Seamus Heaney (b. 1939) was the eldest child of nine born to a farming family in County Derry, Northern Ireland. He won a scholarship to St Columb's College, Derry, beginning an academic career that would lead, through Queen's University Belfast, where his first books of poems were written, to positions including Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard and the Oxford Professor of Poetry. As a poet, Heaney has become both critically feted and publicly popular. Among his many awards are the Nobel Prize for Literature 1995 and the Whitbread prize (twice); he was made a Commandeur de L'Ordre des Arts et Lettres in 1996.
Heaney's poetry is grounded in actual, local detail, often in memories of Derry or observation of his adopted home in the Republic of Ireland. 'Death of a Naturalist', the title poem of his first collection, finds a moment of horror at nature that is all the more telling for the precise details, such as the "frogspawn that grew like clotted water". Recent Irish history is one of the strongest influences on these details, appearing in its most outspoken form in the poems from North, but often obliquely present elsewhere.
In 'Fosterling', Heaney writes of "waiting until I was nearly fifty / to credit marvels"; his later poetry is certainly open to the marvellous, such as the mysterious ship that appears to the monks in the extract from 'Squarings'. His ability to unite this with the local is praised in his Nobel nomination for poems "which exalt everyday miracles". 'The Skylight', a poem about the fitting of an unwanted window into the roof of his study, leads to an almost Damascene response to the wonder of this light streaming into his room; more threateningly, a trip on 'The Underground' becomes permeated with myths from Ovid, Hansel and Gretel and Eurydice.
In his intimate reading style, Heaney balances a sense of natural speech with his commitment to what he has described as "a musically satisfying order of sounds". This grants full weight to the formal skill that shapes the poems, yet gives the impression that we are being confided in by the man whose poetry, according to the Swedish Academy, is distinguished by "lyrical beauty and ethical depth".
His recording was made on 4 October 2005 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.