Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney

b. 1939 d. 2013

And here is love / like a tinsmith's scoop / sunk past its gleam / in the meal-bin - 'Mossbawn Sunlight', Seamus Heaney

St Kevin and the Blackbird

Seamus Heaney


The Underground

Seamus Heaney


Mossbawn Sunlight

Seamus Heaney

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About Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney (1939 - 2013) 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 & Gretel and Eurydice.

In his intimate reading style, Heaney balances a sense of natural speech with his commitment to what he 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".

When Seamus Heaney died in August 2013, tributes flowed from around the English-speaking world. UK Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, said that for his "brothers and sisters in poetry, he came to be the poet we all measured ourselves against and he demonstrated the true vocational nature of his art for every moment of his life. He is irreplaceable." Poetry Archive Director, Andrew Motion, called Heaney "a great poet, a wonderful writer about poetry, and a person of truly exceptional grace and intelligence." For poet Don Paterson, "the death of this beloved man seems to have left a breach in the language itself". Matthew Hollis, Faber & Faber Poetry Editor, said Heaney had been "a father figure: the head of our poetry household." And former U.S. President Bill Clinton said: "Both his stunning work and his life were a gift to the world. His mind, heart, and his uniquely Irish gift for language made him our finest poet of the rhythms of ordinary lives and a powerful voice for peace. And he was a good and true friend."

Heaney's recording was made on 4 October 2005 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Additional material and useful links

Seamus Heaney in conversation with Michael Laskey

Listen to Aldeburgh Poetry Festival founder Michael Laskey in conversation with Seamus Heaney at the Poetry Trust's Poetry Proms. Heaney talks about his background, writing, influences and much...

Seamus Heaney recordings, Woodberry Poetry Room

Seamus Heaney recordings, Woodberry Poetry Room, Harvard.

BBC Poetry Season - Heaney

Visit Seamus Heaney's page on the BBC site.

Selected bibliography

W. B. Yeats: Poems Selected by Seamus Heaney (Faber...

Human Chain, Faber, 2010


The Redress of Poetry, Faber and Faber 2002


The Testament of Cresseid, Faber and Faber 2009


Finders Keepers, Faber and Faber 2002

District and Circle, Faber & Faber 2006


The Testament of Cresseid, Enitharmon Editions, 2004

Preoccupations (prose), Faber & Faber 1980

Sweeney Astray: A Version from the Irish, Faber...



1994 Eric Gregory Award

Prize website

1967 Cholmondeley Award

Prize website

1968 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize

Prize website

1975 EM Forster Award

1975 Duff Cooper Memorial Prize North

1995 Nobel Prize for Literature

Prize website

1996 Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres

Prize website

2006 T S Eliot Prize (winner), District and Circle

Prize website

2009 David Cohen Prize for Literature 2009 David Cohen Prize for Literature

Prize website


Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney Reading from his Poems

1Death of a Naturalist

2Blackberry Picking

3Mid-term Break

4The Peninsula


6Anahorish 7Broagh

8The Tollund Man

9Mossbawn Sunlight

10The Grauballe Man




14Glanmore Sonnets: Dogger, Rockall, Malin...

15The Harvest Bow

16The Underground

17A Kite for Michael and Christopher

18The Railway Children

19Station Island, section 7

20The Haw Lantern

21Clearances: sonnets 2, 3, 5, 8


23Squarings: section 8

24Seeing Things

25The Skylight

26Two Lorries

27St Kevin and the Blackbird

28A Call



31Bann Valley Eclogue

32Electric Light

33The Blackbird of Glanmore

A tour of the Archive with Stephanie Anderson

On my first visit to the Poetry Archive I dipped in to see what was there, and discovered there was far more to hear...

Featured Guided Tours

Books by Seamus Heaney