Saturday, 23 May 2009

Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney (pronounced /ˈʃeɪməs ˈhiːni/) (born 13 April 1939 [1]) is an Irish poet, writer and lecturer who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. He currently lives in Dublin.[2]

Early life
Seamus Heaney was born in 1939 into a family of nine children at the family farmhouse called Mossbawn, between Castledawson and Toomebridge in Northern Ireland. In 1953, his family moved to Bellaghy, a few miles away, which is now the family home. His father, Patrick Heaney, owned and worked a small farm of fifty acres in County Londonderry[3], 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. Seamus' 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 to the mill owners' 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 was educated initially at Anahorish Primary School in Toome, County Antrim. When he was twelve-years-old, he won a scholarship to St. Columb's College, a Catholic boarding school situated in the city of Derry. At St. Columb's, he was taught Latin and Irish, and these languages, together with the Anglo-Saxon which he would study while a student of Queen's University, Belfast, were determining factors in many of the developments and retrenchments which have marked his progress as a poet.
Heaney's brother, Christopher, was killed in a road accident at the age of four (while Heaney was studying at St. Columb's). Heaney wrote two poems reflecting on the death of Christopher
"Mid-Term Break" [4] "The Blackbird of Glanmore".

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.[5] He graduated in 1961 with a First Class Honours degree. During teacher training at St Joseph's Teacher Training College in Belfast, he went on a placement to St Thomas' secondary Intermediate School in west Belfast. The headmaster of this school was the writer Michael MacLaverty from County Monaghan, who introduced Heaney to the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh. It was at this time that he first started to publish poetry, beginning in 1962. In 1963 he became a lecturer at St Joseph's. 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.) Seamus Heaney's first book, Eleven Poems, was published in November 1965 for the Queen's University Festival. In 1966, 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. 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. In 1968, 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.

Seamus Heaney in 1970
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. He was appointed to the Arts Council in the Republic of Ireland in 1974. He became an elected Saoi of Aosdána. In 1975, Heaney published his fourth volume, North. He became Head of English at Carysfort College in Dublin in 1976, and moved his family to Dublin the same year. His next volume, Field Work, was published in 1979.
Selected Poems 1965-1975 and Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978 were published in 1980. 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, in 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. For example, he objected to his inclusion in the 1982 Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry by writing: "Be advised, my passport's green / No glass of ours was ever raised / To toast the Queen."
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, Heaney was elected to the Boylston Chair of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard. Later that year, his mother, Margaret Kathleen Heaney, died. 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, he 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 very popular public readings. In 1986, Heaney received a Litt.D. from Bates College. 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 pop-music fanaticism on the part of his supporters.[6]
In 1990, The Cure at Troy, a play based on Sophocles' Philoctetes,[7] was published to much acclaim. In 1991, Seeing Things was published. 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". In 1996, his collection The Spirit Level was published and won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award. He repeated that success with the release of Beowulf: A New Translation.[8]
In 1998, Heaney officially opened the library of Saint Catherine's College, Armagh.
In 2002, Heaney was awarded an honorary doctorate from Rhodes University and delivered a public lecture on “The Guttural Muse”.[9]
In 2003, the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry was opened at Queens University, Belfast. It houses the Heaney Media Archive, a unique record of Heaney's entire oeuvre, along with a full catalogue of his radio and television presentations.[10] That same year Heaney decided to lodge a substantial portion of his literary archive at Emory University.[11] He also composed a poem called 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.
In 2003, when asked if there was any figure in popular culture who aroused interest in poetry and lyrics, Heaney praised controversy-ridden rap artist Eminem for his verbal energy.[12][13]
There is this guy Eminem. 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 suffered a stroke from which he recovered in August 2006, but cancelled all public engagements for several months. [14] Heaney's latest volume of poetry, District and Circle, won the 2006 T. S. Eliot Prize.[15]
In 2008 Heaney became artist of honour in Østermarie, Denmark. Seamus Heaney Stræde was therefore named after him in the center of Bornholm, another green island. In February 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. In 2009 he was awarded the David Cohen Prize for Literature.

Heaney's work often deals with the local—that is, his surroundings in Ireland, particularly in Northern Ireland, where he was born. Allusions to sectarian difference, widespread in Northern Ireland, can be found in his poems, but these are never predominant or strident. His poetry is not often overtly political or militant, and is far more concerned with profound observations of the small details of the everyday, far beyond contingent political concerns. Some of his work is concerned with the lessons of history, and indeed prehistory and the very ancient. Other works concern his personal family history, focusing on characters in his family and as he has acknowledged, these poems can be read as elegies for those family members. But primarily, his concern as a poet is with the English language, partly as it is spoken in Ireland but also as spoken elsewhere and in other times; the Anglo-Saxon influences in his work are noteworthy, and his academic studies of that language have had a profound effect on his work. Thanks to Heaney, there has been a minor revival of interest in the verse forms of Anglo-Saxon poetry amongst a number of poets influenced by him. He has also written critically well-regarded essays and two plays. His essays, among other things, have been credited with beginning the critical re-examination of Thomas Hardy. His anthologies (edited with friend Ted Hughes), The Rattle Bag and The School Bag, are used extensively in schools in the U.K. and elsewhere. In the UK many of his works are studied in the GCSE English Literature exam (AQA board).
But despite the inherently Irish flavour of his language, Heaney is a universal poet, admired in every country and every other linguistic tradition. His influence on contemporary poetry is immense. Robert Lowell called him "the most important Irish poet since Yeats." A good many others have echoed the sentiment. His books make up two-thirds of the sales of living poets in the UK.[16]
Seamus and Marie Heaney at the Dominican Church, Kraków, Poland, 4 October 1996

Political View
In each of Heaney’s poems is an underlying implication of Heaney’s political views. In ‘Requiem for the Croppies’ Heaney refers to the ‘barley grew up out of the grave’ and in doing so reflects on how little nationalists in Ulster appreciate the martyrs who died for the cause. In the poems throughout ‘Wintering Out’ Heaney embellishes this, particularly in ‘Gifts of Rain’. At first read the poem regards a simple river akin to the poem ‘Broagh’. However, in the line ‘I cock my ear / at an absence’ Heaney refers to those who have died and have worked to uniting Ireland without violence. He asks for help to go back in time to hear advice from those who have made a difference in uniting Ireland ‘Soft voices of the dead are whispering by the shore’. The use of the central imagery throughout the poem of water reflects the nature of being purged, to come out clean with a fresh beginning. Heaney’s ability to be ‘firmly rooted in reality’ is most clearly shown in each poem through his ability to connect everyday landscapes such as the ‘River Moyola’ to the political situation in Ireland.


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

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 at Cresseid, Enitharmon Press

2004: Columcille The Scribe, The Royal Irish Academy

Limited Editions and Booklets (Poetry & 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 Seamus Heaney Centre, Queen's University, Belfast

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

About Heaney and his work

1993: The Poetry of Seamus Heaney ed. by Elmer Andrews, ISBN 0-231-11926-7

1993: Seamus Heaney: The Making of the Poet by Michael Parker, ISBN 0-333-47181-4

1995: Critical essays on Seamus Heaney ed. by Robert F. Garratt, ISBN 0-7838-0004-5

1998: The Poetry of Seamus Heaney: A Critical Study by Neil Corcoran, ISBN 0-571-17747-6 2000: Seamus Heaney by Helen Vendler, ISBN 0-674-00205-9, Harvard University Press 2007: Seamus Heaney and the Emblems of Hope by Karen Marguerite Moloney, ISBN 978-0-8262-1744-8


2003 The Poet & The Piper - Seamus Heaney & Liam O'Flynn


1. "April 13, 2009". 2009-04-13. Retrieved on 2009-03-17. "Seamus Heaney was born in Ireland on April 14, 1939."

2. Heaney, Seamus (1998). Opened Ground. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. ISBN 0374526788.

3. "A Note on Seamus Heaney". Retrieved on 2009-04-20. "Seamus Heaney was born on April 13th, 1939, the first child of Patrick and Margaret Kathleen Heaney (nee McCann), who then lived on a fifty-acre farm called Mossbawn, in the townland of Tamniarn, County Derry, Northern Ireland."

4. Heaney, Seamus : Mid-Term Break

7. "Play Listing". Irish Playography. Irish Theatre Institute. Retrieved on 2007-08-24.

8. Beowulf: A New Translation

9. Rhodes Department of English Annual Report 2002-2003

12. Eminem - The Way I Am, autobiography, cover sheet

14. Today Programme, BBC Radio 4, 16 January 2007.

15. BBC News "Heaney wins TS Eliot poetry prize", 15 January 2007.

16. BBC News Magazine "Faces of the week", 19 January 2007.

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