The death of Seamus Heaney · 8/30/2013

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Seamus Heaney is widely recognized as one of the major poets of the twentieth century. A native of Northern Ireland, Heaney lived in Dublin. Heaney taught at Harvard University from 1985 to 2006, where he was a Visiting Professor, and then Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard University (1985-1997) and Ralph Waldo Emerson Poet in Residence (1998-2006). He died in 2013.

Heaney has attracted a readership on several continents and has won prestigious literary awards and honors, including the Nobel Prize. As Blake Morrison noted in his work Seamus Heaney, the author is "that rare thing, a poet rated highly by critics and academics yet popular with \'the common reader.\'" Part of Heaney\'s popularity stems from his subject matter—modern Northern Ireland, its farms and cities beset with civil strife, its natural culture and language overrun by English rule. The New York Review of Books essayist Richard Murphy described Heaney as "the poet who has shown the finest art in presenting a coherent vision of Ireland, past and present." Heaney\'s poetry is known for its aural beauty and finely-wrought textures. Often described as a regional poet, he is also a traditionalist who deliberately gestures back towards the “pre-modern” worlds of William Wordsworth and John Clare.

Heaney was born and raised in Castledawson, County Derry, Northern Ireland. The impact of his surroundings and the details of his upbringing on his work are immense. As a Catholic in Protestant Northern Ireland, Heaney once described himself in the New York Times Book Review as someone who "emerged from a hidden, a buried life and entered the realm of education." Eventually studying English at Queen’s University, Heaney was especially moved by artists who created poetry out of their local and native backgrounds—authors such as Ted Hughes, Patrick Kavanagh, and Robert Frost. Recalling his time in Belfast, Heaney once noted: "I learned that my local County Derry [childhood] experience, which I had considered archaic and irrelevant to \'the modern world\' was to be trusted. They taught me that trust and helped me to articulate it." Heaney’s work has always been most concerned with the past, even his earliest poems of the 1960s. According to Morrison, a "general spirit of reverence toward the past helped Heaney resolve some of his awkwardness about being a writer: he could serve his own community by preserving in literature its customs and crafts, yet simultaneously gain access to a larger community of letters." Indeed, Heaney\'s earliest poetry collections— Death of a Naturalist (1966) and Door into the Dark (1969)—evoke "a hard, mainly rural life with rare exactness," according to Parnassus contributor Michael Wood. Using descriptions of rural laborers and their tasks and contemplations of natural phenomena—filtered through childhood and adulthood—Heaney "makes you see, hear, smell, taste this life, which in his words is not provincial, but parochial; provincialism hints at the minor or the mediocre, but all parishes, rural or urban, are equal as communities of the human spirit," noted Newsweek correspondent Jack Kroll.



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