Seamus Heaney, 1939-2013

“I credit poetry for making this space-walk possible. I credit it immediately because of a line I wrote fairly recently instructing myself (and whoever else might be listening) to “walk on air against your better judgement”. But I credit it ultimately because poetry can make an order as true to the impact of external reality and as sensitive to the inner laws of the poet’s being as the ripples that rippled in and rippled out across the water in that scullery bucket fifty years ago”

— Seamus Heaney, Nobel address, 1995

Seamus Heaney, the Nobel laureate, had died in Dublin, aged 74 after a short illness. Heaney a native of Castledawson in Northern Ireland attended St Columb’s College in Derry and Queens University, Belfast. He was a contemporary at St Columb’s of another Nobel Laureate, SDLP co-founder, John Hume. Heaney held the post of Professor of poetry at both Harvard University and University of Oxford and was the author of more than twenty works, winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995. His final work, Human Chain was published in 2010. An accomplished literary translator, his outstanding work was that of the epic Beowulf; a story of great warriors and their battles and one of great-halls and storytelling – an element that surely helped in drawing Heaney to this mammoth work.

His books accounted for two-thirds of all works sold of living poets in the UK. The public, critics, students and those simply drawn to verse continued to buy and read Seamus Heaney right up to today. A truth I suspect, that humbled Heaney and he would have likely tutt-tutted and shaken his head when confronted with another truth, that he was unquestionably the greatest Irish poet for almost a hundred years.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

Extract from “Digging”, Death of a Naturalist (1966)

  1. Seamus Heaney : Wikipedia
  2. Nobel Lecture by Seamus Heaney : ‘Credit Poetry’ @
  3. Mary Robinson remembers Seamus Heaney
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