Poet Seamus Heaney Dead at 74: Here are His Must-Reads
Irish nationalist poet Seamus Heaney passed away at the age of 74 in a Dublin hospital, his family and publisher announced Friday.
Born to a Catholic family in Northern Ireland on April 13, 1939, Heaney grew up in a family of nine children on a small farm. The environment in which he spent his youth would later feature prominently in his poetry, as would the nationalist struggle in the region.
He studied English at Queen’s University in Belfast before going on to a career as ”a translator, broadcaster and prose writer of distinction,” though he was primarily known for his powerful but accessible poetry. Heaney was also an academic who taught at Harvard and Oxford for many years. In 1995, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
On the occasion of his death, we bring you some must-reads from his long an illustrious career:
Death of a Naturalist : His first major collection, Death of a Naturalist catapulted Heaney to international acclaim. The 1966 book focuses on Heaney’s childhood and rural life in County Londonderry. From "Blackberry-Picking":
Late August, given heavy rain and sun
for a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
sent us out with milk-cans, pea-tins, jam-pots
where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
North : This 1975 collection focused on the nationalist struggle in Heaney’s native Northern Ireland that particularly erupted in the late 1960s. It was awarded the 1975 Duff Cooper Prize.
The Cure at Troy : Published in 1991, Heaney’s adaptation of Sophocles’ Philoctetes demonstrates his versatility as a writer. At the same time, the work still follows many of the same themes that surround his writings on the conflict in Northern Ireland.
Human Chain : One of Heaney’s last works, this 2010 collection of poetry was inspired in part by a debilitating stroke he suffered in 2006. It won the prestigious Forward Poetry Prize that same year, and was a finalist for the Griffin Poetry Prize. From his poem "Album":
Was on the landing during his last week, / Helping him to the bathroom, my right arm / Taking the webby weight of his underarm.
For extra credit, check out his 2008 interview with NPR’s All Things Considered. He read his poem “Fosterling” aloud, which captured the mood in Northern Ireland at the end of the period known as The Troubles.