath of Poetry (2001), T. S. Eliot Prize (2006) and two Whitbread Prizes (1996 and 1999).He has been a member of Aosdána since its foundation and has been Saoi since 1997. 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's literary papers are held by the National Library of Ireland. On 6 June 2012, he was awarded the Lifetime Recognition Award from the Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry.
Robert Pinsky observed of Heaney, "with his wonderful gift of eye and ear Heaney has the gift of the story-teller". Robert Lowell called him "the most important Irish poet since Yeats" and many others, including the academic John Sutherland, have echoed the sentiment that he was "the greatest poet of our age".
Seamus Heaney read his poem, 'Bogland' at RTE Archives.
Always respectfully received, Heaney’s later work, including his second collected poems, Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966-1996 (1998), has been lavishly praised. Reviewing Opened Ground for the New York Times Book Review, Edward Mendelson commented that the volume “eloquently confirms [Heaney’s] status as the most skillful and profound poet writing in English today." With Electric Light (2001), Heaney broadened his range of allusion and reference to Homer and Virgil, while continuing to make significant use of memory, elegy and the pastoral tradition. According to John Taylor in Poetry, Heaney "notably attempts, as an aging man, to re-experience childhood and early-adulthood perceptions in all their sensate fullness." Paul Mariani in America found Electric Light "a Janus-faced book, elegiac" and "heartbreaking even." Mariani noted in particular Heaney's frequent elegies to other poets and artists, and called Heaney "one of the handful writing today who has mastered that form as well."
Increasingly seen as an “elder statesman” of poetry, Heaney’s prose constitutes an important part of his work. Heaney often uses prose to address concerns taken up obliquely in his poetry. In The Redress of Poetry (1995), according to James Longenbach in the Nation, "Heaney wants to think of poetry not only as something that intervenes in the world, redressing or correcting imbalances, but also as something that must be redressed—re-established, celebrated as itself." The book contains a selection of lectures the poet delivered at Oxford University as Professor of Poetry. Heaney's Finders Keepers: Selected Prose, 1971-2001 (2002) earned the Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism, the largest annual prize for literary criticism in the English language. John Carey in the London Sunday Times proposed that Heaney's "is not just another book of literary criticism…It is a record of Seamus Heaney's thirty-year struggle with the demon of doubt. The questions that afflict him are basic. What is the good of poetry? How can it contribute to society? Is it worth the dedication it demands?" Heaney himself described his essays as "testimonies to the fact that poets themselves are finders and keepers, that their vocation is to look after art and life by being discoverers and custodians of the unlooked for."
>>Read more at the Poetry Foundation HERE>
Speaking of roaming round the world, do you collect anything?
Nothing systematic, but I am a bit of a fetishist, so stuff does gather up around me. Stones, bits of stick, birch bark, postcards, boxes, paintings, many paintings over the years and books, of course. I have two bits of birch from New England, for example. One is a beautiful objet trouvé, a bit like a tilted-back human torso, a hollow section of birch trunk, a birch-bark Apollo. I picked it up off the ground years ago when we were visiting Don Hall and Jane Kenyon up at Eagle Pond. And I have this other thing I got recently when I traveled up with Bill and Beverley Corbett to Dunbarton in New Hampshire to see Robert Lowell's grave. I found a birch stick beside the burial ground and then found myself holding on to it. That's what happens. I've got stones from Beeny Cliff and bits of granite from Joyce's Tower and sea-green slate from Yeats's. A stone from Delphi. A view of Tintern Abbey. Orpheus on a vase. And on a plate. And on a medal.
Read the complate interview in The Paris Review.