© Image by Caroline Forbes

Seamus Heaney

(1939 - 2013)

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

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Recordings

These poems come from a special recording for the Poetry Archive:

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Extras

  • BBC Poetry Season
    Visit Seamus Heaney's page on the BBC site.
  • Seamus Heaney at the Poetry Proms
    From this year's Poetry Trust's Poetry Prom, held at the spectacular Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Seamus Heaney reads from his acclaimed new collection of poems, Human Chain.
  • Seamus Heaney at the Poetry Proms, Vox Pop
    Following Heaney's Poetry Prom reading, audience members queuing for the book signing speak of the 'privilege' and 'sense of occasion' of this 'magical' evening.
  • 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 more with typical wit, intelligence, humour and insight.
  • Scaffolding and other poems
    Seamus Heaney recites three of his own poems at the offices of his publisher Faber & Faber, to mark his seventieth birthday and his publisher's eightieth anniversary. He reads Scaffolding (1967), The Undergound (1984), and St Kevin and the Blackbird (1996).
  • Seamus Heaney, Woodberry Poetry Room
    Seamus Heaney recordings, Woodberry Poetry Room, Harvard.

Select bibliography

  • Death of a Naturalist, Faber & Faber 1966
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  • Door into the Dark, Faber & Faber 1969
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  • Wintering Out, Faber & Faber 1972
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  • Stations, Ulsterman Publications, 1975
  • North, Faber & Faber 1975
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  • Field Work, Faber & Faber 1979
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  • Preoccupations (prose), Faber & Faber 1980
  • Station Island, Faber & Faber, 1984
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  • The Rattle Bag (editor, with Ted Hughes), Faber & Faber 1985
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  • The Haw Lantern, Faber & Faber 1987
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  • New Selected Poems 1966-1987, Faber & Faber 1990
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  • Seeing Things, Faber & Faber 1991
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  • The Spirit Level, Faber & Faber 1991
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  • Opened Ground: Poems 1966-1996, Faber & Faber 1998
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  • Beowulf, a New Verse Translation, Faber & Faber 1998
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  • Beowulf (CD audio), Penguin 2000
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  • Electric Light, Faber & Faber 2001
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  • Sweeney Astray: A Version from the Irish, Faber & Faber 2001
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  • Finders Keepers, Faber and Faber 2002
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  • The Redress of Poetry, Faber and Faber 2002
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  • The Testament of Cresseid, Enitharmon Editions, 2004
  • The School Bag (editor, with Ted Hughes), Faber & Faber New Edition 2005
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  • Seamus Heaney Reading from his Poems, The Poetry Archive 2005
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  • District and Circle, Faber & Faber 2006
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  • The Testament of Cresseid, Faber and Faber 2009
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  • Human Chain, Faber, 2010
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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.

Prizes

1994 Eric Gregory Award
Website

1967 Cholmondeley Award
Website

1968 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize
Website

1975 EM Forster Award

1975 Duff Cooper Memorial Prize North

1995 Nobel Prize for Literature
Website

1996 Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Website

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

2009 David Cohen Prize for Literature
Website

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